As you walk out of the testing room after your bar exam (in-person or virtual), the relief is immediate and immense. But for many, it does not last long. Once the initial relief and overwhelming ecstasy of being DONE fades, reality sneaks up on you real quick. It is good to have a short-term and long-term plan for what to do while waiting for bar results.
Checking off short-term goals is easy: there are certain Do’s and Don’ts for immediately after the exam. DO NOT discuss the exam with anyone, especially your friends and classmates. DO NOT go read forums. DO catch up on sleep. DO eat all the macros you have been neglecting. And there are some practical things you can do as well, like preserving your notes for future reference.
Setting long-term goals after the exam is a little harder.
I hate to state the inevitable, but if you do not have something lined up for post-bar exam season, then job hunting will likely be your #1 stress. Or if you have a job lined up, but keeping it is contingent on passing the bar exam, stress levels may be high. My advice: start connecting and reaching out to folks regardless of which of the two boats you are in.
Reconnecting with Professional Contacts
You can never know too many people. In this profession it reigns true. For starters, reach out to the people who checked in on you during bar prep – whether it was an Associate from your summer job, a mentor who bought you lunch, or someone who graduated a few years ahead of you. Write them an email or send them a text saying: “Hi there, I just wanted to update you that I survived the bar exam. You were right about everything – it was awful. Now that I am on the other side, I’d love to get on the phone with you and see if you have any tips for the job hunt. I owe you a coffee as a thank you for supporting me through bar prep.”
Small check-ins like this go a long way for professional development and the job hunt. People will appreciate the life update, and they will recognize that you are not asking them for a job. Instead, you are looking for valuable advice and want to hear their take about the process. I know that when someone approaches me this way, I tend to want to look out for them. The most I could probably do is keep an eye out for opportunities, and if any position sounds like it’d be a good fit, I forward. And imagine if you have 10 people “keeping a lookout” for you, there is a high likelihood that even one forward could lead to an opportunity.
Webinars & Professional Development
The period when you are waiting for bar results is also a great time to fine tune some of your soft skills. Most legal related programming is online nowadays, and it will be awhile before the return of 100%, in-person workshops and happy hours. This is your opportunity to sign up for anything that sounds interesting, knowing that you can likely log into the program from home or while multitasking. Sign up for resume workshops or mock interview programs hosted by the young lawyers’ divisions of local or national bar associations. Attend panels that talk about different types of legal jobs, like “How to Succeed in a Firm,” or “Pathways to In-House,” or “Judicial Clerkships 101.” If you are interested in starting your own firm someday, sign up for webinars or CLEs that discuss business management or marketing for solo firms.
And you should not be limited to your local bar association. Like or subscribe to social media pages of different bar associations across the country. Set alerts on your calendar for upcoming events and include the Zoom link so you have it handy. Attending webinars is a great way to meet a potential mentor in your niche sector. After an interesting panel, send LinkedIn requests to anyone whose story resonated with you. Introduce yourself, thank them for an informative panel discussion, see if they would be willing to chat with you offline if you are still curious about the topic. Webinars and online events are great ways to ease yourself back into engaging with the professional world while also perfecting necessary lawyering skills, like the art of networking.
Catch up with Friends & Family
You have inevitably isolated yourself during your bar preparations and your peers and family have been patient with you. Reconnecting with them could be a source of joy, but also may contribute to your professional development. And this one is not a reach. If you are still in the job search, vocalizing your interests to someone who knows you well could help you make a professional connection. Maybe your neighbor’s old roommate knows someone who is hiring for a legal job (an example based on a true story).
Alternatively, this could be an opportunity for you to be thinking about future prospects. Talking to my family about their jobs at dinner once prompted a discussion about the different legal issues their respective employers face. It got me thinking about how every company could have a legal department. Next thing I knew, I was scheduling a virtual coffee with a friend of a friend who had made a mid-career transition into one of these companies.
Retrieve your Best Health
Focus on healing your body and mind. One of the most important things you can do for yourself is to nurse yourself back to health. This is the small space you have (before you officially start your career) to gain back your best health. Admit that the bar exam took a toll and rest well. Incorporate nutrition, exercise, therapy, and mindfulness into your routine.
You have conquered a huge hurdle. It is okay to relax! Take a vacation, you earned it. And once you start working, you might not have the chance to do it again.