No matter when you take the bar exam, studying for the exam can feel hectic and stressful. This feeling is only compounded when you’re attempting to study while already working in the fast-paced and deadline-driven environment of a law firm. The need to study and work at the same time can come up for any number of reasons, including because you’ve already started at a firm in a new state and need to take the bar in that jurisdiction, or because you’re studying while contemplating a jump to a new state. Whatever the case may be, there are some strategies to get through, and succeed, while juggling work and study.
1. Communicate with the Senior Members of your Team
When you know your time is going to be limited and you’re juggling both studying and working, a key to success is making sure that the teams you’re on at your law firm know what you’re doing. If the partner on a matter knows that you’re also studying for the bar, they may ease up on the amount of work that they put on your plate. It’s in their best interest—and the firm’s best interest—that you pass the bar exam the first time around. With a little communication, you may be able to get more flexibility in your schedule to make sure that happens.
The recommendation to communicate with partners on your cases about the fact that you’re studying also comes with a strong concern: you may be taking an exam in a different state in anticipation of leaving your current law firm. If you don’t feel comfortable revealing your plans, or feel that it might jeopardize your current position, you may decide not to discuss bar study with the rest of your team. If that’s the case, just make sure that you continue to deliver quality work within deadlines.
2. Set Aside Study Time that you can Realistically Maintain
Law firm schedules are erratic. You may get a call at 7:00 p.m. asking you to deliver a research memo by the following morning. A client may suddenly demand that a contract needs to be produced by the next day. The key to making it work between your law firm and study schedules is to set aside time that you can keep clear to just study.
Knowing that your work flow throughout the day is subject to change abruptly at the firm, some of the best time to set aside in your schedule is in the morning and on the weekend. You’re more likely to get a mid-afternoon call for a rush project than you are to get a 6:00 a.m. phone call. Typically, teams are also more respectful of weekend hours than weekday hours. Knowing this, and understanding your personal circumstance, can allow you to successfully block off time to simply focus on studying.
3. Be clear with Friends and Family about what you’re Experiencing
Friends and family can really help during any hectic period of our lives, including while working and studying for the bar exam. Make sure that those who support you understand the schedule you’re facing. They can keep encouraging you even when you feel overwhelmed.
4. Use what you’re Learning in Practice to Build Confidence for the Exam
One of the most important things to keep in mind while both practicing and studying is that you can draw on your experience in practice to ace the bar exam. For example, if you’re now practicing as a California litigator, you’ll be learning the ins and outs of the California rules of civil procedure while also utilizing the federal rules whenever you wind up in federal court. By having to actually implement the laws you’re memorizing for the bar exam, you gain an enhanced perspective on what those laws are and how they work. Don’t take this lightly; you could end up with a tricky essay question where you can draw on your experience in practice to answer it.
What’s more, you’ll be tasked with a PT question on your exam. The PT tests those same skills that you’ll be asked to implement on a daily basis in the law firm. You’ll constantly be given an assignment, some relevant background information, and then have to conduct research on the issue. That’s all the PT is, except even easier: all of the research is provided for you. Don’t discount the basic lawyering skills you gain at the firm that can come into play on exam day.
5. Keep in Mind that the Intense Schedule won’t Last Forever
Working at a law firm, by itself, is incredibly time consuming. Adding bar study on top of that makes it even more so, drastically increasing the likelihood of burnout. Take some time for self-care during that period, and just remember that the work-study schedule won’t last forever. When it’s done, it’ll make only working feel that much easier.
Whatever your situation is that’s requiring you to both work and study, you can do it. Keep in mind the five tips above to excel during your study period and ace the bar exam.