Preparing for the 2020 Bar Exam: Learn from Their Biggest Mistakes

It’s that time again. Results for the 2019 July bar exam are in for every state.

You’ve endured the obligatory “aww… you got this” and “I’m sure you passed” comments for weeks and months.

Anxiety squirting into your heart every time you thought of the moment of truth. Heart ricocheting around your ribcage as you check for your name on the pass list. Waiting is the hardest part.

Well, the insanity of the wait is over. But it turns out your nightmare isn’t over…

A law firm was about to give me a job offer.

Turns out they had a strict GPA cutoff of top 10%. Even the partner who pushed for me got in trouble for ignoring their antiquated policy.

The gatekeepers said: No.

That’s OK. A different firm had given me an offer the day before.

I accepted it. I withdrew from yet another interview process.

But there was an issue with a conflict check that took nearly a month to conduct. They rescinded the offer.

Blue balled at the last minute again! Three birds in the hand, nothing to show for it.

“Who the hell are you to compare my failure to yours? Waa… at least you still have a job!”

I’m not invalidating your feelings.

These decisions that were out of my control felt just as devastating as finding out I failed the California Bar Exam 6 years ago.

I remember how reality hit me when I found out I failed the bar. How it squeezed my whole body. How that moment changed me.

Except this time I didn’t cry because I was at work and had to pretend nothing was wrong.

Except this time I’m overbudgeted because I’d just entered a new lease with 2x the rent and a commute 5x as far as my old one.

It hurt my feelings because life felt like a joke.

All this because I turned the page to a new chapter in my choose-your-own-adventure. But any decision to move forward is better than doing nothing. Doing nothing is a choice too.

The experiment was done. It was time to update the variables. The chapter was turning relentlessly.

We enter the future backward. All we can do are look to scenes of the past and learn from them.

So look at these regrets from past bar exam students:

And what they’d do differently:

What do you notice from these answers?

  • Practice more and early. You can’t think your way to success. Especially if you think you’re smart.
  • Time management. There’s no one answer to “how many hours do I need to pass?” Your bar course’s stock schedule assumes there is one path. It’s your responsibility to figure out a study plan that works for you. I’ll show you how in Email #3.
  • Mental and emotional management. You already “know” what you should do, at least at a high level. But we are driven by our hearts. Knowing what to do means JACK if you don’t want to do it or don’t have the motivation. “The mind is 50% of the exam.”

What else stands out to you? One of the hallmarks of successful students is that they think for themselves and don’t make others do all the work for them.

Here, for full candidness, look at the rest of the answers parsed in spreadsheet form. I don’t fuck around. You shouldn’t either.

Most people will gloss over when they see a list like this. “OK, makes sense,” they’ll nod along before they go on with their day. Like a warm shower washing over their head.

guarantee you, when February rolls around, many will panic and wonder what happened. There’s a price to pay for comfort.

But you can’t blame them. Intellectually knowing what you “should” do doesn’t mean you’ll actually do it. (I don’t even remember my New Year resolution and you probably don’t either.)

Similarly, in bar prep, knowing the parts (issues and rules) doesn’t mean you can actually put them together.

The bar exam is a different beast from law school. Learn the acquirable skill of bar preparation.

Fortunately, you have an edge now, just by taking 10 minutes to read my emails/articles every week. I’ll continue to keep you focused and on pace with reminders.

If there’s one thing you take away for now, here’s what to keep in mind:

“Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Wishing is not enough; we must do.”

Let’s IRAC this shit:

Issue 1: “Knowing is not enough; we must apply.”

Rule: “It is tempting to think that just because one understands certain principles one has learned. This is the familiar trap of confusing intellectual understanding with learning.”
—Peter Senge, MIT lecturer

It feels nice to be protected by outlines. It feels nice to memorize rules and regurgitate flashcards. It feels nice to consume an article and find it “helpful” (without doing anything with it).

You’ll want some background knowledge first, but when will you test yourself with a problem? Will you try something (a new approach or resource) to see if it actually helps? Why not? What’s the risk? 

If you’ve really got it, prove it. The examiners don’t care how much more you know than the candidate next to you. They care about what you can do with what you know.

It’s not a stretch to say that your competition isn’t other bar takers—but rather your ability to handle the high-stakes nature of the bar exam, the knowledge you neglect to learn, your ego, your procrastination, your lack of motivation, and the constant battle with your willpower.

If you want to learn, ask, “What do I want to be able to do?” Then do it.

You’ll make mistakes. Good, they become caulking against the torrent of shit that is the bar exam.

Mistakes are not just for rookies. In fact, rookies stay that way because they’re not willing to make mistakes. It’s safer to stay in the realm of theory after all. 

Issue 2: “Wishing is not enough; we must do.”

Rule: The bar is never going to get easier, but you can always get better.

You’ve wished enough. You’ve waited enough. You’ve thought about it enough. Tell me what you’re going to do. Show me what you’ve done.

You don’t have to get it right for now; you just have to get it going. We must DO. Better to build a habit than only do things perfectly.

You eventually have to move on from what you thought should have happened. I prefer to live in reality. The quicker the better.

Even if it’s painful
Even if it hurts
Even with loss
No matter how beaten you are

You have no choice but to move forward. Row that boat. It doesn’t matter if it’s step by step.

And, if you’re repeating the bar exam, you’re actually in a good position because the first time is always the hardest. Whether it’s your first date, the first time you ride a bike, drive a car, or anything else… the first time is the hardest.

Someday, this pain will be useful.

“Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat.”—F. Scott Fitzgerald

Meanwhile, comment below and tell me: What’s your next step? And how serious are you about it? 

I read everything. Don’t let this wash over you like a warm shower.

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