Tuesday, July 14, 2009

And, Heeeere's the Bar Exam!

Well, it's too late already for the helpful hints of yesteryear about prepping early for the bar, and pacing yourself and all that crap. Ooops. I mean, helpful information.

It's either here, or looming on the horizon. Check here, at the National Conference of Bar Examiners for your favorite state bar exam date to see if OOPS! you missed it.

So, what's left to tell you?

Don't stress out!

Don't Panic! Oh, let me say it nicer: don't panic, dear.

I've been writing about the bar exam for some years, and patting hands for far longer. I took the bar in 1981 (geez, has it been that long?!), and the trauma still seems fresh. Here is my cynical point of view from a 2006 post here at OOTJ:

While the California bar is notoriously difficult, it is clear that bar examiners nationwide have been raising the bar. Meanwhile law schools play the blame game -- "Oh, gee, we shouldn't be taking students with LSATs below XX! The students with lower scores just cannot compete."

"We should be tougher in our grading; our bar passage rates look bad, and it's not fair to take the students' money when they have no hope of passing the bar after paying us all that tuition."

"Our students need to practice more on
(a) writing; it builds analytical skills and is essential to essay writing and bar passage (and oh yeah, as well as being a good lawyer);

(b) multiple choice exams; our students need to practice these for the multi-state portion of the exam (not that it affects lawyering, but what the heck);

(c) skills; more and more bar exams are including a skills portion where the hapless students have to draft a memo or contract or do some other lawyerly activity under fire."

Actually all those things are true; they will help students pass the bar exam, as will adding courses that give at-risk students academic support. You can also give some bar preparation during law school, just as long as the law school experience does not turn into a bar prep course itself.

However, all this hand-wringing over bar-passage rates really gets to me. Can we keep in mind that the bar exams, while sold as a remedy and preventative for poor lawyering, is largely a guild? Its main purpose is preventing too many lawyers from entering the field and diluting the market value of the degree. I hate to be so crass about it, but that is essentially what this is about. The bar examiners set a percentage that they will allow to pass. You are above or below that cut. Boom. That's it for that exam period. Does that have anything at all to do with quality of lawyering, skill in representing clients or ethics? It has some, but not as much as we would like to think. And in the law schools, we would like to think it's all the students' fault; they are already carrying all the burden on this one, folks! Let's at least be honest with ourselves about what is going on.
I don't want to bum you out if you are facing the bar. But be honest with yourself. You are either above or below the cut off line. The exam is not really measuring your quality as a barrister. So don't beat yourself up over the exam. Drill on the exam prep materials regularly. Take the preparation seriously so that you are in the percentage that is above the X% that the bar examiners, in their wisdom, decide is the cut-off this year. So you don't have to live through this again.

BUT, if, for whatever reason, you don't make the cut-off this test. Do NOT call yourself bad things. This is a simple, mechanical process that is about nothing but protecting the business interests of those already in the bar association. It does not make a judgement about you as a potential lawyer, or you as a law student. Do not link your sense of self worth to your passage of the bar exam. It says nothing about you as a person, as a potential lawyer or as a law student.

Manage your thoughts and attitudes. When you start to think "I must..." or "I have to ...," stop right there. Examine the thought for some underlying irrational thought. If you "must" or "have to" do something, what will happen if you don't? Probably NOTHING at all! How you talk to yourself about goals has a powerful effect and can interfere with your progress and drain your energy. Watch those "must" statements!

Manage your time. It's too late for a lot of things, but you can still manage your time to schedule studying. Don't skip or skimp on it. But also allow time to exercise and laugh a little every day... I believe that some folks miss passing the bar just from being wound too tightly. Try to schedule some exercise, some laugh time and lots of studying into every day.

When the exam is over, don't agonize about it. It's over, and worrying about it won't do you any good. Drop it and have a good time. You've done enough agonizing already.

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