Be Selective When Choosing An Elective

Should I take bar exam subjects while in law school? This is a question that most law students struggle with as they choose their elective courses. While most law schools do require you to take bar subjects as part of your core law school curriculum, your state bar exam is likely to test on additional subjects which you are not required to study in law school.

If, for instance, your state bar exam tests “Oil & Gas Law” and you already have a strong interest in taking a course on that subject in law school, then of course you should take it. But what if you have no interest in studying about “Oil & Gas Law” and no plans to practice in that area of specialty? Should you take it anyway to ensure your success on the bar exam? In most cases, I would argue that you should take that class.

Some of you may be surprised by my answer. Maybe you thought I would give you the same advice as your undergraduate academic advisor who told you to “follow your bliss” and take courses that interest you (if those people are so smart, why are they working as academic advisors?).

Don’t misunderstand me. I am not against taking courses that interest you, as long as they fit your schedule. If you have room on your class schedule for classes that interest you as well as classes that can help you pass the bar exam, then by all means take both. But as you survey the list of potential elective courses to take in your upcoming semester, if you are forced to choose one or the other, choose the one that will help you pass the bar exam.

By now you may be wondering, “won’t I learn ‘Oil & Gas Law’ (or whatever subject I am missing) in my bar review course?” Of course you can learn any subjects in your bar review course that you did not master while in law school. However, trying to learn a completely unfamiliar subject in a matter of a few days (rather than a full semester) puts you at a slight disadvantage. You will not be as familiar with the concepts and vocabulary of these subjects as someone who is merely reviewing them (they call it bar “REVIEW” for a reason). Multiply this disadvantage by the number of bar subjects you never studied in law school and you can see that you will have many gaps in your knowledge to fill. Studying for the bar exam is hard enough without that additional handicap.

Of course you must balance the above advice against the desire to specialize in a particular area of law. For example, if you are passionate about intellectual property law and want to practice in this area upon graduation, then it would certainly benefit your career to take an elective course in this area. However, if you are just one of those intellectually curious types who always wanted to learn about the law of endangered species but have no desire to practice in that area (and it does not appear on your state’s bar exam), then you may have to forgo that class if it conflicts with your opportunity to take a course on a bar exam topic.

As for those interesting but non-essential courses you missed in law school, you can always learn about them by taking Continuing Legal Education (or CLE) classes on these topics once you are licensed. That’s right. The learning never stops, even after you graduate and pass the bar exam. Lawyers must be life-long learners by constantly taking CLE classes to maintain their law licenses. So don’t worry about missing out on learning opportunities in law school. You must be selective in choosing your electives. Your biggest priority is to pass the bar exam so that you can become a lawyer. That’s when the real learning begins.

How will I pay for the bar exam?

Bar Exam Expenses

When you first applied to law schools and sat down to budget your funds for tuition, books, etc., you may not have realized that after leveraging yourself to the hilt, you were going to need to cough up even more money after graduation for something called the bar exam. Don’t feel bad. Most students fail to account for how they will pay for their bar exam expenses.

These days, full-service bar review course can set you back several thousand dollars. Then there are the supplemental bar review courses that many students will take to provide additional preparation for the essays or MBE. Furthermore your bar exam expenses will consist of more than just bar review tuition. You will also need money to pay the bar exam filing fees, living expenses while you study full-time for the exam, as well as hotel and other travel expenses if you have to take the exam outside your hometown.

Given the necessity of becoming licensed to practice law you cannot afford NOT to take the exam. So how will you afford to take it? Depending on when in your law school career you are reading this, there are several options that may apply to your situation.

1. Bar Review Discounts

Investigate the bar review courses available for your state early in your law school career. Once you decide which course makes sense for you, inquire as to any discounts that may apply if you sign up early. Also inquire as to whether you can lock in a guaranteed price and avoid future price increases. You should also ask about scholarships or tuition assistance programs as they may provide additional reductions in your bar review expenses.

2. Bar Exam Loans

Many banks around the country offer what is called the Bar Exam Loan (BEL) which allows you to borrow money for your bar exam expenses. You can use this money to pay for your bar review course or you can use it toward living expenses and other expenses associated with taking the bar exam such as travel expenses associated with taking the exam. Be sure to investigate these loans and apply well before you need the money as it can take time to process.

3. Earn a free bar review course

If you know that you are going to have difficulty paying for your bar review course, then you should inquire about becoming an on-campus rep for your bar review course. There are usually only limited openings for bar review campus reps so you will want to inquire early. Many bar review courses hire reps starting in their first or second year of law school. Therefore, if you wait until your final year of law school to apply, you may find that all of the positions are filled. Also most of the hiring occurs early in the school year, so do not put off applying for these positions. Furthermore, you may have to sign-up a minimum number of students before earning your free bar review course. Therefore, you will want to give yourself more time to meet those targets. It will be easier to sign-up your classmates in their first or second year of law school when they are uncommitted than to wait until their third year when they may have already signed up with someone else.

