Friday, May 27, 2011

Working Nine to Five

Many students have the notion that studying for the bar exam is a nine to five venture.  “Just like a full-time job…” is what they tell me.  There are two major flaws in their understanding.  First, am I really the first one to clue them in to the fact that practicing law is not a nine to five gig?  Do they truly think that they will be home nightly by 5:30?  Sadly, some still believe that they will have more time on their hands when they are working full-time practicing law than they did in law school.  I briefly enlighten them to the realities associated with the practice of law but then I focus on a more imminent concern- their bar exam preparation.

Since my main function is to lead them on a path to success on the bar exam, I first need to wipe away any misunderstandings that they may have about the exam or the process of studying for it.   Urban myths regularly seep into the law student’s psyche gnawing at their self confidence and challenging their fortitude.  Debunking these myths and separating fact from fiction is a strategic starting point as I gradually replace their vision of a nine to five schedule with a more realistic nine to nine one.

For example, end of semester conferences just wrapped up with my Bar Exam Skills Lab students.  We have fifteen minutes in which to discuss a myriad of issues.  Discussions range from how do I pay for my bar prep class, to how do I study, to lessons in IRAC.  But repeatedly the question du jour was, “How long do I really need to study each day during bar prep?  Nine-five should really be enough, right?”  I was not shocked the first time I heard this but after a few dozen conferences and many similar sentiments, I knew I had some work to do. 

First I must ask, is this generational?  Unlike many of my students, when I was preparing for the bar exam I understood that my life (my complete existence) would be devoted to bar prep during the summer after graduation.  I knew lazy mornings with a cup of coffee and the newspaper, sunny days filled with berry picking and beach-combing, and long weekend camp-outs would be impossible given the shear amount of work ahead of me.  For current students (my California dreamers), it was time for me to deliver a cold, harsh wake-up call.

During one of my last classes of the semester, I discussed how to create an action plan for bar exam success.  With years of experience helping students through this process and the many useful ideas from the textbook I use, PASS THE BAR by Denise Riebe and Michael Hunter Schwartz , I formulated a snapshot view into the life of a bar student.  What an eye opener these soon to be bar takers!   Most were shocked by the intensity and length of time necessary to adequately study for the exam.  But overall, they were grateful to know how they should be spending their time this summer.

By knowing what to expect and establishing a routine before bar prep begins, students increase their likelihood of success on the bar exam.  By heading off procrastination before it starts, delegating unnecessary tasks when necessary, and taking all non-essential items off their calendars, students will free their time and their mind from needless worry.   

While their focus this summer is studying, I also encourage them to balance their bar prep with their personal needs.  Reminding students that sufficient sleep, good nutrition, and regular exercise are priorities seems a bit paternalistic but I have found that gentle prompting is always welcomed and needed.  Balancing and prioritizing our needs and responsibilities is difficult (for all of us).  However with careful planning and advanced scheduling, students should still be able to stay healthy, connect with their loved ones, and have some down time while studying for the bar.  Although bar prep is not a “nine to five gig”, “it’s enough to drive you crazy if you let it”[i].  Instilling confidence in your students and teaching prudent time management strategies should make the bar prep process more manageable and less unpredictable.  

(Lisa Young)



[i]Parton, Dolly. “9-5.” 9-5 and Odd Jobs. RCA, 1980

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