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Bar Admissions & Exam

What Your Support Circle Needs to Know about Bar Prep

Emily Carter


  • Before bar exam preparation begins, law students should educate family and friends about the challenges and intensity involved.
  • Clarify that law school graduation isn't the endpoint; passing the bar exam is necessary for licensure.
  • Bar prep is a team effort, and it's crucial to ensure your support network understands what it entails.
What Your Support Circle Needs to Know about Bar Prep

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Weeks before the bar exam, a former student walked into my office with an ashen look. Bar prep was not going to plan. Family members had consistently interrupted his study time. His children meant well. Cell phones in hand, they wanted to show him the latest viral video. Or report that they were bored. Or ask for a snack.

Family and friends can make or break bar prep. They can be an asset during the bar prep period. But you must educate them on what you’re up against.

5 Must-Know Facts about the Bar Exam

Avoid misunderstanding and conflict by preparing your family and friends before bar prep begins. Here’s a rundown of what they need to know.

1. Graduation Isn’t the End of the Road

Family and friends often assume that law school graduation marks the end of preparing to become an attorney. They watched as you walked across the stage, diploma in hand, so it may be difficult for them to understand why you can’t jump immediately into practice.

You’ll need to explain that, standing alone, a juris doctor degree doesn’t entitle you to represent clients and offer legal advice. To practice law, you must become a licensed attorney. Some states maintain a few narrow pathways that allow a graduate to become licensed without taking an exam, but by and large, law school graduates must pass a bar exam to become licensed.

2. The Bar Exam Is Intense

Even after you explain that you must conquer the bar exam to become a licensed attorney, many people in your support network still won’t understand the difficulty of the task ahead. They’ve seen you work your way through difficult law school classes. But bar prep is a new level of stress they may not be prepared for.

Many underestimate how difficult the exam is. You’ll need to explain the intensity of the experience. The exam is a multi-day affair that involves answering hours worth of multiple-choice and essay questions under time pressure. It will test every subject you learned during your first year of law school, some upper-level subjects, and potentially some subjects you never learned in school. Because the exam is crafted on the assumption that you can recall the law from memory, you’ll have to memorize hundreds of legal rules. 

You can explain that the difficulty of the exam makes it even more important for you to have the support of family and friends. Having everyone behind you will help you succeed.

3. Passing the Bar Exam Takes Time

One crucial aspect of support is allowing you uninterrupted time to study. The preparation time required may come as a shock to your loved ones. Most students must spend roughly 400 hours preparing for the exam. Full-time study takes about 11 weeks, and part-time study also requires a significant commitment spread over a longer period.

Explain that you’ll be taking a commercial bar preparation course during that time. The need for a bar prep course frequently comes as a surprise to family and friends. This thinking is understandable because you’ve made it through a grueling law school career. But the reality is that your law school courses were targeted at making you a great lawyer–preparing for the exam is a separate endeavor. So, explain that you’ll need to stick with your bar prep course’s study calendar and log many hours learning the law, taking practice tests, and memorizing rules.

4. Unfortunately, Fear and Self-Doubt Are Often Part of the Experience

Your support circle likely won’t understand how deeply bar prep impacts self-confidence. Students often hear negative messages associated with the bar exam. Media coverage commonly focuses on declining passage rates. For many bar takers, these headlines trigger a sense of doom. They internalize the negativity and become conditioned to believe they’re just not good enough to pass the exam.

Prepare your family and friends for what may be a bumpy road ahead. And for you, the statistics do not control any individual bar taker’s destiny. Conquering the bar exam is an achievable goal. The important part is to devote time to preparation and use effective preparation techniques. No matter how much negativity is out there, passing is possible.

5. Stress Intensifies in the Final Weeks of Prep

Warn your support circle that your stress will likely ratchet up immediately after the exam. You can explain that things are coming to a head at this point in bar prep. You’ll be taking full-length practice tests, coping with the results, and trying to review more material than seems possible.

Ask for the gift of patience during the final weeks. Tell your loved ones that life will return to normal after the exam. You’ll regain control of your days and be able to spend quality time with your family and friends again.

How Your Support Crew Can Help

Once you have a conversation about the reality of bar prep, you might get some offers of help. There are many ways your support circle can pitch in. No legal knowledge is required, just a lot of empathy.

Support Mental Health

Your bar prep days will be mostly filled with studying. But you’ll need breaks to refocus, too. Ask a friend to be on call for the occasional study break. Sharing a quick lunch or a walk with a friend can be the mental boost you need to tackle bar prep with renewed energy.

Help with Memorization

There’s a mountain of material to memorize, but those around you can help. If you’re the flashcarding type, have someone in your support crew quiz you. Another effective technique is to teach a concept to your support crew. If you can explain the concept to a layperson, you know it well enough to conquer a Multistate Bar Examination problem or essay.

Run Interference

Many well-meaning people in your life might try to make demands on your time during bar prep. Your support crew can help with handling these demands. Have a trusted person pass along the message that bar prep is exceedingly difficult and crucial for your professional success. That coffee date, social gathering, or networking meetup can be scheduled after the exam.

Take On a Chore

Ask if someone close to you could take on meal prep, laundry, or errands. Dedicated family and friends are often willing to say yes, and the lighter load can help you make the most of your preparation time.

Ultimately, you’ll face the bar exam alone, but bar prep can be a team sport. Educate your family and friends on the reality of bar prep so that they’re ready to support you.

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