Early Preparation for the Bar Exam

Early preparation for the bar exam can save you headaches, heartaches, and money down the line. The July bar exam is still half a year away. But if you aren’t careful you can miss out on valuable preparations or mandatory deadlines. The bar examination is full of substantive and procedural pitfalls that you can fall victim to. I’m not being completely overdramatic here. Studying for the bar exam is tough. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. The summer you spend studying for the bar exam will be harrowing and stressful. But you can avoid some of that stress by preparing early.

Deadlines

Every state has different deadlines for the bar exam. Some are very early and may have already passed, while others occur in March or April. Check out the ABA’s Comprehensive Guide to Bar Admission Requirements for the deadlines in your state. But also be aware that study courses will have their own deadlines for registrations and down payments.

Missing deadlines for either the state or a commercial study course can result in significant late fees. So mark your calendar and save yourself a good chunk of change.

Study Options

Speaking of commercial study courses, you should probably decide early on how you want to study for the exam. You can go at it alone, follow a course online, or do a full class experience with a lecturer. I chose the lecturer option. Most of my friends from law school took the class, and I knew that my guilt about looking bad would keep me from skipping. I also knew that I could team up with my friends to study as the test approached.

The online only courses tend to be significantly cheaper. But as you prepare for the exam, think long and hard about this decision. If you’re someone who lacks the discipline and mental fortitude to spend three months studying on your own, don’t do it. You may save a few hundred bucks, but it won’t be worth it if you don’t end up studying and thus don’t pass. You will spend the money you saved on your course when you register for a second exam.

Nobody can tell you which class is the best. Pick the class that works for you, your strengths and your weaknesses.

Finances

If possible, you should avoid working during the bar exam. I know people who did it and passed, but I can’t even imagine how stressful the experience was. Studying for the bar exam is stressful enough without adding a job on top of it.

But this is the real world, where you need to afford food, rent, gas, and alcohol. Take a look at your budget now to see if you have enough money to go through the summer without working. If not, consider getting a part time job for the upcoming months. Hopefully that will let you put away enough money that you can quit or take a leave of absence while you study.

In the event that you absolutely must work over the summer, make sure your employer knows the circumstances. If you’re lucky, as the exam approaches they will be lenient with time off and maybe even give you easier assignments. I have friends who were allowed to study at work during down times. Check with your employer and find out what’s acceptable. No matter what you do, be prepared for the summer. You don’t want to realize in the middle of June that you have no money and need a job.

Living Accommodations

If you are studying in the same city where you go to school, you probably won’t have to worry too much about living accommodations. Just make sure to check when your lease is up. I realized that my lease was up August 1. There was no way I wanted to worry about packing while I studied. I spoke to my landlord early in the year and was able to extend the lease an extra month.

If you need to move to another city for the summer, things can be trickier. Luckily there are resources to help you. Look to see if there are any law schools where you will be studying. Contact those schools and find out if they have a message board you could access for apartment hunting. The National Association of Legal Professionals has a housing directory for law students and legal professionals. I found an apartment for a summer on the site, and it worked out well. You need to be a NALP member, but your law school CSO should be able to help with that. Craigslist is also a good place to find a sublet for the summer.

Special Events

Take stock now to see what kind of special events are on the horizon for this summer. Weddings, birthdays, and anniversaries can all sneak up on you while studying. If possible, make travel arrangements in advance so you don’t have to stress about it later. Also, check to make sure you don’t have any commitments for the actual days of the bar exam. That sounds obvious, but you don’t want to forget and then have to cancel something at the last minute.

(photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rmgimages/4660619662/)

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  • Bob

    I did Barbri, and I’m not sure if I regret it. On the one hand, it was $3,000; on the other hand, I didn’t do anything to prepare other than to attend the course each day. I passed just fine (and did well enough on the MBE to waive into ND).

    So, I guess if you have doubts that you will actually sit down and study, something like Barbri is worth it, but if you can make yourself study, I’d probably recommend buying last year’s copy of Barbri’s Conviser, and just studying from that for a few weeks.

    • I thought the class was worth the money. I definitely studied at home in addition to the class, although not nearly as much as some of my peers.

  • Andy Mergendahl

    “But this is the real world, where you need to afford food, rent, gas, and alcohol.”
    This may be the funniest and most-true sentence I’ve read on Lawyerist. Are you sure you’re not from Wisconsin?

    • I regrettably don’t get the Wisconsin joke. Maybe it’s because I live in Pittsburgh

      • Andy Mergendahl

        That explains why you are unaware of my home state’s regional (I thought national) reputation for imbibing, often, and with enthusiasm. (Many Wisconsinites would also list alcohol as a necessity.)

  • Great post!

    One more thing to think about will be logistics on the day of the exam.

    If you are staying where you are or if you will have already moved to your new city, do a a dry run to find parking lot, or arrange to stay in a nearby hotel and walk the route.

    If you are going to a new place and flying in to take the exam, try to stay in a hotel near the test site or figure out a way to have moral certainty about your travel back-and-forth to the exam.

    If you are taking two states’ bar exams during one three-day-test period, you will have to organize yourself, your airline or train tickets, sleeping and other travel arrangements, your Plan B for everything, your test-day-documentation, and all other contingencies as if you were organizing D-Day. Fret but don’t panic: people do this all the time.

    Good luck!

    • Good thoughts Susan. Taking two exams was horrible. I drove from Philly to New Jersey after taking the exam. That probably should have counted as a DUI I was so out of it. Not to mention the fact that all my friends were already celebrating!