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.

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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!!

Niddah Diaries: Scheduling Sex

A frequent topic that arises when talking about niddah is the pros and cons of scheduling sex. Usually, though, this topic arises specifically in regards to mikvah night. Having to leave your house at a specific time on a specific day can certainly be less than easy. Then, coming home and feeling the dual strains of wanting to have sex but also wanting to finish up household chores, etc. can be strenuous to say the least. Thankfully, though, since I don’t have kids yet, this particular challenge is not as difficult as it could be. Still, some days are busier than others, and there was definitely at least once when it was questionable whether I should have gone to the mikvah either Tuesday or Wednesday, and I chose to go Tuesday [without consulting a Rabbi or Yoetzet Halacha], since Wednesday was a little hectic for me.

But, today I want to talk about scheduling sex on the bigger scale. This past week has been finals time for me. I’ve got papers to write and law school exams to study for, plus I’m still working part part time. I’ve been going to bed really late and waking up really early, using my keurig on an hourly basis.

I’ll probably get my period in the next couple of days, meaning that I won’t be able to have sex for the next two weeks. Knowing that, I want to “stock up” as much as possible, and utilize this time that I CAN have sex as best as possible. But, I’m tired. I’m exhausted. I’m worn out.

If I wasn’t constrained by Niddah, I’d say, great–go to sleep this week, but sex the night away after your finals are over! But, I can’t, because I’ll still be niddah for another week or so after the end of finals.

I’m coming to terms with this two-week on, two-week off thing. I actually might think that I kind of sort of like it. But, I still wish that I could PICK the two weeks to be on and the two weeks to be off. Now, I’m left with the choice of either foregoing sex for a month, or foregoing sleep during finals, neither of which is particularly ideal.

Working Moms and Busy “Others”

I’d like to be frank about something here. I know what I’m about to say is not popular, but I’m going to say it anyway. I really don’t have that much sympathy for working moms.

I really don’t mean to downplay how hard it is to be a mom and also work full time, but in my world, that’s normal. When I was growing up, my mom worked full time. Both of my grandmothers also worked full time while raising children. Almost all of my friends’ moms worked.

I am not a mom, but I still have a busy schedule. I go to law school full time, and work part time, plus I have an hour long commute each day, meaning that I don’t get home before 9pm most nights. And once I get home, I have papers to write and cases to read and client files to go over.  I often do the grocery shopping while falling asleep, and my laundry hasn’t been done in two weeks because I just don’t have time for that. Forget about ever making the bed. And yet, there are not blogs and magazines and books dedicated solely to coping with my schedule. How come having a busy schedule is only sympathy worthy if part of the schedule includes children?

Still, despite my non-sympathy, being a working mom scares me. When my sister-in-law was recently complaining about a hectic day she had at work, it started with her pre-school age daughter being sick and having to arrange last-minute childcare before she left in the morning. Then, in the afternoon, she had an off-site meeting that went longer than it was supposed to. Since my sister-in-law is nursing her baby son, she pumps milk during the day. The late meeting meant that she had to find a place in the unfamiliar office building to pump, keeping her co-worker (and ride) waiting. Another time, she told me that her office building was closed for repairs, but all employees were expected to report in to a temporary site. She went to the temporary site, and found that she, and the rest of the employees, weren’t able to do a lot of work from there, since they didn’t have their files and other necessary things with them. While her co-workers had to stay and find busy work to fill their time, her boss gave her permission to leave early in order to nurse (there was no place to pump in the temporary location).

I know that my sister-in-law is an incredibly hard worker and very dedicated to her job. She’s also quite smart and good at what she does. Still, often when she talks about work, it’s often about how her children interfere with her ability to do her job well. It scares me that my ability to do my job well will be impacted by my children.

Perhaps, just maybe, this is the real reason why it irks me so much when moms complain about how hard it is to balance their work and home life. Perhaps, every time I hear that discussion, it reminds me that soon enough, that will be my fate as well.

