The Bar Exam is Awful

I would like to just complain a little bit about being a lawyer. Or, more accurately, about the process of becoming a lawyer.

1. The Bar Exam

This is the most grueling test you will ever encounter. In New York, there are over twenty topics tested (somewhere between 23 and 26, depending on how you divide the topics). You have to know them all perfectly, but you may not even get questions on some topics, or worse yet, the question will be buried so far under all the other material that you can’t identify it as a question. There are prep courses that cost anywhere from $1500 to $3500 and span 8 full weeks of 10 hour days. The bar examiners basically expect that you will be taking one of these courses. Don’t have a couple thousand dollars to drop? Don’t have the luxury of spending 10 hours a day studying (god forbid you have to work or take care of children while you are preparing for the bar)? Too bad, you’re basically screwed.

2. Limited Reciprocity

Worse than the exam itself, I would say, are the licensing requirements. Some states have zero reciprocity with other states, meaning, if you ever want to practice in, say, New Jersey or California, you would have to take that bar exam in order to get your license. And taking the bar exam is not fun. See number 1.

3. Limited Testing

The bar examine is given only in February and July. Twice a year. If you miss a deadline for your test date, you have to wait a whole six months to take it. And there are A LOT of deadlines. And A LOT of paperwork. Registering for the exam is almost as hard as taking the exam.

And then there’s me. I took the New York bar in July, and passed! Yay me. Well, then I got a job in New Jersey, but see, I never took the New Jersey bar because I was silly and assumed I would get a job in New York. Tsk Tsk. Well, now I’m stuck working and studying for the New Jersey bar, which is awful. But the worst part is, I don’t really feel like I can complain too much to my lawyer friends. See, because the bar is only given twice a year, the assumption is that everybody who graduates law school in May will take the bar in July. If you fail, you will take it in February. Therefore, the unspoken assumption is that every recent graduate taking the exam in February is doing so because he failed July. BUT I DIDN’T FAIL. I just didn’t take the exam at all. But without going into my whole work history, I can’t just throw the fact that I’m taking the bar soon into conversation, because of all the unspoken assumptions. So I suffer in silence, whine to the people who already know about my situation, and occasionally blog about it.

Now back to studying.

On Being Shomer Shabbat and Studying For the Bar

I’m taking the bar exam in 8 days, so obviously, I’m blogging instead of studying.

Throughout this whole process, the biggest strain I’ve felt was shabbat. I am privileged enough that I was able to take off the entire summer to devote solely to studying for the bar. I signed up for Barbri, the most popular bar review course. Barbri has an intense “paced program” in which they assign a combination of lectures, outline or notecard making, essays, and multiple choice questions. They say the expectation is that you do about 8 hours worth of work a day, 7 days a week. In reality, I found myself spending closer to 10-12 hours a day on the program. This does not take into account shabbat. I don’t study on shabbat. I certainly don’t make notecards, write essays, or bubble in answers to multiple choice questions, but I also don’t feel comfortable reading over my notes, either. I know there are halachic opinions that go both ways on this, but my opinion is that it’s really, REALLY not within the spirit of shabbat. Part of what I love about shabbat is the forced mental reprise, the time to get away from work and focus on friends and family.

But, I pay the consequence. As a result, I spend Saturday nights up until way late doing everything I was “assigned” for Saturday. It’s really draining. I’ve been googling things like “Barbri shomer shabbat” and “studying for the bar shabbos” to no avail. I was hoping to find someone that compiled a list of tips for handling both the Barbri paced program and not studying on shabbat, but I couldn’t. I concluded that either singles shomer shabbat bar taker either had no need for sleep, did a lot of studying over shabbat, or just fell way behind in the program. Since I don’t fall into any of these categories, I guess I should be that person that writes a list of tips. If you have any tips of your own, feel free to leave them in the comments section.

1. Have a strong support system behind you. 

I know that this is really not a choice for most people. You either have it or you don’t. I’ve been blessed with the most amazing husband in the world, and there’s no way that I’d have been able to do this without him. For the past 8 weeks or so, I haven’t done a single load of laundry or washed a single dish. I haven’t scrubbed any toilets. I think maybe I’ve swept the floors twice. The fact that he comes home and takes care of all the household chores so that I can study was pretty much the only way this would have happened. Other people might have the luxury of being able to move in with parents or relatives during this time, and I’d highly recommend it, if it can work for you.

2. Don’t go to lectures on Fridays. 

Barbri gives all students the opportunity to either watch the lectures at home or go to an actual lecture hall to watch the lectures with other students in a classroom setting. In general, I suggest going to the lectures. I find that I am more focused when I’m physically present at the lectures. However, I found Fridays to be tough. Since I had to be ready for shabbat by 8pm or so, that meant I had to be done studying at the latest by 7, earlier if I was making meals. In order to accommodate, I tried to wake up early on Fridays and start the lectures at 7am instead of 9:30 at the lecture hall location. This eliminated the hour long commute I had each day and gave me the ability to maximize my time. I’d throw a chicken in the oven with some bbq sauce during the two 10-minute breaks in the lectures.

3. Minimize the amount you cook for shabbat. 

I like to cook, so this was a hard one for me. We spent a good number of these summer shabbatot at my in-laws house, allowing me the luxury of not cooking. We also bought take out once or twice to serve on shabbat, again allowing me the luxury of not cooking. Friday is much less hectic when basically all I have to do is shower and light candles.

4. Be at home-or in a study appropriate place-when shabbat ends. 

I found that if we were spending shabbat at my in-laws, I often wouldn’t get home until 10 or 10:30 pm (even though they live less than a mile away from us and shabbat was over by 9:15 pm) because you can’t just run out the minute the clock strikes zman. Therefore, we’d try to walk back home before shabbat was over, so that I could immediately hit the books after havdalah.

5. Know that you can utilize Mondays and Tuesdays for catch-up, too. 

At first, I’d spend all of Saturday night and Sunday catching up from Friday’s and Saturday’s work. It just wasn’t feasible. In a ~30 hour period, you just can’t do 30 hours worth of work. It’s not possible. Therefore, I’d save things like reading over model essay answers (if you haven’t figured this out, don’t write out the model essay answers, ever, unless they tell you to. Do a BRIEF outline of what you’d answer–like, just spot the issue and maybe the conclusion–and then just read the model answers!) for Monday and Tuesday, which helped a lot. I didn’t get too behind.

6. The Guzman lectures will kill you, but they’re worth it. 

Towards the end of the paced program, you will take a model MBE (Multistate multiple choice section of the bar exam). There will be 15 hours of review lectures afterwards. Mine were given by Prof. Raphael Guzman, yours may be given by another professor, but regardless. They’re actually really helpful, but ain’t nobody got time for them. Find the time. I found that listening to them while commuting was a good use of time, although I wasn’t able to take notes this way.

In general, just relax, remember “this too shall pass”, take a deep breath, and study on. Oh, and I spent a few Saturday nights not studying and watching movies instead. I felt incredibly guilty, so much so that I opened my laptop just so that I could feel a little bit like I was studying, but I needed it. Remember that shabbat is a mental break, but you might need a different type of break to get back into the study mode, and that’s okay.

Good Luck!!