I think it’s probably safe to say that the bar exam in 2020 was a bit of a disaster. So many news stories, headlines, and examples of the bar exam gone wrong. In several lawyer groups I’m involved in, there have been frequent complaints, disparaging comments, and outright arguments about the bar exam and its usefulness. Comments like, “Just let students apprentice!” or “I never learned a thing from the bar” are all too common.
Love the bar or hate it, I can honestly say that I learned a great deal from the bar exam.
I took the Virginia bar in February 2011 and started working at a small law firm a few months later. My boss quipped that at the time I was smarter than he was, because an attorney is never smarter than shortly after taking the bar exam. But, truthfully, I didn’t feel very smart. I didn’t know where the local courthouse was. I didn’t know how to keep my time. I didn’t even know what a real estate closing was (I was in a real estate law practice). I could tell you the difference between a fee simple interest and a fee tail, but how to interpret a mortgage? Nope.
In July 2019, I took the Uniform Bar Exam. It’s essentially the same exam I took eight years earlier. But, this time around, after several years of practicing law, my perspective was a little different. I wasn’t necessarily just developing knowledge about the law. Instead, I was developing the tools to be a good lawyer.
Here’s what I learned from taking the bar exam:
When I took the bar the first time, I was single, had no children, and no job. I had nothing but time on my hands to study. Staying disciplined was the challenge then because of the extra time. The second time, I had a full-time job, a husband, and a toddler. Suffice to say, I did not have unlimited time.
In both instances, managing my time was a significant challenge. In the first instance, I had to learn to be disciplined with my time. In the second instance, I had to learn to make the most of my time.
The reality is, practicing law is no different. There are times when I don’t have a lot of cases going on, but my clients still deserve the best of me. There are also times when I have way too much on my plate, but my clients still deserve quality representation.
No matter what, being able to manage your time is a serious lawyerly skill that will serve you well.
Both times I took the bar, I was incredibly stressed. If I didn’t pass the exam, I would be out a lot of money, a lot of time, and I wouldn’t be able to get a job in my chosen field. The stakes were exceptionally high both times.
Through taking the bar, I’ve learned to make time for myself. I found running to be extremely cathartic and an effective stress-reliever. I rediscovered my love of reading for fun. I enjoyed long walks (sometimes while listening to audio outlines). I made time to cook nutritious meals.
Yes, studying for the bar exam can be an all-consuming experience. Similarly, so can practicing law.
The skills you learn in studying for the bar including managing your stress will also serve you well in your career.
The most recent time I studied for the bar, because I was also a mom, I had to get more creative with my study time than the first time I took the bar exam. This time, I found YouTube videos and watched them while my son and I played trucks on the floor. I downloaded audio outlines and listened while pushing my son in his stroller. When he napped, I answered practice questions on an app on my phone.
I had to dig deep and think outside of the box to fit studying into my life.
Whether you’re a parent or not, practicing law requires the ability to problem-solve. In countless ways each and every day in my law practice, I find unusual and unique circumstances that I have to overcome. Studying for the bar exam helped me learn better how to do that.
It’s All About Attitude
Would I rather save the money on the exam and skip ahead to practicing law? Definitely. Would I rather not have to go through the rigorous exercise? One-hundred percent. Do I remember all of the hearsay exceptions? No, to be honest.
Whether you’re an advocate for dissolving the bar exam or not, if you have to take it, perhaps you may still find that the exam serves you in some positive way.