I just began my 3L year. Bar prep is always lurking in my consciousness. Like my colleagues, I wonder when is the right time to start thinking about the bar exam and bar prep? As with many questions in law school, the answer is simple: It depends.
At the start of law school, there is a lot of pressure to commit to one of the various commercial bar-prep programs. There is something appealing about selecting a provider and spreading out the payments. However, making a commitment too early has drawbacks, and once you sign that contract, you’re stuck. This may not seem like a big deal. After all, you chose the program that was best for you, right? But, is it unlikely you can know that in your 1L year?
Which Study Method Will Work For You ….. In Three Years?
As a 1L you’re moving anxiously from class to class hoping that you don’t get called on by the professor. You don’t have enough law-school-exam-taking experience to know what kind of law learner (let alone law exam taker) you are going to be when you arrive at graduation. The different programs offer slightly different approaches to bar-prep, and you are best be served by selecting the program that plays to your proclivities, not the one with the best sales pitch and free stuff.
The Economics Don’t Make Sense
It’s tempting to take the bait of “the price will never be lower,” but you have no idea what your economic situation will be in your last year of law school, and there are a lot of other finical considerations that you should be aware of. For instance, do you have any idea what the actual cost of taking the bar is going to be? In addition to the bar-prep course, you also have to consider: Fees to sit the bar; unemployment during two months of bar prep; and unemployment during three to four months waiting for results. Also, if you paid for law school with loans, those nice folks that leant you the money may come looking for payment sooner than you are able to land that first job. Long-term financial planning is critical and these are the things that few think about in their 1L year but should begin to consider during 2L year, or at the latest, early in 3L year. You don’t have enough information about what will happen 3L year while you are still a 1L. You need more financial data to make this big decision about the significant expense of a bar-prep program. An informed decision is your best bet.
You Wouldn’t Buy That Car Without a Test Drive…
Why wouldn’t you want to “test drive” the bar prep courses before you make such a costly commitment? Every 2L takes the MPRE. Virtually every bar-prep provider offers MPRE study materials free of charge! You can try them all out and see which one feels right to you. Determine which engages your strengths and helps you to overcome your weaknesses a no cost. Armed with this knowledge, you can make a more informed decision about bar prep in your 2L or early in your 3L year.
When Is the Right Time to Start?
There is more to bar prep than just practice questions and essays. It also involves the bar application, character and fitness, applying for bar loans, and generally getting your house in order before graduation. These are all bar prep activities you can safely begin sooner rather than later, either late in 2L year or early 3L year. Getting a jump on these necessary activities will provide you with the opportunity to take advantage of the brief window of freedom between graduation and the beginning of your bar prep program.
What About Jump-starting My Course Early?
One real danger with trying to start your bar-prep course too early is burnout. You may find that working practice problems during 3L year and then moving into your official bar prep course after graduation is too much. If there is any chance that this burnout will keep you from completing most or all of your commercial program, avoid it like the plague. If the unthinkable happens and you don’t pass the first time, all of those bar prep companies that guarantee results or free course re-takes, condition that offer on significant completion of the original bar-prep material.
Where Can I Start?
If you’re really keen to jump-start bar prep early in your 3L year, perhaps focus your attention on the classes you didn’t take that you know will be on the bar. You can read outlines and do some practice questions on those subjects to help you retain more during official bar prep. A word of caution: You still need to graduate and failing a class due to distraction from early bar prep is an awful reason to delay graduation and sitting for the bar.
Waiting Too Late Can Leave You Unprepared
Getting organized, figuring out which program is best suited to your learning style, and being financially ready for the realities of post-graduation bar prep are all critical reasons why waiting until the end of 3L year to start thinking about the bar exam is a bad idea. There is a sweet spot starting somewhere mid-2L to the beginning of your 3L year that is perfect for getting yourself ready and giving serious thought to the bar exam.