Self Esteem

As I mentioned in a previous post, I have extremely low self esteem. In the past, this has prevented me from applying to schools, jobs, and internships which I felt were a reach, out of fear that I wouldn’t be able to handle (possible) rejection. It’s also impacted the way I approach relationships, but that’s a post for a different time.

When I started applying to law schools, I figured this would be a good time to work on this aspect of myself, and I applied to several schools that were “reach” schools . I have heard back from a number of the schools I have applied to, and almost all of the responses were positive. However, there are two schools that are at the top of my list of ideal schools. One I haven’t heard from yet. The other one I got waitlisted for. I found out today.

In a way, I expected this. Writing application essays was awful. As I was trying to convince the schools that I was their ideal candidate, that I was smart and ambitious and all around awesome, my insides were screaming, “NO YOU’RE NOT. YOU’RE LAZY AND STUPID AND THE WORSE CANDIDATE FOR LAW SCHOOL EVER”. I’ve really been trying to separate my emotions from rationality, but this is not making things easier.

My mom, forever the optimist, responded to my text of “waitlisted for [school a] :(” with “that’s excellent, when do u hear back?”. It took me a while to figure out her response wasn’t an insult. I guess I should have her confidence, but I just don’t. I equate getting waitlisted for schools with rejection. Similarly, when I got into a few schools but without getting a scholarship offer, I was upset. Acceptances should be cause for celebration, but I’m always looking at the negative.

I really need to work on this confidence thing. I guess I’ve been convinced that avoiding any risk of rejection is not the way to go, but I’m not loving the alternative.

Alternate Personalities via Google

I Googled my name today. Among the people sharing my name were a registered nurse, a college volleyball player, a professor, and a woman with my first name who married a man with my last name and had six bridesmaids.

Sometimes I think that google is not just a search engine, it’s a portal into alternate universes. What if I had pursued volleyball after my tenure as middle school captain of the varsity volleyball team? I may just be playing college ball now, with a full scholarship and everything. What if I hadn’t been disuaded from the sciences when my 9th grade biology teacher made us watch Finding Nemo four different times throughout the year? I may have become a nurse, or even a doctor…

As I sit here sorting through the law school acceptance letters that have arrived, and wait eagerly by my e-mail inbox to hear from the others, I often ponder if the carreer I chose in 10th grade is the correct one. My roomate said the average American changes carreers 7 times in their lifetimes. Great, but I would like my starting carreer to NOT put me hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt just in time for me to realize that what I ACTUALLY want to do is something I could have gone in to straight out of college.

This is where the Google portal stops being useful. When I click on the names, I read about someone who is not me. I’d like a button that I can click next to any one of these alternate selves that says, ‘how to get here’. It would tell me, in great detail, what to do to become that person, starting from where I am right now.

So, any of you computer nerds-up to the challenge??

Blogging Makes the World a Better Place

Just minutes after I posted my disgruntled post earlier today, things started turning around.

I found out that I didn’t actually leave my wallet at home, rather, had thrown it not in my purse but in my backpack, which I had with me as well. And there was still time before the test to down my tall iced vanilla latte with skim milk. The one down side to this event was that the coffee bar had run out of caramel syrup, so I wasn’t able to get my caramel macciato, but hey, caffeine and sugar is caffeine and sugar in any form.

I met with my Boss, who was very sympathetic to my plight and said the only reason she mentioned my absence was because she wanted to make sure I wasn’t sick or otherwise incapacitated. I am sick, but that’s not the point. She cares about me, and thinks I’m a fine employee.

I sat down to write my reasons for wanting to attend law school. Turns out, I have some pretty legit reasons. And also, apparently, I’m pretty darn good candidate if I do say so myself. My resume is overflowing with things I’ve done to be proactive in my community, and that’s OBVIOUSLY something that will follow me in my law career.

I’m still unholy and dirty, but after a whole day of meetings and classes and talking with professors, I sort of seem to forget about it.

Also, and most importantly, I know I have yummy leftover carrot soup waiting for me at home.