With Bar Month approaching and more bar applicants hitting the wall of stress and exhaustion, now might be a good time to share some motivational thoughts for the last leg of the journey. I have been where you are: I felt frustrated, tired, scared, overwhelmed, and sometimes even like an imposter (like it must have been a typo somewhere that let me graduate from law school in the first place). Hundreds of thousands of others have been there, too, and thousands more are here with you now. We did — and you will — get through it. Here are some things to keep in mind as you climb that wall:
1. The bar is an opportunity, not a punishment.
You may feel like you “have” to take the bar because you’ve spent so much time and money and you need to get/keep that job, etc., but taking the bar is a choice. Even if it may feel like the only one, you still GET to take the bar…and we are so lucky to have that opportunity!
There are so many people who never get to this stage and would give just about anything to be where you are: people living in repressive cultures, people who could not make the grades or find the funds to go to law school, etc. You do not have to look far to find them. And of course we’ve seen far too many news accounts this year of people whose lives were cut short by acts of terrorism and hate. We are lucky in so many ways, and being able to make the choice to take the bar exam is a big one. Be grateful.
2. This may be the last time in your life that you’ll only have one thing to do. Enjoy it!
Okay, “enjoy” might be a little strong, but honestly, I often am nostalgic for my bar prep days. Every morning, I knew I had only one thing to do (even though that one thing had many components, like writing practice, MBEs, flash cards, exercise, etc.). It was tedious (understatement), but I could be selfish with my time, and the people around me allowed it. Once you begin your career, it probably will be the opposite, as people pull you in all different directions at once and your devices don’t stop ringing and beeping with problems you need to fix yesterday…but for now, you are in control of your time. Try to appreciate that.
3. No matter what, everything that really matters will be okay.
The bar exam is a test — that’s it. It’s an important, difficult test that we all want you to pass on the first try, but it’s still just a test. Think about the things that really matter to you: your family, your friends, your pets, your faith, your values, etc. You have been working so hard, and you are going to pass the bar; but regardless of the outcome, your family and friends will not go away or stop loving you, and those things that really matter will not change.
4. The graders want you to pass.
Graders are regular people with regular legal jobs who grade as a public service and who want to see applicants pass. They did not write the questions, and they are not the enemy! The bar is your chance to show off all the hard work and preparation you’ve done. Graders have to get through huge boxes of answer books in short periods of time, but you know how to write your answers in such a way as to make it easy for them to toss your papers onto the “pass” pile. Don’t dread the bar exam; be excited to take it, because it’s your opportunity to show the graders how hard you’ve worked, and how awesome of an attorney you will be when they pass you.
5. Doable goals can help.
I’ve talked with a lot of graduates so far this winter, and almost every one — from the top of the class to the bottom — feels like s/he is behind. If you feel similarly, don’t look at the list of tasks you still have to complete as one giant mass; break it down into pieces. For example, if there are four essays and 30 MBEs you needed to simulate but haven’t yet, don’t assume you need to find an open span of five hours to finish them. Move one essay and maybe ten MBEs to one day, another essay and another group of MBEs to another, and so forth. Set smaller, doable goals each day, and create a checklist for them. (Do not underestimate that joy that comes from crossing something off! I still do that every day and it gives me a thrill each time, no matter how small the task was.)
6. Do not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
Law students are accustomed to working as hard as humanly possible to be the best. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, and it’s good to aim for perfection, but don’t lose sight of the fact that there is no Witkin for the bar exam. Do not get so caught up in “bar drama” that you lose sight of this; yes, it’s hard, but acknowledge that and keep going rather than wallowing in it. The only way out is through, and as noted above, hundreds of thousands of others have made it before, and so will you.
Related to that, be careful not to allow anxiety to sabotage your efforts. You graduated from a law school with a rigorous academic curriculum, and you can do this, too. Keep practicing and working hard, and know that you absolutely, positively CAN PASS the bar exam!!