A little while ago, I was contacted by Lee Burgess, Esq. of Bar Exam Toolbox. She and her co-founder, Alison Monahan, Esq., have created the site to (in her words) "create a resource that would have both bar exam study tips and alternative bar exam study resources (other than large commercial bar prep companies)."
Of course I'd love to support this endeavor any way I can since I aim to do the same thing. So when she asked me to do a guest interview, I was happy to oblige. Check out Part I and Part II of the interview, as well as all the other great information on their site.
So the bar exam is right around the corner. I remember how scary and stressful it was to be looking down the barrel of the bar exam. I know my stomach was constantly in a knot, my heart would flutter and I would feel panicked. If I started to think about the exam and how close it was, I would have to concentrate on slowing my breathing and taking my "fight or flight" response down a notch or two.
What I want to tell you is that you should try to calm your nerves and not stress out. I almost dare not write that because I know exactly how futile it is to say that to someone about to take the bar exam. I almost cringe at the thought of what snide comments are crossing your mind right now in response to such a suggestion. So since you probably won't listen to that suggestion...
I think at this point in the game, you need to have confidence in your chosen preparation method. (Assuming your method is a trustworthy one), simply stay the course. I remember thinking at this stage that I hadn't really done anything during the past weeks. I believed that somehow I must've dreamt all those hours in the library and tricked myself into thinking I was preparing. I felt as though I knew nothing. The magnitude of the bar exam has a way of creating this kind of mirage. You will face it again after the exam during the excruciating wait for results. About 1 week after the exam, you will have convinced yourself that you missed every issue. You might be unable to remember a single thing you wrote and think you left the exam with blank answer files.
Just know that you HAVE been working - for hundreds of hours. You HAVE learned the law. You HAVE taken practice tests. You ARE prepared. You are in the home stretch, and all you need to do is continue doing what you have been doing. Take practice exams, and test your recall of the rules (ideally through practice exams). Oh yeah, and stay as calm as possible.
The bar exam is over. You have traded months of studying for months of waiting. All of a sudden, studying for the bar exam doesn't seem nearly as bad as waiting month after month for results. To add insult to injury, all your non-law friends and family are undoubtedly asking "did you pass?" You find yourself in the annoying position of having to repeatedly explain to people that you don't get the test results for 4 months.
But believe it or not, results day WILL come. Your nerves will be through the roof, and the terror of thinking that maybe you didn't pass will have you wondering why on earth you told everyone when results are released. So consider this technique: lie.
I have a friend who told people that he wouldn't know until December. I wish I had been so clever when I took the bar the first time. If you pass, there's no harm in telling people "early" that you passed. You could even explain your strategy and no one would fault you for it. But if the worst happens, you have given yourself some time to process the disappointing news however you wish. Then you can break the news to people the way you best see fit.
Here's another deceptive strategy (especially for repeaters): don't tell anyone you're taking the test in the first place! Okay, so this might not work out very well for most people since usually repeaters take the following administration of the exam and that is what is expected. For my second attempt, however, I used this tactic and it worked out pretty well. No one knew when I would re-take the exam, so no one was asking about the bar. It is a little bit trickier to keep bar prep a secret, though. A sudden change like that to your daily calendar is unlikely to go unnoticed.
For me, I just couldn't bear the humiliation of failing again. I didn't want everybody and their mother knowing I was taking the exam and then knowing that I failed (if I failed again). In the end, I did end up telling a handful of my closest friends about it, but they were all people who I knew would think no less of me if I did happen to fail again. Happily, it turned out that I passed, and it was great to be able to tell people that I passed the bar and was now a lawyer; much easier than telling them in May that I was going to take the bar exam but wouldn't know until November if I passed. During all those months of studying and waiting, I never had to answer those 2 annoying questions: "how's the studying going?" and "did you find out yet?/did you pass?".
So maybe you might just want to buy yourself some space from that inevitable and annoying question; could you do it? Could you lie about when results are released?
So the bar exam has come and gone and the wait is on. The agony of waiting for results has set in by now. The best advice for remedying this type of hangover is to not think about it. I know it seems impossible, but it really is the only thing you CAN do. So try.
To keep your mind busy, start pounding the pavement for a job if you don't already have one. With the present legal job market as it is (at least in southern CA), don't be too picky. Take that law clerk position. You'll have your foot in the door and a paycheck in the bank. Remember the old adage: a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush? Well in our case there are no birds in the bush, so if that little tweety bird hops into your open hand, clamp down hard.
You may also want to spend a little bit of time looking into starting your own law practice. Hey, you never know. Although I only graduated 3 years ago, I already know of at least 3 classmates who have opened their own practice. I'm sure there are a number of others I don't know about. I used to think this was asking for a malpractice suit on a silver platter, but maybe not. If you can get into a smaller firm and get to learn the ins and outs of practice well enough, and you have a modicum of business sense, you can probably launch out pretty quickly.
So even if you can only find work as a law clerk even after you get licensed, take it and suck that opportunity dry. If they turn you into their workhorse, even better. That is more opportunity to become self-sufficient and learn everything you can. And don't forget to learn everything you can about the day to day business aspect of a law practice. Remember, it's not worth anything if you don't make a profit!
If you haven't already put together your test supplies, you'll want to do so as soon as possible. You want to make sure that you get to do at least 1 practice test using just the materials you have assembled. There is no better way to make sure you didn't forget anything than by doing a dry run before the big day.
According to the examination administration rules, policies and procedures of the State Bar of California Committee of Bar Examiners, the following items are permitted in the exam room:
The ziploc bag makes it easy for the proctors to see what you have in your possession so they can check for prohibited items without rifling through your items. Do NOT forget to include your admittance ticket and picture ID in the bag.
Although you will not find back-up laptop batteries on the permitted list above, you may bring one. In fact, the bar examiners recommend doing so in case there is some sort of power failure. I had never heard of a power failure happening before, but apparently it has happened. A friend told me of a situation where an entire row of examinees had outlets and thought they had power, but for some reason the power source had been cut off and their laptops were actually drawing on their battery power and not an external power source. Needless to say, they did not realize that and at least some of them had to deal with a dead laptop later in the day. The scary part about this is that when you use ExamSoft, your regular desktop screen is completely blocked so they could not see the icon which indicates that battery power is being used and is almost out. If you have a laptop which has indicator lights on the keypad, you should make sure to check your power source that way. And there is also the indicator light on the power cord itself.
Some prohibited items that you may be planning to bring with you, or which you may forget to leave outside the exam room, include: