Are you panicking? Feeling crazy like a possessed head of lettuce (which doesn’t even make sense because it’s just that crazy)? Feeling stuck and overwhelmed?
If so, these are perfectly valid reactions to the daunting task before you. You’re not alone in feeling this way!
It’s OK if you don’t feel confident about your bar prep. As a guy, I can understand being pressured to “be confident” and “be yourself.” That kind of advice is so vague and misleading I don’t even know where to begin.
But if you want to rant to me or ask me for “any advice?” so you can somehow receive a magical response with the one weird trick that will solve all your problems and make you feel a little happy for more than three minutes… If you’re hoping for that feeling of confidence to be infused in a green-juice smoothie delivered to you from outside yourself…
That’s not happening today. This is a letter to the you who is willing to develop confidence in your bar prep.
If you’re not ready or willing to generate that feeling from within yourself, you can come back to this later. Or never—who says you need to feel confident with your bar prep anyway?
We both know the inconvenient truth:
- You have ambitious goals, yet you want validation—permission even. You’re not sure you can do this whole bar thing because your life story is that special and unique. If a former prisoner of 32 years can do it but you can’t, I’d like to hear your reason (really).
- You’re desperate for guidance and help and what seems like therapy sessions. Yet even if you finally get a flash of inspiration and realization in the moment, you find yourself unable or unwilling do anything with it when tomorrow comes.
- You want to see your name on the pass list, but there’s a part of you that hopes that there’s a censored version of what goes behind the scenes. It’s like how some end up wanting to be married already but not get married (big fancy dream wedding turns out to be a logistical nightmare catered to please the relatives).
Or what do I know? Maybe you’re already collected and know what you’re doing. Great!
“Easy for you to say! I’m like this because I’m not confident about this in the first place!” you say as you sob grossly. Ah yes, the classic catch-22. Can’t get job without experience, can’t get experience without job.
Being coddled isn’t going to make you confident either. It’ll just make you complacent. I don’t want to make you complacent like when your friends hit “like” on your generic selfies for no reason.
I want you to pass the bar and continue to succeed after that too.
- Methodical and deliberate
- Common traits of successful bar applicants
- You already know more than you think
- WHY before HOW
We all have at least one crippling insecurity that stings our souls every day.
I know what mine is, and I spend time, money, and consistent effort to try to improve it. And I admit I have the same problem you do: I don’t practice it as much as I should because I’m afraid.
That is to say, confidence is selective.
You could be unconfident in sports but confident in playing an instrument. You could be awkward at speaking but good at writing. You could doubt yourself every time you answer a multiple-choice question but feel that all is right when you’re typing out your answer.
If you can be confident in one area of life yet feel helpless in another, then you can choose to grow it in the area you feel helpless in. (Obviously, you can’t change your height or whatever unless you get surgery, but we’re talking about mindset here.)
Don’t use the safety of your inexperience and incomplete knowledge to justify staying in limbo as a professional bar student.
In the first place, confident bar prep isn’t even the be all and end all. It’s about invoking courage in spite of fear in order to start doing the things you know you should do. It’s about taking that first step anyway.
I think it was Will Smith who said the scariest part about skydiving is stepping out of the airplane.
It’s just one step, but you can’t take that first step without the courage that lets you jump into the pool. You can’t get the ball rolling unless you start pedaling the bike with your feet. That activation energy is how you escape the catch-22.
Yes, the process is scary! Even the prospect of success can be scary because it still represents a change in your life and it means you have to do even harder things as an attorney. But if you can’t overcome the bar, maybe being an attorney is not right for you.
Either way, kick luck and circumstances to the side. You either pass or you don’t. Take that first step, and hopefully the rest will follow (and studying will become a habit).
Decide that you’ve had enough of feeling terrified of stepping off Barbri’s train, and walk your own path. Decide to outline the issues and rules even if you have no idea how to answer the essay. Decide to sit down and do a 3-hour block of MBE questions (and then review and understand all the question explanations).
Sit up straight. Clear your desk. Then do it.
But I also know it’s easier said than done when there are so many emotions attached to your situation.
Methodical and deliberate
There’s a lot of things to know, but you don’t have to master everything.
Did you graduate law school at some point in the past? If so, you have it within you to pass.
Stop describing yourself as “overwhelmed.” You’re calm. You’re collected. You’re methodical and deliberate.
Act the way you want, and feelings will eventually follow, along with results you want.
You don’t have to be frantic and frazzled. Derek Sivers tells the story of his biking trips around Santa Monica. He wanted to keep up his 43-minute time by pedaling hard the whole time. Then he decided to take it easy and enjoy the scenery. It took him 45 minutes to complete the route. A difference of just 2 minutes for much less effort.
