The Bar. Three years of law school and more loans than you may care to think about have culminated in this final test. However, the Bar is unlike any exam taken in undergrad or law school. You cannot approach it as “just another law exam”, which is why Bar review courses, including McGeorge’s PASS I & II and BEAT, exist as resources. Professor Courtney Lee, who leads the Bar review courses at McGeorge, also maintains a weekly blog with important dates and tips for students preparing to sit for the Bar.
So, how does one beat the Bar?
“I did one of the Bar prep courses and I found it to be really helpful [because] it’s a unique set up. I didn’t like that time period when I was going through it, but as a lawyer I can look back on it and say that I found it really useful because I think you go through the same thing as a lawyer.”
– Amanda Uphaus, Snohomish County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney. University of Washington School of Law, 2010.
“I actually remember that as a really delightful summer because I had been working 30-hours per week in law school and going to law school full-time, so I was REALLY multi-tasking. For those few months studying for the Bar, I was just studying for the Bar. I’d go to a Bar prep class in the morning, take a practice test in the afternoon, I’d walk my dog, I’d go meet my girlfriend when she was getting off work, then I’d wake up and do it again. There was a nice rhythm and a sort of ‘focus’ to it.”
– Chuck Morton, Jr., Partner at Venable LLP and Adjunct Professor at Johns Hopkins University. University of Maryland School of Law, 1990.
“I would say to make sure you’re prepared in terms of the format. I know the Washington format has recently changed, for example. So just being aware of how it’s tested, what they’re looking for, and learning that strategy. Also, making sure to focus on your weakest points and trying to improve those as much as possible.”
– Anna Othman, Snohomish County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney. Seattle University School of Law, 2011.
“I was working full time when I took the Bar. Initially I tried to study when time was available, and that strategy failed. I ended up following a schedule for 3 months where I would get to the office at 4:00AM, study for 4 hours, then work a full day. I felt overwhelmed at times, but I kept reminding myself that in the context of a career, three months is the blink of an eye.”
– Nat Burgess, Founder & Managing Partner of TechStrat; former Analyst at Morgan Stanley. UCLA School of Law, 1996.
“I wrote a TON of practice questions. I worried less about reviewing outlines and just focused my efforts on the written part because if you can’t translate it into a practice exam, nothing matters.”
– Joel Espelien, former Corporate Attorney at Cooley and General Counsel at several tech companies. Duke University School of Law, 1996.
“Most notably for me, I realized [that] I was not a great auditory learner. I always did better by reading things, doing practice questions and writing things down rather than listening to lectures. So the second time [I took the Bar] I just did the practice questions, spending my time on things that I knew actually worked for me instead of doing what the curriculum said just because the curriculum said it.”
– Molly Campera, King County Public Defender. Northeastern University School of Law, 2015.
If there’s something to be taken from the lawyers we spoke to, it’s that developing a schedule, doing the practice questions and being prepared for the format of the Bar are essential. Writing the practice questions cannot be understated – “You need to literally write with pen and paper,” says Leah Adams (McGeorge class of 2007), Assistant Director of Career Development at McGeorge. Not only should you build up the endurance to physically write questions in the event that your laptop dies, but the act of writing allows you to think about your answers on a deeper and more analytical level. Most students can type faster than they mentally process their arguments, and that is a quick way to get off-topic and lost within your own answer. Take the time to write the questions, reasoning through the applications of law and determining what information is actually relevant.
Similarly, don’t underestimate the importance of giving Bar prep your full attention – i.e. working full-time while studying for the Bar is not recommended. Although some people can manage it (see Nat Burgess above), it will take a substantial toll on your mental health. Our advice is to treat this period as a full-time job because in the end, passing the Bar is what matters most.
Full interview transcripts of the above excerpts can be found here.