I hope that the above suggestions will help you to better afford your bar review expenses. Ignoring your bar review expenses will not make them go away. So plan ahead to ensure that you can afford all of the costs associated with the bar exam. Taking the bar exam is stressful enough without having to struggle to pay for it.

Can I work while studying for the bar exam?

I train students for the bar exam. In my many years of teaching, the question of working while studying has come up often. Now given the recent economic downturn, this question comes up with even greater frequency. While I always advise students not to work while studying for the bar exam, I realize that some students simply do not have that luxury in today’s economy. Therefore, I have devised a more nuanced answer to that question.

As a general matter, studying for the bar exam should always be treated as a full-time job. That means that during the roughly two-month period from the start of your bar review course through the start of the exam you would be putting in a minimum of eight hour days, just like a real job. In fact, most students end up putting in more hours than that each day not to mention studying through the weekends.

Therefore, if you are working, you should absolutely take time off to study for the bar exam in order to give yourself the highest probability of success.

Your goal is to free up as much time as possible for studying. Talk to your employer as early as you can so that they can re-assign your workload to others in your absence. If you cannot take a solid two-month leave of absence, then perhaps you can negotiate a way to trim back your office hours and still retain your job.

I have heard of employers who will allow bar applicants to have flexible hours to permit them to attend bar review lectures. I have also heard of situations where employers will let bar applicants study at their desks when the office is quiet so long as they are available to assist when needed. Every employer is different but the key to find a way to free up time for you to study while making sure that your workload is somehow being handled. So be considerate of your employer’s needs and you may find that a workable compromise is possible.

What if your employer will not let you take time off? If you find yourself in a situation where you need to keep your job but your employer will not allow you any time to study during the workday, then you must start the process much earlier. Remember, that you need to be able to put in the same number of hours as everyone else. So if you cannot do that in the two months leading up to the bar exam, then you need to start much earlier so that you can put in the same number of hours over a longer time horizon.

See if your bar review course will allow you to order their books and other materials well in advance of the start of their course to give you extra time to review. If you can get your bar review materials at least four to six months before the bar exam that will give you more time to review the bar subjects, put together your flash cards, and do the necessary practice testing. Choose a bar review course that provides a home study option which allows you to get all of the lectures in audio or video format to review at your own pace.

The bar exam is hard enough without setting yourself up for failure. Therefore, if it is already less than four months before your bar exam and you realize that you cannot set aside the hours necessary to adequately prepare, you may want to postpone taking the bar exam for six months so that you can give yourself time for effective preparation.

I learned all I know about bar exam preparation from my father, who taught his own bar review course for over 40 years. I am reminded of something my father used to say to his students: “If you unable or unwilling to put in the necessary time and effort to be successful on this bar exam, then tell your friends and family that the bar exam is given in two parts. The first part is in July. The second part is in February.” Hopefully, that advice will not apply to you. Good luck.

Top 10 Things You’ll Wish You Knew About The Bar Exam

Hindsight is 20/20, especially when it comes to bar exam preparation. Unfortunately, first-time test-takers do not have the luxury of hindsight. Therefore, I will share with you the top ten things that previous test-takers wished that they had known when they began the process of preparing for the bar exam. For best results, implement these ideas early in your law school career.

