In-House Counsel

In-House Counseling: Not a Knuckle-Dragger

I received this timely and topical letter a few weeks ago:

Hello,

Now is the time of year when all the 3L’s at every law school are enjoying the time between graduation and starting their bar review (at least for me). Do you have any advice for us on how to keep our sanity during this 10 week adventure and not go crazy or over-stress when the big day finally comes?

Thanks,

JD2010

It got me thinking about my own bar exam experience – and brought back a memory from my law school days.

Close to graduation time, I was having a final meeting with a professor with whom I’d written a journal article. It was a pleasant meeting – the article was in print and he was pleased with it. He even said he was going to use it as part of his syllabus for a seminar. I was feeling as close to a super-star as I ever got in law school.

At some point I confided my concerns about the approaching bar exam. I told him it gave me butterflies in my stomach.

“Oh, don’t worry about that,” he assured me. “Only the real knuckle-draggers fail the bar exam.”

We shared a laugh, I shook his hand and left his office, but I knew – more than anything in the world – that I needed to pass that exam. I didn’t want to be a “knuckle-dragger.” I’m guessing you don’t want to be one, either.

The bar is a weird exam. It goes on forever, deals mostly with trivia, and no one cares how they do on it – you only have to pass.

In real world terms, the exam is entirely useless. At best, it gives you a smattering of details from state law. At worst, it’s downright bizarre. I remember blowing a practice question because – it turns out – smoke-damaged – not charred – wood, didn’t count as evidence of arson in NY State. The wood had to be burned by a flame. Or something like that. I stared at the answer, wondering how anything so impossibly obscure could make it onto a statewide, standardized exam. But there were plenty of questions like that.

Anyway – first, here’s my exam-taking advice, handed down from my old roommate at Harvard, who went to Columbia Law School and got his JD a couple years before me. My psychotherapist advice will follow.

The trick to studying for the bar is not to bother with bar review lectures – they are a waste of time. Just take all the study materials and give yourself four hours to study them every weekday morning, from 9 am – 1 pm, for about three or four weeks.

Read the outlines front to back, slowly and carefully, then do all the practice tests, and outline each and every one of the practice essay questions. Check everything, make sure you understand anything you got wrong on the practice tests and – voila! You’ll do fine. In fact, you’ll be over-prepared, which is the idea.

At some point you’ll realize you know everything – even the bar only covers a discrete universe of information. I was so over-prepared that I spent the last few days before the exam hanging out at my cousin’s beach house, relaxing. By that time, I knew what I needed to know and it was getting repetitious.

If you follow this method, you will most likely follow in our paths and do extremely well on the bar exam – better than you have to do.

For years now, I’ve shared this advice with friends and clients. To a man, they have rejected it.

One client, last week, said “that’s not going to happen.”

I asked why, and she said “because I could never do that.”

Now I’ll put my psychotherapist hat back on, and talk about the infantilizing effects of legal education…

Read on at the People’s Therapist.

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