In the midst of studying for the bar exam surrounded by notes and outlines and flashcards and practice questions it can seem like studying will never end. But trust me, there will come a time when all that studying comes to a screeching, sudden halt. And then what?
When I sat for the Virginia bar exam several years ago, I felt relieved, of course, when I turned in my last test materials at the end of the second exam day. But, I also felt lost. This goal I had been zealously working towards, nine hours a day, six days per week for twelve weeks was over. I didn’t have a job waiting for me once I passed the bar exam, and I figured there was no point in looking for one until I was properly licensed. I had all the time on my hands with nothing to do but worry about my results.
Instead, here are three practical things you can do after the bar exam is over to prepare for the rest of your career.
Organize Your Notes
In my legal practice, clients with all kinds of problems approached me for help. So have friends and family. Recently a friend had an issue with a landlord over who was responsible for paying for a faulty plumbing system in her apartment. Landlord and tenant disputes have never been a specialty of mine, and I wasn’t sure of the applicable law in my friend’s situation. But, as I studied property law for the bar exam, I came across a fact pattern almost identical to my friend’s problem.
You never know who will approach you with what problem to solve. And, frankly, you will never know the law better than when you take the bar exam. All the basic, fundamental rules are sharply in focus. Take the time to preserve and organize your notes. Charts, outlines, flashcards, and other study aids you’ve created or used have boiled the rules down to make them readily accessible and understandable.
Though you will hopefully never have to take another bar exam, those notes could still save you a lot of time in your practice by giving you a basic starting point for your research when you don’t immediately know the answer to a client’s problem.
I know. This seems crazy at best and outrageous at worst. But, hear me out. In the ten years since I graduated from law school the legal profession has changed a great deal. With tools like the internet, social media, YouTube, blogs, and the like, a lawyer’s network is no longer solely the citizens of her small town. The opportunities are greater, and so is the competition for clients. Having a way to differentiate yourself is a huge advantage.
Now that you are used to juggling a stressful study schedule, take a portion of that time, and use it to focus on a specialized area of law that interests you. Read articles or law journals on the topic. Read books on the subject. Write blog posts. Volunteer in that industry. Watch TED talks or online lectures or plan your own seminar to host once you get licensed.
The fact is that after engaging in a prolonged period of intense study, you are primed for learning. Take advantage of that momentum and use it to develop a specialty that will set you apart and either help you land your next job or your next big client.
I don’t know about your house or room, but these last few weeks of studying have left my apartment an absolute wreck. There are stacks of flashcards and outlines in my toddler son’s old crib he no longer uses. There are clothes I ordered online still in their boxes (also stacked in my son’s old crib). And, there’s a stack of unopened mail on the hall table, probably most of it junk (I hope).
My husband, who is as supportive as they come, also works full time and has taken on the lion’s share of parenting while I study. Between the two of us that doesn’t leave a lot of time for keeping up with dirty dishes, dusting, straightening up, cleaning the toilet, wiping down the sinks, or even just filing away bills properly.
The ugly truth about studying for the bar is with every hour I invest in studying, that’s one less hour I invest in keeping my apartment and affairs in order. That’s okay for now, but as lawyers, we have an ethical obligation to practice law competently. Being grossly unorganized is hardly professional, nor will it set you up for success.
After the bar exam is behind me, I cannot wait to roll up my sleeves and give my apartment the deep clean that it needs, to get all my papers in order, to Marie Kondo the heck out of my closet, and to get my home in a state fitting of a well-organized, competent professional. Not only will I feel a whole heck of a lot more relaxed without the clutter, but I will significantly mitigate the risk of misplacing or missing something important.
Make The Most Of Your Momentum
Thinking about how you will spend your time after the bar exam can give you that extra boost of motivation in the last few weeks of studying. The possibilities for all your soon-to-be free time are endless. Using that time wisely by preserving and arranging your notes, studying a specialty, and getting well-organized can set you up for the next phase of your career. Remember, the bar exam isn’t the end of the road, it’s only the beginning.