I Accidentally Convinced Someone to Never Take the Bar Exam Again

After results for the 2020 October California Bar Exam came out, my inboxes were flooded with over 100 messages and DMs.

I individually responded to almost all of those over the course of a week and a half. It’s part of a post-mortem ritual that involves celebrating my community’s wins, greeting new readers and followers, and commiserating with the reality some have to face.

One of the messages was from Tracy, who was completely overwhelmed as she planned to take the next exam (text version below):

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Text version
Hi Brian,

I am planning on taking the CA February 2021 exam and am 1) completely overwhelmed and 2) a total procrastinator and 3) old and lazy. I bought Themis and I just feel bad about myself because I am utterly behind and feel like I am not learning anything.

I bought the book FCKthebar and I feel like I am copying essays and answers and not retaining a darn thing.

It is crunch time. To be honest, I bought your Magic and Approsheets and I really haven’t even cracked them open (see #2 procrastination above). I recently moved to CA, but I have had a license in AZ since 1996, so thankfully I will be taking the Attorney Exam. Us oldies don’t learn as fast as the youngsters, so I am freaked out. Thinking about getting the Passes Playbook. Honestly, will the Passers Playbook help me?

Any insight would be appreciated. I really don’t want to have to move back to scorching hot Arizona to practice 🙂


This was an opportunity to reframe the way she described herself. The words you use matter. Mindset is huge.

(I teach practical mental frameworks in Mental Engines.)

I sent her this response (text version below):

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Hi Tracy,

Thanks for the honest note. I am sensing that this may be more of a psychological challenge to tackle. Using words like “completely overwhelmed” and “procrastinator” and “lazy” may be a self-fulfilling prophecy, as it were. I don’t believe you are any of those things when you have decades of experience as a lawyer.

Perhaps you’re looking for the right first step. The exam has changed since the ’90s. Where do you even begin? Perhaps you have many other responsibilities and haven’t considered shifting your priorities. Or perhaps you simply don’t want to study for the bar exam! (You’ve been a lawyer for a long time already so totally understandable)

I do think Passer’s Playbook will help you develop a clearer study framework, as well as suggest ways to retain the material, and what to even focus on (for example, rules and issues — as identifying issues is paramount for essay writing). There’s no harm trying it, since I have a 30-day satisfaction policy.

I might suggest the Mental Engines course instead of Passer’s Playbook, for managing your mental state and organizing your emotions, although I feel daring suggesting it to someone who has significantly more life experience than I do (about to turn 35). But I do want to ask you to consider it at least. It’s fairly short and sweet (depending on what you want to take away from it), appropriately catered to busy bar takers. More info on what I address in the course: https://makethisyourlasttime.com/mental-engines/

I hope that gives you some ideas. Don’t hesitate to ask if you have questions… My response time is a bit slow as I’ve been spending all weekend personally attending to several dozens of emails and messages after CA results came out :)

Four days later, I got this reply (text version below):

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One sentence in your email to me below really struck a chord, which was “Or perhaps you simply don’t want to study for the bar exam!” Lo and behold, you are right, I don’t want to study for the bar exam, and, in fact, I no longer wish to be a lawyer. I closed my practice in AZ several years ago, got sucked back into family law working for a firm but it was extremely obvious I was burned out. I left that firm, packed up my stuff and just moved to CA for a change of scenery. CA has been hard on me. Lots of change in a short amount of time.

Bottom line is that I am not going to take the exam in February or ever. I just do not have the drive and I know that being a lawyer isn’t even that great, well to me anyway. I have wasted a ton of money on the application for the bar exam (it’s a heftier price tag if you are taking the Attorney Exam) and stupidly signing up for Themis. Admissions informed me the deadline to request a refund was 12/17, so I guess I just made a $1,500 donation to the State Bar of CA. I think that is harsh, but AZ did not have a friendly State Bar either, so perhaps that is the norm.

I have not worked in a while and all this extra money I wasted on a hasty decision to take the bar exam will haunt me.

As it turns out, she simply didn’t want to take the bar exam—or be a lawyer.

Sometimes you just don’t want to do this stuff! You actually don’t HAVE to take the bar exam or be a lawyer. No one’s forcing you (hopefully).

Of course, in this case, Tracy was fortunate enough to have tried being a lawyer already and no longer had the pressure to pursue a legal career. But I know people who passed the bar exam and then immediately went on to pursue what THEY wanted to do (which was emphatically NOT law). There are also many people out there who want to leave the law.

The question to ask yourself is what emotional problem are you looking to solve by passing the bar exam. Is there a void you’re filling, or is there a reason you’re doing this?

  • Do you want a career in law and the work (or prestige/money) involved?
  • You went to law school, so you’re going through the motions on the default path? (Like how bar review courses frame their course as the default path)
  • Did you delay your career path after college because weren’t sure what you wanted to do?

Remember that you always have a choice. Making this your last time doesn’t always mean you pass the bar exam. It may mean that you move on to other things. That’s fine too! In fact, it’s admirable if you make a conscious decision that the law is not for you.

But if you ARE determined to make this your last time taking the bar by PASSING it, there are resources that can support your preparation process.

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