The bar exam is an inevitable box you must check off before earning the right to be called Esquire. Recognizing this, many students often wonder whether they need take course covering subjects that may appear on the bar and, if so, when. Fortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to the “When” and “Why” questions of taking bar-elective courses. Simply put, many people who pass the bar took all of the elective courses possible, took only a handful of elective courses possible, or took none of the elective courses possible. In order to determine when and why you should take bar-elective courses, consider the following:
If you get stressed before exams, take bar-elective courses during law school
Learning new legal principles is challenging enough without cramming an entire semester’s worth of subjects into your brain in three to five days. Welcome to your summer vacation after you graduate law school!
As somewhat of a nervous-nelly when it came to exams, I wanted to feel prepared for the bar. Translation: even though I had no intention of ever practicing Family Law, Tax, or Estates and Trusts, I chose to take them in law school to increase my chances of passing the Pennsylvania Bar. For me, preparation translates into level-headedness, which meant that I could read a challenging fact pattern without suffering (much) anxiety. Further, I realized that if I was already disinterested in these subjects, my sentiments were not going to miraculously change when preparing for the bar.
While many people who pass the bar never take elective courses, having months (not mere days) to learn a subject certainly made a difference for me and I expect will make a difference for you.
If you are not getting B’s or better in law school, take bar-elective courses during law school.
If you find yourself with a GPA lower than a B average, you should strongly consider taking electives in law school. First, there were likely subjects in the first half of your legal education that you struggled with that you will have to overcome because they will be on the bar (i.e., Torts, Contracts, Civil Procedure, Property, Criminal Law, Constitutional Law, and Evidence). Second, your GPA may indicate that you have trouble retaining certain legal principles, so the more time you take to learn new principles the better you will likely do. Unfortunately, students with lower GPAs perform worse than their counterparts with higher GPAs do so it is better to plan ahead while you are still in law school.
If you must work while studying for the bar, take bar-elective courses during law school
Let’s get one thing straight: if you can financially afford to not work while studying for the bar, don’t. Period. The cold, hard statistical fact is that people who work while studying for the bar are less likely to pass. Studying for the bar and passing it are critical to getting a career as an attorney, because you need to pass the Bar before you can practice law.
Undeniably, many students cannot financially afford to take time off to study for the bar because, for example, they need to provide for their families. If you are in that situation, it is important to understand while you are still in school that it can be incredibly challenging to keep up with a bar-prep schedule while maintaining a job, even part-time.
If you need to take care of family members while studying for the bar, take bar-elective courses during law school
Whether you have children or an ailing relative, your responsibility to care for a loved one is of paramount importance. What will likely always come first: addressing unexpected injuries or emergencies or memorizing the elements to all of the intentional torts? While both are important, it can be hard to focus on studying even if you have someone to help you with family members in need. Taking bar-elective courses during law school will help ensure that you can handle any emergencies that unexpectedly arise without your bar-readiness detrimentally suffering.
For more advice on this topic, check out Parenting in Law School: Surviving your 1L Year While Raising a Family, which contains equally sage advice for those of you taking care of family members after the first year.
Take bar elective courses in the second half of your Second Year and in your Third Year
Now that you have a better understanding of whether you should take bar elective courses while in law school, the next question is when you should take them. If you are only taking these electives for purposes of the Bar, then take them later in your legal education.
There are several reasons why waiting until your last half of your legal education is best:
- You want learn this material as close in time to the bar.
- By this time, you will have (or should have) a good understanding of how you learn new legal principles and rules, which increases your chances of retention.
- By this time, you will have (or should have) a good understanding of how legal ambiguities are tested and how fact patterns are written.
- On Campus Interviews (or OCI) generally occur during the first half of your second year. It can be challenging juggling interviews, classwork, and any extracurricular activities (like Moot Court of Mock Trial) on top of trying to learn principles you are only interested in learning for the bar.
By planning ahead, you can accomplish everything you would like to do by the end of your third year without having any of your bar preparation suffer. Although the topic is outside the scope of this post, you can find several thoughtful ideas on how to make the most of your third year here.
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Did you find this post helpful? Check out some other great articles:
- Thinking Ahead: Don’t Let the Bar Exam Catch You By Surprise
- What to Expect from Law School Bar Prep
- What You Can Do Now to Prepare for the Bar Exam
- Can Studying Early Help You Pass the Bar Exam?
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