Bar Exams

Bar Review Diaries: Where Is My Motivation?

Are we sick of studying yet? Do you just want to get on with your life — make money, change the world, put in the hours at the office — as long as it doesn’t include more video lectures?

Well, sorry. Here at the Bar Review Diaries, we are still about five weeks away from the big test. As our columnist Michael Dulong says, it’s still too far away to start freaking out, but it’s too close to keep slacking off.

Keep reading to see how Mike, Christopher Curran and Mariah Ford are trying to stay motivated…

First let’s hear from Mike:

It helps to remember why passing the bar matters. This test represents the final step we take before joining the diverse group of barred lawyers whose primary goals alternate between money and social justice, depending on whom you ask and where they are in their careers. Facing the bar exam, money is my stick and justice is my carrot.

Like many recent graduates, I have avoided confronting my loans in favor of saving my sanity. Now staring down the barrel of repayment, passing the bar is imperative.

Good point, Mike. Sadly, passing the bar isn’t always enough to alleviate those cash-flow troubles. Elie has written at length about defaulting on his student loans, and last week we learned about salacious allegations of a young attorney selling her bajayjay as a side career. It’s a good idea to have a goal other than the money. Even if you’ve secured a Biglaw paycheck, all those zeros will only keep you going for so long.

As if financial freedom weren’t enough to help me focus, I visualize fulfilling my career goals. The prospect of litigating my way to a cleaner, safer environment in the United States gets me through days of Civil Procedure. The sooner I pass this test, the sooner I can fight for what I care about. Focusing on goals and how I intend to impact the world makes the drudgery of memorization more exciting and helps me stay positive.

Christopher has also been wondering, “Why the heck do I want to put in all this work?” But maybe it’s not as hard as we like to think it is:

When you question whether the grind you’re stuck in is worth it, it helps to have memories to focus on the reasons you do what you do.

When I start to bug out about the bar exam, I take myself back to a school in Guatemala where I was working in 2004 when a guest speaker named Marcos Lopez addressed the students. He described a day in 1983, at the height of Guatemala’s civil war, when soldiers came to his community, rounded up everyone they could find, and shot them. Lopez and his wife were among 35 survivors who escaped and claimed asylum in Mexico.

He spoke about the difficult legal process his family endured to gain re-entry to Guatemala after the war. Re-establishing a community and growing enough food to survive was a struggle, and Lopez never had time or resources for his own education.

But he was proud of what his daughters, Gloria and Felicia, had achieved. Their education was about to be cut short because the family couldn’t afford high school tuition (only primary school is free).

Huh. All this kinda makes studying for a test by looking at a laptop screen seem pretty simple. And we didn’t even have to take out loans until college.

When I found donors in the U.S. who wanted to help, my co-workers created a nonprofit organization in Guatemala called Project Victoria. It has awarded scholarships to more than 40 students, and it also provides reproductive and women’s health workshops in rural communities.

Gloria and Felicia graduated from accounting and teaching programs and are now working and helping support their families. When I was in Guatemala, they inspired me with their intense dedication to gain skills so they could give back to their communities. Now, as I go through flashcard after flashcard, they continue to be my role models.

Last week, Mariah found studying motivation from a less dire, but equally practical source. All she had to do was hop on the bus:

To change things up a bit this week, I visited my family in Colorado. My parents were taking care of my nieces and nephew, so I thought it would be a good time to surprise everyone with a visit. Also, I was beginning to worry that I was becoming Deranged Farm Girl.

I wanted to get to Colorado before the bar exam, but money was a bigger factor than time. So I decided to take the Greyhound bus.

I have taken the Greyhound bus several times, so I know the drill. I admire people who want to share and kumbaya with their fellow passengers, but I am not one of those people. A few too many awkward conversations through flat, unending stretches of the country (one time a Russian basketball player made me listen to trance music on his Discman through the entire state of Wyoming) and I’ve learned my lesson: wear ear phones and look busy.

Well, shoot. I was going to make a joke about dangerous criminals on Greyhound buses and how talking with people familiar with the court system would be good practice for being a lawyer, but Mariah’s real story is better:

This is totally conducive to bar studying! Most Greyhound buses have Internet and outlets now, so I got more done in the 50-plus hours of bus travel than I normally get done in the better part of a week.

When we fly, we hop across the country in a few hours. No big deal. Not so when you travel by bus. When you finally disembark and walk the two miles home, you have to fight a very strong urge to fall to your knees, kiss the ground and cry out, “I HAVE ARRIVED!”

I’d like to think that’s how I will feel when I finish the bar exam.

The greater good, the Benjamins and the weirdo next to you are all good motivators for bar study. But if all else fails, just take Limp Bizkit’s advice and do it for the nookie coffee breaks.

Mike explains:

If you don’t care about money or changing the world, you should know studying for the bar is a great way to pick up dates. Check out this recent Craigslist Missed Connection ad, Embezzlement on the G Train: “You taught me about embezzlement and we read through your criminal law packet for the bar exam. Teach me more over coffee!”

So, quick study guide recap: If you need bar-studying motivation, think about all the money you’ll make. Then dream about changing the world. Then appreciate how easy you have it, and then go flirt with hot future-lawyers on the subway.

Disclosure: This series is sponsored by Themis, which is an ATL advertiser.

Christopher Danzig is a writer in Oakland, California. He previously covered legal technology for InsideCounsel magazine. Follow Chris on Twitter @chrisdanzig or email him at You can read more of his work at

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