Bar Preparation Is Emotional Preparation

The bar exam might be the dryest subject on the planet, but it’s also full of emotions.

Joy when you pass. Sorrow when you fail. Frustration, hopelessness, anxiety, and overwhelm in between.

Naturally, this can be a new and unique life challenge!

The thing is, these feelings are all temporary. 

When you pass, you’ll celebrate for a day or two. You’ll probably forget how much you struggled and despaired. You’ll start to worry about other problems like how to get sworn in, or finding and keeping a job, keeping clients happy, and so on, as life goes on.

You might even excitedly thank me and say you’ll do anything to repay me, you’ll give me feedback, you’ll donate essays… then never respond again when I ask for a simple writeup. The high will wear off very quickly.

If you haven’t noticed by now, I live to cackle at people for their inconsistent behaviors LOL (don’t think I forget because I’m definitely judging you if you’ve ever pulled this shit).

That doesn’t mean these powerful emotions you’re feeling now are useless while they’re happening.

What do these have in common?

  • Failing the bar
  • Having cringeworthy interview moments and getting rejected for jobs
  • Breaking up a long-term relationship
  • Getting rejected by a date

These were all emotionally and psychologically intense events that happened to me, searing the experience into my brain and soul. Lessons were well learned from these experiences and well applied next time:

  • I passed the bar (and continue my crusade over 5 years later)
  • I got job offers
  • I make time for personal relationships outside of work and the bar (MTYLT)
  • I’m chiller and smoother and less needy (ladies)

You must fail to grow. Strength blooms only in adversity. 

You can’t just “think your way through” and expect real changes. This is especially tempting and problematic for intellectuals like you.

There’s a degree of separation from a full understanding of something, unless it’s associated with an emotional reaction. In fact, true understanding is an emotional event, not an intellectual event.

For example, you may “get” it when you read an outline. “That makes sense,” you say. Then you try to answer an essay, and you’re like “WTF” and don’t know what the right issues to bring up are.

But if you’re like me, next time you’ll definitely remember what facts trigger a discussion of an “ultra vires act” (a Corporations issue I missed completely during practice).

I had a coaching consult client get frustrated about not being ready right away:

He still passed btw

There will be contingencies that will torpedo you out of nowhere, even if you did your best preparation. You’ll get lost. You’ll forget what the 13th Amendment said. You’ll run into issues you’ve never seen. You may even continue to suck at Civ Pro despite weeks of work.

It’s good that he got frustrated early. This feeling is a signal that he should pay more attention to and do something about it.

You’re going to suck on the first day and even the first month.

But you suck even more if you stop trying.

Reframe and welcome your failures because they will give you a better sense of what to do next.

So to give yourself the best chance of passing the bar, I want you to prepare EMOTIONALLY.

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I’m not saying to ready your heart to meet your maker or anything like that (that’s for when you’re sitting in the exam hall). I’m saying, notice when you’re feeling a certain way, and use it to effect a positive change.

Are you feeling frustrated because you got a question wrong or can’t remember yet again what that hearsay exception was? Shocked to see that you got half the MBE set wrong?


Bar preparation isn’t just an intellectual exercise. It’s emotional. It’s mental. It’s also about mastering your ego and psychology.

You’re a human who operates on emotions, no matter how rational you believe you are. Take advantage of your emotions. 

Take advantage of your emotions, but don’t let the emotions take over you.

Don’t waste too much time, but trying to maximize and optimize every minute is exhausting and stressful. It can actually reduce your “efficiency.”

One of the biggest differences between my first and second attempts was how relaxed and in flow I was. How are you supposed to learn if your brain is occupied with anxious hormones hammering at your neurons?

The humbling reality of failure grounded me. I started from zero ego.

The assumption we should adopt is that our future is greater than our past. We will recover from the natural recessions in life. Optimism and resiliency are indicators of growth as well.

Get in there. Fail now. Try things. Be patient. Don’t let short-term discomfort cloud your long-term vision. Embarrass yourself as you get half of your MBE questions wrong. Embarrassment is the best way to learn a lesson. You must struggle to truly grow.

“No [one] is more unhappy than he who never faces adversity. For he is not permitted to prove himself.”—Seneca

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And most important, don’t just suffer failure and waste it. Learn from it. Do something with it. Like a muscle, growth comes from remedying your deficiencies—but only if you feed it.

I shared a story once where I asked for honest feedback from an interviewer who said he couldn’t see himself having a beer with me after work. We may feel discomfort at the brutal truth, but the truth is the greatest generosity and gift:

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