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After the Bar

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How to Prepare for the Bar Exam in a Second State

Eric Cervone

How to Prepare for the Bar Exam in a Second State
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Getting through the bar exam is one of the great accomplishments in a young lawyer’s career. And after months of studying in solitude and 12 hours in an exam room, the last thing most lawyers ever want to do is go through that experience again. If you decide to move to a new state, however, you may not have a choice. Studying for the bar exam for the second time in a new state may require some unique considerations that you didn’t have to think about the first time around. Here are just a few tips to help you prepare for a second bar exam.

Make Sure There’s Definitely No Other Way to Get Licensed in Your New State

Nearly every jurisdiction has established some form of reciprocity. If you’ve been licensed in your initial jurisdiction for a specific period or have met some other established criteria, you may be able to waive into your new state without having to retake the bar exam. Each jurisdiction’s reciprocity rules are different. The National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) lays out some basic information on reciprocity, but check with your state on the specifics.

See If Your New Employer Will Let You Take Time Off to Study

You likely devoted yourself to studying for the bar exam full-time the first time. There are countless benefits to being able to focus your time solely on exam prep. While that may not be possible this go around, talk with your employer about the possibility of taking a few weeks off or working part-time while you prepare for the exam. If you’re working for a law firm or other legal employer, they’ll surely know the importance of passing this exam and will ideally be flexible enough to allow you some extra study time.

Come Up with a Study Plan

Most bar prep courses build their study plans on the assumption that students will be studying full-time for two-plus months. If you’re working full-time, dealing with a move, or starting a job in a shorter time frame, you may not be able to follow a traditional study schedule. You’ll have to be proactive in figuring out the schedule that works best for you based on your situation. We still strongly recommend you take a bar exam prep course, but be sure you’re factoring your schedule restraints into your study plan. Additionally, if you’re in a new environment, you might not be able to study in the same place as you did before your first exam. Make sure you have a quiet place where you can consistently go to study. 

Apply What You Learned the First Time

You’ve stared the dragon down before; now you have nothing to fear. One of the significant benefits of taking the bar exam a second time is that you know what to expect and can focus on studying smarter. Was there a particular subject you struggled with on your first exam? Did you find the essay section particularly difficult? If you know that there is something you could have improved upon from your first exam, spend some extra time working on it. Maybe you got mentally tired toward the end of the exam and felt like you phoned in the last section or two. Spend more time taking full-length practice exams so that you can go into this test with the right endurance. 

Don’t Get Overconfident

Just because you passed the bar exam once doesn’t mean you have the whole thing figured out. There’s still plenty that can trip you up on the next exam. Maybe you got lucky the first time and didn’t get tested on your worst subject. Or perhaps you don’t remember quite as much material as you think you do. Treat this with the same level of focus and humility that you did the first time around. Act like you’re starting from scratch, and go through every subject and topic as if it were the first time you’re seeing it. At worst, you’ll be even better prepared for what you already know; at best, you’ll fill in holes in your knowledge that you didn’t know were there.

There’s a reason why there are at least 20 songs titled “Here We Go Again.” One of the most detested feelings is knowingly reentering an unhappy situation. Taking the bar exam a second time can certainly feel like one of those situations. But if you follow these tips, sign up for a high-quality bar prep course, and approach the exam with the right attitude, you’ll be well on your way to succeeding in your new career and new home.