  1. Take bar exam subjects in law school. It is called “bar review” for a reason. It is supposed to be a review of the subjects you learned in law school. The good news is that most of the subjects tested on the bar exam are part of your law school’s core curriculum. But some of the subjects tested on the bar exam are offered by law schools merely as elective courses. Therefore, it is up to you to make sure that you take these courses. While it is not fatal to your bar exam success if you have not had all of these courses, you should keep in mind that it will make the bar review process more difficult if you have to learn this material for the very first time in your bar review course.
  2. Start your bar exam application process now. Get your bar application early and begin compiling the information you need now. If you have led an uneventful life, you may find that the process goes quickly. For the rest of you, it is going to be a chore to compile a list of every place you have ever lived and worked and everything you have ever done (good or bad). Don’t panic just because you have a couple of speeding tickets in your past. The most important thing is to disclose everything. Trying to cover-up your misdeeds is only going to get you in more trouble. Answer every question truthfully. If you don’t have all of the information requested, you will need to do some research. That is why you should start the process early. Otherwise you may not have the time to gather all of the required information before the filing deadline.
  3. Make hotel reservations and other preparations early. If you do not live in the city where your state’s bar exam is administered, you will need to stay in a hotel during the week of the bar exam. Expect to find a shortage of hotel rooms. Realize that you will be at a disadvantage if you have to stay far from the exam site. Therefore, you should make your hotel reservations as soon as possible to avoid being shut out of the hotel of your choice.
  4. Enroll in a full-service bar review course. I do not believe that anyone can be expected to pass the bar exam without the benefit of taking a course. The typical bar applicant has approximately eight weeks to prepare. That’s barely enough time to memorize all of the black letter law and figure out how to apply it to the various essay and multiple-choice portions of the exam. You do not have time to reinvent the wheel by putting together your own bar exam study materials and then experimenting with various study methods to figure out what works. Why not benefit from the collective knowledge and experience of those who have gone before you by investing in a good bar review course? That way you can spend your time and energy more productively.
  5. Figure out how you will pay for your bar review course. I am always amazed by how little thought students give to the question of how they will pay for their bar review course and other bar exam expenses. Just like in law school, if you cannot afford the cost, you will have to apply for loans. Many local banks offer Bar Exam Loans (BEL). Contact them now as the application and approval process can take a long time. In addition, some bar review courses offer scholarships and other financial assistance. There are also opportunities to earn your bar review tuition by becoming a bar review Campus Representative.
  6. Take the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE) early. MPRE requirements vary from state to state. Some states require that you pass the MPRE exam in order to take their bar exam. Others will not allow you to be sworn in as an attorney until you achieve a passing MPRE score. Regardless of your state’s requirements, it is best to take the MPRE exam at the earliest possible opportunity. The test is given three times a year (in March, August, and November). Most students will take the MPRE during or after completing their law school course on Professional Responsibility. There are several MPRE Review courses available to prepare you for this exam.
  7. Do not work while studying for the bar exam. Most bar applicants will be treating their preparation for the bar exam as a full-time job during the two months leading up to the bar exam. If you do not have the luxury of taking off two months from your current job to study for the bar exam, then you need to begin your bar exam preparation well in advance of the regular bar review session. Contact your bar review provider about getting home study bar review materials (such as DVD videos of lectures) as soon as possible so that you can put in as many hours of prep time as everyone else over a longer time horizon. If you cannot do this in the months leading up to your bar exam, then you should consider postponing the bar exam until you can devote adequate time to preparing.
  8. Make a study plan (and stick to it). If you breezed through law school without much effort, then you may resist what I am about to tell you: You must make a bar exam study plan and stick to it. Unlike law school, there are no shortcuts in bar review. The bar review course that you are taking has already reduced the material to its most essential elements and rules. Now it is up to you to learn these rules and how to apply them. This will require extensive review over several months. Creating a master study plan will help you break your bar review materials down to bite-sized pieces and keep you from getting overwhelmed by it all.
  9. Do NOT make outlines. Make flashcards instead. Most law students are accustomed to outlining their courses in law school. However, this is not law school. Forget about briefing cases, the Socratic method, etc. Your bar review course will give you a detailed outline of each and every topic. There is not much benefit in spending your precious time outlining these outlines. Instead, simply reduce these outlines to a list of testable issues and then put those issues on the front of a note card. Put the corresponding elements or rule on the back. Now you’ve covered every ISSUE and every RULE of every testable subject. If you think in terms of IRAC (Issue, Rule, Application, Conclusion), then you will recognize that the issues (I) and rules (R) on your flash cards are the basic building blocks of your essay answers. You are halfway done before you even walk in the door of the testing site. All that is left for you to supply are the APPLICATIONS and CONCLUSIONS, which you will formulate in response to your bar exam essay questions.
  10. Practice testing is the key to success. A misconception that students have about studying for the bar exam is that they should focus their efforts on outlining and memorizing the material taught in their bar review course. While a certain amount of memorization is required, that is only the beginning of the process. The real goal is to do as much practice testing as possible. In doing so, you will learn how to take the bar exam while at the same time learning the law. While it is easy to self-grade the multiple choice questions, be sure to take a bar review course that gives you the opportunity to turn in practice essay tests to be graded by a licensed attorney and given back to you with a number score and detailed feedback. It is essential to get meaningful feedback on your practice essays in order to know whether you are on the right track.

This top ten list puts you ten steps ahead of your law school peers who have yet to figure these things out. Someday they will wish they knew what you knew at the start of this process. I hope this advice will help to make the bar exam a one-time experience for you.

See you at the swearing-in ceremony.

Welcome to the Bar Exam Cafe Blog

We are excited to launch this new blog as a source of expert advice on all aspects of the bar exam. In future installments we hope to tackle a wide range of topics to assist you throughout the bar exam process.

For instance, we plan to discuss the often confusing process of applying to take the bar exam. We will talk about how to pay for your bar exam expenses. Of course we will also devote a lot of space to discussing how to study for the exam as well.

We encourage you to bookmark this page and come back often to check out the latest postings. Also if you have any topics or questions that you feel would be of interest to our readership, please post them in the comments section below and we will try to address your concerns in upcoming postings.

Thanks for visiting with us.