For most, the bar exam is a one-time event. But for the bold few, after one bar exam, they turn and take on another jurisdiction’s test. Erwin Kristel is one of those brave souls who has passed two bar exams—in Louisiana and Texas. Erwin now works as a staff attorney at the 15th Judicial District Public Defender’s Office, Acadia Parish, Louisiana. He was kind enough to share some of his experiences and words of wisdom.
1. How did you Prepare for your First Bar Exam? Did you use a Commercial Bar Prep Provider, a Tutor, or Self-Study? How did the Bar Exam itself go?
For my first bar exam (Louisiana) I took the Barbri bar prep classes. I attended the physical classes at first, but then started doing the online classes more and more; it was simply more convenient and helpful that I could rewind/fast-forward. The bar exam itself was difficult (as I’m sure it was for everyone), but I was fairly confident I passed when it was all over.
2. Why did you Choose to take a Second Bar Exam? How long was the Time Gap between your Exams?
I choose to take a second bar exam because I had been forced to move back in with my parents since I was unable to find a job at that time, and they lived in Texas. I was unemployed for a few months and I figured passing another bar would increase my job prospects (and it’s not like I had anything better to do).
3. How did you go about Preparing for your Second Bar Exam? Did you take the Same Approach or a different Approach to your Bar Prep?
For my second bar exam (Texas) I took Kaplan bar prep classes rather than Barbri since it was much cheaper. This time, I did the online classes exclusively.
4. How challenging was it to learn a New Jurisdiction’s Law? After going to law school in a different state, did you feel that affected your Baseline understanding of the Material? Did you Compensate for that in any particular Way?
The biggest challenge for me, after studying in Louisiana, which is a mixed civil law/common law jurisdiction, was learning common law property. I was only ever taught civil law property in law school, and I was surprised at how different the concepts are; I had to essentially unlearn civil law property before I could even begin to understand common law property. The other areas of law were either the same (e.g. federal law), similar (e.g. criminal law), or totally new (e.g. DTPA) so that learning/re-learning them was either easier or just as easy as studying for the first bar exam. Studying for the MBE (which Louisiana does not have), was a bit of a gear change, but not too difficult.
5. Did you feel that your First Bar Prep and Bar Exam Experience helped you Prepare and Succeed the Second Time Around?
Yes. A lot of the material was the same or similar (see answer to question above), so I had a good baseline knowledge of it. I also managed my study time better the second go around from my experiences of the first exam.
6. How did the Exams Compare? Was one more challenging than another? Was the Testing Environment Similar?
Louisiana’s exam is three full days (I think two 7-hour days and one 6-hour day) on a Monday, Wednesday, and Friday whereas Texas was one half-day on Monday and two full days on Tuesday and Wednesday, so the schedule of the exam itself was a bit different. There was also a lot more consistency between how the different areas of law got tested for the Texas bar exams; all the essays were roughly the same length. In Louisiana, however, the format would change drastically depending on which topic was being tested. For example, Constitutional Law was five (I think) large essays, whereas Louisiana Civil Procedure was a bunch of 2-3 sentence short-answer questions and maybe a few medium-sized essays. As previously mentioned, Louisiana also doesn’t do MBE testing, so that made it very different. Overall, I would say the Louisiana exam was more challenging simply because the exam itself is longer.
7. Reflecting on your two Bar Exam Experiences, both the Preparation and taking of the Exam, would you have any words of Wisdom—or Warning—for Bar Examinees taking either their First or Second Exam?
When studying, make sure to get enough sleep. The bar prep classes (especially Barbri) give a schedule that is much more time-consuming than is necessary. I’m not 100% sure this is true, but I think Barbri actually scheduled it so you’d have like 12 hours of studying to do each day… don’t do that. I probably did less than 70% of what Barbri told me to do. Sleep is much more important because you can’t learn anything if you’re too tired. Also, both Kaplan and Barbri tried to get you to study their way. However, everyone studies differently, so don’t be afraid to tweak the way they tell you to study to better suit your learning style.
8. What Benefits have you Realized from having Passed Two Bar Exams? Beyond Employment Opportunities, do you Feel you have a Deeper Understanding of the Law Generally after having “Mastered” the Law of two Jurisdictions?
Other than employment opportunities and the intangible benefit of greater knowledge, the most tangible benefit is being able to give legal advice to my parents and brother (who live in Texas). I do think I have a deeper understanding of law generally, as being able to compare the approaches different jurisdictions will take to addressing the same issues helped me to understand the “logic” beyond the different legal schemes better.
9. Any Interest in trying for a Third Bar Exam Win or are you Done now?
I’m done for now, but if an opportunity presents itself and a third bar passage would be helpful, I wouldn’t be opposed to doing it one more time.