Landing a legal position is a big deal! As you know, there was a lot of behind the scenes work to get your foot in the door.
With the great responsibility comes great expectations like becoming licensed by a certain deadline. As part of the licensing process, you need to do your part to pass the bar exam. This is easier said than done because you really need an effective approach and consistent strategy to make it to the other side. Not only is the exam tough, but the added pressure to perform for a job can weigh heavily on you.
Here are some tips for dealing with the pressure from an employer to pass the bar:
You have a position you really want, but they made clear you must pass the exam. Perhaps it’s not the first time they’ve given you a deadline, and they were kind enough to extend it. Other times, it’s a clear-cut rule that you must pass, or you will be let go. It’s nerve-wracking to have so much count on an exam that can feel out of your control.
You can help the situation by communicating with your employer.
Be very clear with your employer about your intent to give the exam your greatest effort, and your priority to continue working for them.
Show your will, determination, and persistence to your employer. Show them the truth– you are not taking this lightly and will put in your greatest effort.
Make a Plan
While you are at it, be sure to discuss your schedule. You need a clear idea of the time you will have to study. Will you be expected to work and study, and if so, at what point can you request time off and for how long? In some workplaces, the employer expects you to juggle both. Some employers are overwhelmed with legal work and simply forget to take into consideration that you must study. For these reasons, you need to advocate yourself and out your foot down about the time you need to dedicate to this goal.
If you are stuck working and studying, you will need to evaluate and intentionally plan around juggling the two.
You are not alone. Many test takers are in this position as life doesn’t always pause for the exam. One of the ways you can get guidance on how to do it is seeking help from licensed attorney alumni from your school, or your network.
Ask your supervising attorneys for their best advice about the exam and seek out mentors at work that have gone through it and passed. There is always something to learn.
Focus on Yourself
Yes, your job hinges on your score, but this is also about you and not your employer. It may be hard to separate the two. Before this employer came into the picture, you got yourself into law school, and put in the hard work to make it happen for you. Then, you landed the job you have. Employer rules around bar passage were there before you started and will continue if you choose to move on. Recognize that you are taking the bar to become licensed for yourself. It reminds me of when I was preparing to run my first marathon, and I told someone that I was “running for” my friend because she was injured from an accident and couldn’t run the race. The person replied that although it was “noble” to do this “for” someone, I really should be running the 26.2 miles for myself. It took me so many years to realize how important this was to hear. It is not easy landing a job. But you can lose yourself in doing thing “for” your job when you are taking this major step for YOU. If you pass the exam, your bar license will go with you after you leave this job.
When you give attention to the worst-case scenario if you do not pass, then your energy and focus gets misplaced on worry and fear. To pass, you need 100% of your focus and efforts to go into building, refining, and showcasing your abilities. A healthy dose of anxiety is helpful. Studies show that you need a little of that adrenaline to be on top of your game. Even the greatest athletes can go out there and be worried, but they channel their concern into confidence in their performance. You cannot carry the weight of anxiety and the confidence at the same time without your work and abilities taking a hit.
Keep Your Options Open
Ideally, you want to keep this job. It makes sense. Afterall, you have invested your time and efforts into making it to this point. However, there is no harm in keeping an open mind about your options. I was personally in this situation, and as much as the employer requiring the bar was my preference at time—I ended up really liking the other options out there. The options that didn’t care if I was licensed right away. I did not even know these existed, but they do! By putting things into perspective and believing that things will in some way work out, it takes the pressure off the job’s expectations, and helps you focus back on yourself and why you are doing this.