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What I Learned From Taking The Bar Exam: Discipline, Balance, & Nature Of Time

July 26, 2018 Johanna Oh

What do any of us learn from having taken the bar exam?  In the wise words of CIA Superior (Burn After Reading): “I don’t know—I guess we learn not to do it again.”

The bar exam process is a unique experience.  For two and a half months leading up to the bar exam, we step outside the bounds of societal normalcy, only suddenly to reemerge from our caves and reintegrate back into society as quickly as possible.

What we may not readily recognize, however, is that we have given between a 1/6th and a 1/4th of a year of our lives preparing for and taking a two-day exam.  No small sacrifice. 

For those of you who have just taken the July bar exam, I commend you.  There is no denying it is a significant hurdle, but a necessary one.  That said, think about what you might have learned, besides the law, from having prepared for and taken the bar exam that will apply to practicing law. 

I learned three things:

Discipline

We all experienced that overwhelming sense of impossibility when we counted the number of subjects we were expected to know for the bar exam, a sense steadily mounting as we count some subjects twice to account for both federal and state law.  But, for the most part, we all just took a deep breath, sat down, listened to the day’s lecture, hunkered over our outlines, and focused.  Whether it was ten hours or twelve hours a day, five, six, or seven days a week, we studied, reviewed, and memorized. 

As lawyers, we have the foreseeable future to learn, adapt, and figure out what works and what does not; we have access to resources, something we did not have when going into that exam room.  Because of our experience studying for the bar, we know it takes patience, diligence, and persistence to get from point A to point B.  Unless the law says something like “you cannot do X under any circumstances,” we quickly learn the law is never really straightforward; rather it is riddled with nuances, caveats, and exceptions. 

The legal profession is a discipline, both in study and in practice.  We rarely ever go a day without learning something new.

Balance

While studying for the bar, we also realize soon enough that studying all the time is not just unsustainable, it is inefficient.  Given the amount of material that needs to be analyzed, memorized and practiced, we hit walls and burn out, sometimes just sitting there, reading and re-reading the same line of words. 

As a practicing lawyer, burn out is a very real phenomenon.  If you search the words “burn out” and “lawyer” in Google, approximately 27 million results populate in the first 0.33 seconds.  Scrolling through the first five pages of results, articles and blogs report the high stresses of the legal profession, rolling out recommendations to meditate and take vacations.  It is a little too easy to say that maintaining a day-to-day balance is ultimately up to you.  But oftentimes, it is not up to us—emergencies, late nights, and weekend work happen, and in some places, more often than others.  The reality is actively having to make balance a priority whether it is setting aside an hour a day to exercise, working harder throughout the week to keep your weekends free, or spending time with loved ones. 

Make it the rule rather than the exception to seek out quality time with yourself and with your loved ones, and be intentional.  Time today is not the same as time tomorrow. 

Fleeting Nature of Time

No one understands the fleeting nature of time better than someone working against a pending deadline.  Before you know it, you have finished the second day of exams and with that, a quarter of the year is almost over.  The following months are spent enjoying the remains of summer, applying for jobs, and entering or reentering the work force. 

Once you begin practicing law, time seems to accelerate.  There are always deadlines and last minute items materializing.  We spend weekends thinking about Monday, and spend Fridays thinking about how to keep from working on the weekend.  It is no wonder we might sometimes lose track of time.  I had a friend once tell me the last time she had seen me was six months ago.  That couldn’t be, I had just seen her at a Sharks game… wait… back in October.  It was now April, and she was right. 

Your first year in law practice will be a steep learning curve.  You will be learning how to practice law, while also building a brand for yourself.  But remember, time is indiscriminate and waits for no one.  Take a step back and make a measured analysis of your life and what you want it to look like.