(Hint: Taking 10 extra minutes to read this article isn’t going to make or break you, although it feels like it under a time crunch. You were going to spend those 10 minutes watching YouTube anyway. If this isn’t interesting you, simply stop reading.)
So relax. Take baby steps. Sure, there are a lot of them, but it’s still a series of steps. There’s no such thing as an infinite staircase.
If you have no idea how to answer an essay, study the model answer. Try it again. If you still can’t do it, retype it until you know how it feels. Stay the course, but don’t fall behind.
Put one foot in front of the other. Before you know it, you’ve made progress. Get these small wins, and you’ll start to feel that you can do this.
Get repeatedly good at answering questions and develop an intuition. It’s when you get the feeling of “I’ve seen this before. I know how to solve this.” The weakness of the bar is that it can only test from on a finite bank of issues. That’s why they’re called fact patterns.
It’s the difference between “OMG I’m driving at more than 45 MPH” and texting while driving with one hand and one knee on the highway. What happened in between?
It’s not about being confident first then getting better. You work on improving first, even at the risk of temporary failure and feeling like a fool, and then you feel confident you can do it.
Maybe you won’t pass this time. But it’s inevitable that you’ll pass eventually as long as you’re consistently improving your studies. Keep doing your best, even if future you will be better than your current best.
I’m not writing this to make you “feel better” or tell you everything will be fine. Truthfully, there’s a statistically fair chance that you won’t make it this time around.
Hey, don’t get mad at me. It’s reality. I almost thought I’d have to take the bar a third time. Waiting for results was more stressful than the actual prep.
So do your best, and prepare for that scenario. Part of being confident in your bar prep means viewing it as a process. That way, you’ll have an easier time accepting that you might have to go through another iteration of it because that’s what this is—iterative experiments. There’s no secret to bar prep, and maybe that’s why it’s so hard.
“Failure is merely an opportunity to more intelligently begin again.”—Henry Ford
Common traits of successful bar applicants
That said, let me tell you about the memorable people who come to me and then tell me they passed a few months later. They have these in common:
BE SPECIFIC ABOUT THEIR PROBLEM
They don’t ask (to themselves or to others) overbroad one-line questions about their problem: “Hi, I’m taking the bar in July/February. I want to improve my essays. Do you have any advice for me?” (The only thing more irritating than this type of question is people who cough into the air.)
No wonder you’re feeling “overwhelmed” if you only look at the big picture. You can break up problems into parts that you can examine closely. You’re a lawyer, so sit down for five minutes in silence and spot the issue you’re having. Things will become clearer.
Successful and earnest students are proactive and have already deliberated about what they think is deficient in their skills and study regimen. If they have questions, they explain what they’ve done so far and what exactly they hope to seek from me.
They want to discuss a specific issue, rather than write an essay about their unique life story that’s somehow supposed to give me context for their vague question/request (that could be answered if they Googled it or, you know, looked at the blog of the person they’re emailing?). More on this below.
If you ask me vague questions, the answer is either going to be so general as to be useless, or so lengthy as to be overwhelming. You’re not going to do anything with my answer either way, so stop asking questions as a way to distance yourself from what you should actually be doing. Or better yet, just ask better questions, which is also a life skill.
The successful ones don’t ask question after question until I ask what’s going on with their practice and then they go silent or say “I’m going to.” They don’t make excuses about their busy schedule. They work with the cards dealt.
Don’t get me wrong. Asking questions is a good thing. I just don’t believe in my 6th-grade teacher Mrs. Bradshaw’s assurance that there are no dumb questions.
Instead, let’s make that “I am doing A, B and C, but B doesn’t seem to be working as well as I’d hoped. Here’s what you said about B, and another source said this about B, but I’m still unclear about it. I’m taking X bar in Y year and month. What would/did you do in this situation?”
See the difference?
Above all, once you have enough information and insights, you must take action to see improvement, and thereby, confidence. The ones who report back to me with their pass results tell me how they actually implemented the strategies they learned about. Some even copy and paste or print out my materials and take notes (commendable, copyright infringement notwithstanding).
In other words, this isn’t intellectual candy to them. They refuse to stick with the same unsuccessful pattern. They correct course if needed.
Everyone else is busy, too, but they’re still doing it. Why not you? What’s going on here?
Not to sound insensitive about your busy situation—but you can’t learn unless you actually DO the work. Not just time spent—but productive work time where you’re learning.
“Clarity comes through engagement, not through thought.”
Instead of waiting to feel ready by spending your days reading outlines and watching lectures and doing flashcard arts and crafts, you could become ready by doing what matters (try to solve problems, fall off the bike, get back on).
