By Kevin O'Keefe

Bar exam advice from a simple minded lawyer

I watched Twitter and blog posts enough today to be reminded that the bar exam begins tomorrow for thousands of law grads in each of our fifty states. I found much of the advice given far too serious and in many cases counter productive.

For the non lawyers, the bar exam runs two to three days, depending on what state you are in. It can be a harrowing experience for many. The only thing more harrowing is that you don’t get word that you passed or failed for as long away as Thanksgiving time in states like California.

You’ll get a lot of advice from different folks, but for the many law students who follow me here and on Twitter, here’s some thoughts/advice I would give my kids or best friends.

  • Relax, there’s nothing you can do now that’s going to change how you are going to do. Don’t be one the nervous nellies you’ll see carrying bar review materials dam near to the testing room door and studying during breaks and at night. Throw those bar review materials in a dumpster tonight.
  • Know the odds are you are going to pass. 10% of the people are dumber than you. For me that may have been a reach, but I threw it in. 10% of the people are going to have a bad day or two. And 15% of the people are going to be so freaked out they are going to choke. Exclude that 35% and you have 65% passing. Those are good odds. In fact, the bar passage rate for the vast majority of states (exclude California) is higher than that.
  • Between sessions stay the heck away from anyone who wants to talk about the exam. All you’ll hear is how people analyzed the issue totally different than you. Who cares? It happens all the time in law school essay tests you passed. The bar exam is no different. Plus, can you think of anything that’s more a waste of time and energy than discussing water that’s gone under the bridge?
  • Work out during breaks. I ran marathons religiously back then so I got out with friends also taking the exam for an 8 or 10 miler during the midday break. You need to clear your brain. Do something fun in the evening. Run, go to a movie, go out to eat at a nice restaurant, whatever you enjoy – even if it means spending a few bucks.
  • Ask Mom to say a few prayers for you. That’s what moms do. They’re prouder than anyone that their daughter or son is about to become a lawyer – giving them something to do during the bar exam is allowing them to contribute to the cause. Plus, I always thought a prayer never hurt anyone.

By the time you get to the bar exam your work is complete. You’ve gone to law school for three years, and if you’re like me you studied hard just to graduate. You’ve gone to bar review classes studying at night for eight weeks. Enjoy the fact you’re about to become a licensed lawyer.

When I ran marathons, I viewed the race as a celebration of months of hard work. If I didn’t train properly, there was nothing I could do the week ahead that would change anything. Running sub 6 minute miles on race day took all the focus and energy I had. Worrying about the race or trying to squeeze in an extra speed workout the week before was counter productive. The bar exam is the same.

The weekend before my bar exam in 1982, I headed from Sacramento to San Francisco on Saturday night with two good friends from law school (one, LexBlog’s current lawyer) to run the San Francisco marathon on Sunday. Dinner and beers Saturday night, followed by an afternoon of beers on Sunday after the race. A perfect way to blow off steam. We all ran pretty good times too.

Relax. Celebrate the work you’ve done. And congrats on completing one heck of a long journey.

Kevin O'Keefe
About the Author

Trial lawyer turned legal tech entrepreneur, I am the founder and CEO of LexBlog, a legal blog community of over 30,000 blog publishers, worldwide. LexBlog’s publishing platform is used on a subscription basis by over 18,000 legal professionals, including the largest law firm in each India, China and the United States.

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