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Bar Admissions & Exam

Tips for First-Generation Law Students Preparing to Take the Bar Exam

Danielle J. Hall and David Jessup

Tips for First-Generation Law Students Preparing to Take the Bar Exam
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Your third year of law school offers a great opportunity to finish strong and to ensure that you’re ready for your future. If your plans aren’t solidified, don’t fret. These tips are relevant for you, too.

As first-gen lawyers, we can still vividly remember our 3L experiences, and we hope these tips will calm your anxieties about graduation and bar studies.

1. Prepare, Prepare, Prepare

You’ll want to plan to set yourself up for success. If your schedule permits and your school offers it, take an MBE or state-specific bar course during your last semester. Disputable, we know. But the courses will give you an edge, and you’ll thank yourself later that you familiarized yourself with new areas of the law while gaining a refresher on the major federal topics.

Note: If you’re unsure about where you’re going to be practicing, schedule a conversation with a career development counselor or your school’s equivalent to understand which jurisdictions administer which exams. This will help you determine what you need to do to prepare for the exam.

A degree audit will ensure you have all the courses and credits you need to graduate. Learn from David’s mistake and closely read what’s expected of you in terms of courses and credits. In his 3L year, he found himself writing a 40-page paper to fulfill the school’s writing requirement after learning the six-credit course he took was worth only one writing credit.

If you’re still unsure about what area of law you want to practice, your last semester might be a good time for an externship or clinic. If you’ve finalized your post-graduation plans, take advantage of your spring semester to relax and spend time with friends and family.

2. Get Your Finances in Order

You probably anticipated this one. Budgeting will be critical as you embark on bar exam studies.

If possible, put money away to help cover basic living expenses each month while studying for the bar exam. Consider additional expenses, including a bar prep course, flights, hotels, a coffee fund, and any moving expenses that may come shortly after the bar exam.

Be sure to ask whether your employer covers bar- related expenses; if it does, inquire as to what’s covered, at what amounts, and whether a stipend is offered or costs are reimbursable.

We know many people have to work. But if you can either scale down your hours or take a break from work, we encourage you to do that in the two months leading up to the exam.

3. Take a Bar Prep Course

Every organization will try to sell you bar prep materials. Before buying, do your diligence. Although purchasing a bar prep course is a large investment, having updated materials, receiving access to support groups, and gaining mainstream coverage of the expected topics make it worth it.

If your funds are limited, seek bar prep course discounts, local scholarships, or financial resources at your school. We both became representatives for a bar prep company, which provided us with a bar preparation course in lieu of weekly compensation.

Many commercial programs offer daily schedules, but ultimately you know your strong areas and where you need to improve. Don’t spend four hours on a torts refresher if you earned an A in torts and are scoring in the 80 percent or higher range on this material.

Be sure to take the simulated bar exam when offered by your bar prep company. When you take it on schedule, the simulation can help you course correct while you still have plenty of time. If you fall behind, don’t be too hard on yourself. It’s life. Keep going and reach out to your advisors at school or your bar prep coach for assistance if you struggle to keep up. The earlier, the better.

Danielle’s advice when you’re feeling apprehensive during bar prep: Just start. Don’t push off until next week a video, a multiple-choice set, or an essay. Start writing a mock essay, and if that feels too daunting, start by outlining the essay with the rules you’ve identified in the hypothetical. Although outlining isn’t the same as writing a full essay, you’ll at least begin issue spotting, reviewing rules, and gaining confidence so that you’re able to write a full essay sooner rather than later.

4. Trust Yourself

After years of higher education, you know what works for you. You know where, when, and how you study best.

Caveat: If you’re someone who prefers to take practice exams at night or typically rises with the sun, as you approach exam day, begin adjusting your schedule. Try to plan your days, so they track with your exam schedule. If you know essays are administered in the morning, for example, toward the end of your study cycle, begin practicing essays in the morning.

Take care of yourself, including knowing when to take breaks. David never studied 12 hours a day. The most were 10, which was always a stretch. He wrestled with the harder topics in the morning and spent afternoons and evenings supplementing and refreshing. He exercised at least three days a week. Admittedly, during the last month, he was on a treadmill or stationary bike with index cards in front of him.

Danielle made sure to start her day early so she could enjoy her evenings and used a majority of her weekends to recharge. She planned one event a week—a concert, a comedy show, or a day at the park—so she didn’t feel burnt out by the end. The long hours can be grueling, so listen to your body and trust yourself to make the right decisions for you.

5. Find the Right Environment

If your home isn’t the greatest space to study each day, look for alternatives. Consider a public library, a nearby college campus, a coffee shop with light foot traffic, or a friend’s house.

Know the distractions in your environment and limit them. If you have a dog, you’ll know whether the midday walks are a huge distraction (consider hiring someone to walk your pup) or a much-needed break. If you’ll be staying with family, have an open discussion with them about the demands that come with studying for the bar, and set clear boundaries regarding your ability to contribute within the household given your limited time and busy study schedule.

You’ll soon be a lawyer. If, through your law school journey or during internships, you’ve learned the practice isn’t for you, remember, the world is your oyster. There are very few career paths you can’t pursue with a degree in law.