Beware the Post-Bar-Exam Blues

bar-exam-bluesYou passed the bar but you have no job. Or you have a job, but your start date has been deferred until March and your loan repayments start in November. Or maybe you blew the bar entirely this time around. And to top it all off, Thanksgiving is just around the corner, so your whole family is going to be sitting around a table, cutting into a bird and staring you down, asking, “So, what’s new?” and “Why don’t you have a job yet?” and “Aren’t your loans due soon?”

Maybe you are crying a lot, yelling at your significant other for no apparent reason, or drinking more than you know you should. If any of this sounds familiar, you could have a common case of the post bar exam blues.

This year’s class of newly minted JDs and lawyers are entering the job market during one of the worst economic periods in recent history. More than ever, members of this class of grads are worrying about how they are going to pay their bills, whether they have to move back in with their parents, whether they can find a job at their skill level, and, if they were lucky enough to snag a job, whether it’s secure in this economy.

At a time like this, it is important to realize that if you are getting anxious, stressed, sad, angry, frustrated or depressed about your economic and employment situation, (1) you are not alone, and (2) there are resources to help you out.

Vic Massaglia, one of the career advisors at the University of Minnesota Law School, emphasizes the initial importance of sitting down, formulating your questions and then determining who you need to be speaking with. Do you need a career counselor to help you work on your resume, your networking skills and your job search? Or are you finding yourself facing a barrier emotionally or mentally that prevents you from even starting a job hunt on the right foot?

If your post bar exam blues are primarily a sense of hopelessness or fear about finding a legal job, check in with a career advisor or counselor. Call your law school’s career services office and set a time to meet with someone face-to-face. If you moved away when you graduated, call one of your local law schools until you reach someone who will give you the help you need.

In the meantime, Massaglia says, “Make yourself useful. Volunteer, get involved, get active, provide and give.” Doing so will do more than distract you — it will energize you and build your legal skill set. And reach out to friends, family, alumni or the members of your State Bar Association’s New Lawyers’ Section to build and strengthen your existing support network.

If your post bar exam blues are more akin to mental and emotional barriers -– you are having trouble getting out of bed in the morning, or controlling your drinking, or stopping yourself from crying — it may be time to contact your local Lawyer Assistance Program. Find your state’s lawyer assistance program on the American Bar Association’s website.

Although program services may vary from one state to another, the motivations of these organizations are the same. Each provides free, confidential help to lawyers, judges and law students affected by alcohol and/or other drug abuse, other addictions, depression and other mental illnesses, stress and additional life-related problems. The groups aim to provide help for any condition that negatively affects the quality of one’s life at work or at home. As Executive Director Joan Bibelhausen of Minnesota’s Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers explains, “We help lawyers figure out ‘Where do I belong? What is the best place for me?’ And if there is something that is a boundary or a block, we find a way to work that out.”

In Minnesota, every lawyer or law student who calls MLCL for services can get a referral for four free counseling sessions with a therapist. MLCL also runs several confidential legal support groups facilitated by therapists, and makes referrals to other community organizations, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, that MLCL staff has been told are good groups for lawyers. Don’t hesitate – find out what resources your local lawyer assistance program offers to young attorneys. Another good resource is Lawyers With Depression, a website and blog created “for lawyers with depression by a lawyer with depression.”

While Thanksgiving dinner may still be awkward and painful (perhaps for more reasons than your economic situation), you do not have to face the next few weeks or months of post bar exam blues alone. This week, set an appointment on your calendar to sit down, evaluate and develop an action plan for the most important client you will ever have — yourself.

(Photo: Nina’H)

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  • That is a good post. So much of the stress of the bar exam is the not knowing until the results come out.

    Also, kudos for mentioning depression and drug use. Lawyers tend to be perfectionists who don’t want to admit they have lost control, but it happens . . . a lot.

  • John

    This was a huge problem for me. Even though you’re not “doing” anything, waiting for the bar results is something to focus on. I never made it to full on self-destruct mode. I know of a couple people who couldn’t go to bar review courses or study because they didn’t want their academic careers to be over when they passed.