How to talk to your loved ones about the bar exam

Before you begin the arduous process of preparing for the bar exam, there is a conversation that you will want to have with your loved ones regarding what to anticipate in the coming weeks and months. While you attended law school your family and friends became accustomed to seeing you spend long hours in the library. The bar exam takes that commitment to the next level. Therefore, to avoid any misunderstandings or hurt feelings, you will want to be sure that everyone is on the same page about what to expect.

Problems in your personal life can pose a significant risk to your chances of passing the bar exam. Therefore, it is critical that you get your loved ones to understand what preparing for the bar exam will entail. As early as possible, inform your significant others about the amount of time and effort that will be required of you to pass the bar exam, why passing the bar exam is important to you and your career and the amount of stress that you will be under during the process. Explain what you will need from them in term of support and understanding. Be sure to emphasize that it is only temporary. After the bar exam, life will return to normal and you can once again be counted on to be there for them.

Sometimes non-lawyers are unaware of the challenges posed by the bar exam and may question the need for constant study in the weeks and months leading up to the exam. In such cases, it may be helpful to show your bar review materials to your significant others and describe all of the topics you will need to learn. You can also share your state’s bar passage rates with them and explain that having a law school degree does not translate to automatic passage of the bar exam. Explain that many smart people fail the bar exam due to lack of preparation.

While it is always helpful to put together a detailed study calendar for the months leading up to the bar exam, this may also prove useful to show your family how much you intend to study and the times that you have already set aside for bar preparation. Hopefully your schedule will allow for some family time on the weekends to spend with your loved ones. Even if this time that you set aside for family is less than what you usually spend with them, it will at least show them that you are thinking about them and have carved out a few hours in your week that are just for them. I also recommend that you schedule some time after you complete the bar exam for a vacation or other fun family activities. If you cannot afford a vacation, just promising to take your kids to the local zoo or a local amusement park after the bar exam gives them something to look forward to during the times when you are busy studying.

During the bar exam, your family and friends will notice that you are not only absent more often but when you are around, you may seem more stressed out than usual. This is to be expected and they should understand that if you are a little bit grouchier than usual it has nothing to do with them and not to take it personally. Consider apologizing in advance for any insensitive behavior you may exhibit. Having said all this, do not use the bar exam as an excuse to be a jerk to your loved ones. Just because you are stressed out, do not take it out on those around you.

To maximize your study time during bar review, it is essential that you minimize demands on your time by screening your phone calls and other distractions. To avoid hurt feelings, it may be helpful to change the outgoing message on your voice mail to explain that you are studying for the bar exam and that phone messages may not be returned right away if at all. You can have a family member screen messages for you by directing callers to contact your spouse or significant other in the event of an emergency and then authorize only that person to contact you if the situation warrants it. You will find that most people will solve their own problems if they know that you are unavailable to help them.

You can do the same thing with your e-mails. Simply turn off the e-mail program on your computer and do not check your inbox more than once a day. You can set your e-mail program to send a return message back to senders with a feature known as an auto-responder. You can create a standard response message that explains that you are studying for the bar exam and will not be checking your e-mails as often. Again, you can provide an alternate person for them to contact if their situation requires your immediate attention. Let that trusted individual decide whether or not the message requires your immediate attention and screen your messages accordingly. You will find that 99% of the messages that come through are neither urgent nor important enough to require an immediate response. For those that are, you can deal with them without being distracted every time a trivial matter comes through.

The strategies outlined above will help you prepare the important people in your life for the rigors of bar exam preparation. If you dread having this conversation with your loved ones, you may be pleasantly surprised to find out how supportive they can be. While they may not like the fact that you are not around as much, they will certainly understand that it is only temporary and that your commitment to passing the bar exam will further your legal career. Therefore, reduce the potential for distractions during the bar exam by managing the expectations of those who depend on you. This will enable you achieve the maximum amount of study time with minimal guilt.