Thursday, October 31, 2013

To Scare or Not to Scare…the Bar Exam

With Halloween upon us, I started thinking about all things frightening.  While at this time of the year ghosts and ghouls are the first to come to mind, the bar exam is a close second.  The bar exam is the single most grueling test of an individual’s resilience and stamina.  While it is a test of legal knowledge, it goes far beyond just knowing the black letter law.

The bar exam is a test of personal strength, courage, and endurance.  Applicants are tested in a variety of ways on subjects both familiar and unfamiliar in a severely time limited environment.  It is a scary endeavor. 

Oftentimes, Law School Deans, Administrators, and even Professors want to mask the bar exam for 1Ls to conceal the utter horror.  They want 1Ls to acclimate to their legal education without the haze of the bar exam impeding their focus.  Bar review companies are even forbidden on campus so as not to disrupt a student’s transition to law school.

These practices make me wonder.  Should we scare our students into studying for the bar?  If yes, should we instill this fear as early as 1L year?  While I agree that 1Ls have more pressing fears to overcome than the bar exam, I also think it is a disservice to ignore the intensity and sheer hell that awaits them.  If I walk into a theater expecting to see a romantic comedy and end up seeing Jason in a hockey mask with a bloody hatchet, my expectations are quashed and I may not know how to react.  (I had to...it is Halloween.) 

Training students on how to prepare in advance is part of our duty as legal educators.  Law students need help learning how to prepare for class, how to prepare their study aids, and how to prepare for their exams.  Preparing 1Ls for the bar is also necessary.  However, it does not look like full fledge bar prep or even like training given to a 3L. 

Instead, 1Ls need notice. They need to know what awaits them and what (if anything) they should be doing before they reach their final year of law school.  Here are a few considerations that should be conveyed to 1Ls.

  • Think about where you want to practice law.  There may be jurisdictional requirements specific to that state.
  • Ask questions!  Your first year courses are bar tested.  If you slip by without having a good understanding of the concepts, you will also be lost during your bar preparation. Seek out the answers to your questions as early as possible so that you can get the academic assistance that you need.
  • Begin thinking about your 2L and 3 L years and your course selection.  Consider the subjects that are bar tested and the subjects that interest you most.  Try to balance your course load between these interests.
  • Start planning for the financial impact of the bar exam.  Applying for the bar exam is costly and bar exam review courses are as well.  Additionally, many students fail to consider the cost of taking time off and paying for incidentals like travel and accommodations while taking the bar exam.  Begin saving early!
  • Research commercial bar preparation offerings.  Many of the bar review companies offer resources for 1L and upper division students for free or a minimal charge.  Take advantage of these resources as a 1L!

In other words, let's not "Freddy Krueger" scare them...maybe just add a little Hitchcock anxiety and suspense.

(Lisa Young)

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