I know this is hard stuff! And just because you do the above things doesn’t mean you’ll pass either. Thank you for enduring our harsh reality. But if you want someone to hold your hand and feed you cookies, call your parents.
The alternative is to put the bar on hold if you have too many other obligations or progress is too slow right now. That’s OK too. It’s better than half assing both your bar preparation as well as whatever your other obligations are.
Look at these success stories to get the gory details on how unlikely candidates passed the bar. If they can do it, so can you.
If you like what they did, try it. If not, try something else. But keep moving.
And if your knee-jerk reaction is to ask me “but how”—halt.
You already know more than you think.
You tell me! What do you think you should do?
Do you think I know all that much more than you? I don’t have any “advice” for you. All I do is talk about what worked for me and others. Extract what you like and throw the rest away.
If your first instinct whenever you get stuck is to cry for help, stop!
That’s not confidence. Remember, you’re calm, methodical and deliberate. Act as if, and the feeling will follow.
(You can tell you’ve at least escaped the crazy state if you’re not using multiple question marks in a row in your question.)
You probably already know what you ought to do. If not…
The next thing is to do some basic homework yourself.
I feel privileged and appreciative that you value my input, but don’t be consumed by minutiae that you can solve by trying a quick few things. A little trial and error doesn’t hurt, and you’ll probably learn from it as well. Maybe also look at Google, bar forums, the MTYLT Facebook community, a blog that’s already full of the “how to”… know a blog like that?
I’m usually happy to talk with my readers, but I don’t appreciate being treated like a fucking ATM. If you’re reading my stuff, you know that I regard my attention as the most valuable resource. It’s up to you whether I change my policy of answering every initial email or message.
If you want to ask me a question, I’ve already spent dozens of hours on each of my articles and emails. Don’t make me waste time and—more importantly—attention answering basic/vague questions, especially if you’re just going to ignore the answer you sought.
The tools are out there. I’ve given you strategies. I have premium offerings if you want that extra boost. Use the resources available to you. I don’t care whether you grapple with what I’m saying or what someone else is saying, as long as you ultimately listen to what resonates with you.
You know yourself better than anyone. I’m not going to tell you what you “have” to do or tell you to trust me. I notice my readers tend to be reasonably smart and dedicated people (I filter them by seeing who can get through my long articles lmao).
So even though I might have suggestions for you, I’ll always defer to your reasoned thinking, and you should, too. If you don’t believe in yourself, believe in my faith in your ability to know what’s best for you. My “how” might not even work for you anyway!
If you’re waiting for confidence to fall out of the sky, it’s never coming to you; it can only come from you. Only you can prevent forest fires. I bet you’re already aware of what you need to do. You’re already ready to become ready. Prove it to yourself.
And then you’ll be able to ask yourself helpful questions, or proudly talk about how you’ve improved so far.
WHY before HOW
It’s also about being true to yourself.
Ask yourself, why are you even trying to pass the bar in the first place? How serious are you about this anyway?
You wanna “help people”? Very admirable. But that’s just your “personal statement” answer. A logical PR answer that wraps around your deepest desires like a white elephant gift. Open that shit up, dude.
What’s your emotional reason?
Maybe you’d rather be free from the enormous student loans you got yourself into so that you can support the people you care about, not be a burden to your family and society at large, or maybe even pay off your loans before you die and buy a house one day.
Maybe your ego can’t stand the fact that one asshole you didn’t like in law school managed to pass but you didn’t. You’re better!
Maybe you don’t want to be judged by your friends and family and online dates for being an unemployed sack of shit. What are you going to put in your OkCupid bio… “ATTORNEY” or “FORMER LAW STUDENT”?
I’m not judging even if that’s the entire point of your existence. Hell yes if you want to find better-quality dates and impress them with your bar membership! You’ve earned it.
This doesn’t sound so bad, right? In fact, it’s such a happy vision of the future that you’re tearing up.
That’s the light at the end of the tunnel, a vision of a happy dream.
If you say you want to pass the bar, admit your actual, honest emotional reason, and then do something that moves you toward that light. It’s more motivating than “because I need to.”
If you have something emotionally compelling that you’re fighting for, you can figure out how to do anything.
If your words and feelings don’t match, you’ll start to think of yourself as one of those people who say “let’s hang out next time you’re in town” and then make up whatever excuse they can when the time comes. You’re not going to work as hard for it.
You can’t feel self-confident in your prep if you have no motivation or aren’t even true to yourself about why you’re doing this.
Like most things you read, you’re probably nodding and saying “yeah makes sense” even though you’ll forget it as soon as you close the page.
Even if you forget everything else from above, as long as you know your WHY, you’ll be able to figure it out. And that’s confidence.