You’re the Dean of Your Own Bar Exam Studies

Here’s something that people who pass the bar never say:

“I listened to all those bar course lectures. They were so helpful!”

Trying to sit through and listen to bar course lectures from Barbri, Kaplan, Themis, BarMax...
Can you imagine?

Sometimes we think “doing whatever it takes” to pass the bar means throwing thousands of dollars into a black hole.

Or following some unsustainable cookie-cutter schedule (which doesn’t care if you have other responsibilities like work or family). Good luck if you fall behind by one day.

Or letting a perfectly fine morning slip through by religiously sitting through 4 hours of droning lectures. Or worse, pausing lectures to fill in all the notes. Then not even remembering 99% of it.

I remember those days. Those are all things I didn’t do my second time. Here’s what I would do instead:


Learn how to learn.

Why are some of the best entertainers, filmmakers, and cooks not formally certified?

They don’t necessarily go through a formal program with standard-issue teachers. They don’t end up like the rest of the “class” when they go out and compete to be chosen by a gatekeeper.

Instead, they have a deep desire to absorb and try things on their own and not just take what they’re given. They actively seek out material, effectively creating their own curriculum. They live and breathe the craft. It’s important to them.

Yesterday I spoke with someone who passed the California bar after multiple takes, who said this: “Every moment I’m asking, ‘Am I doing something that helps me prepare?’” (Case study to come later)

Yes, Barbri/Kaplan/whatever (hereinafter “Barbri” or “the B course” if we’re in public) works for many. I’m not telling you not to enroll or that it won’t work for you. I’ll never lecture you about how you need to or should do anything.

Which one do you pick? If you’re gonna go for a bar course, might as well get the gold standard: Barbri (or “the B course” if we’re in public). In fact, Barbri is my preferred source of raw materials. They have excellent outlines and model answers (things I recommend to anyone studying without a big course).

Barbri’s plan may be good enough for the typical candidate. Even if a jacket is one-size-fits-all, you can still drape it over yourself. But you’re the dean of your own studies. Not Barbri, not your law school, not me, not anyone.


If you look out the window and see that the Barbri train is taking you into the below directions in auto-pilot cruise control… I invite you as the dean to deliberately change the way you craft your plan:


The default

Typical thinking: I need to take a huge course. Oh, and I’ll get the cheapest course because they’re all the same anyway. I need to memorize everything first. I need to check off all the boxes. Progress! (Don’t feel guilty if this is you because these are all thoughts I had my first attempt.)

Conscious thinking: Hmm, this cookie-cutter (even an auto-personalized) curriculum can be useful in some ways, but how can I tailor the materials to address my own situation? How can I use this material to learn what is required of me to pass the bar? How can I use this material to learn how to apply the rules, not just “know” them conceptually?

Brian’s comment: Don’t wait for a holy grail to fall from the heavens. If you’re not learning anything from the default path, change what you’re doing. It might take more concentrated effort to do what moves the needle, but the payoff will be disproportionate.


Extreme tactics

Typical thinking: I’ll just power through 15-hour days! 100 MBE questions per day! Who needs sleep?!

Conscious thinking: Hard work is a given, and I’ll do my best to have no regrets, but extreme tactics are not sustainable. What are the critical areas that I should focus more on (so that I can be prepared for the bar even if I don’t have a lot of time)?

Brian’s comment: Energy and focus limit you more than time. I’ll teach you more about the #1 barrier to productivity in a brand-new resource that I’ll introduce later on.


Using too few resources

Typical thinking: I’ll just snoop around the Internet for weeks and manually put together a bunch of free resources. I’m not gonna pay for anything. I’m not a sucker!!!

Conscious thinking: Wait a minute, I came all this way from the LSAT to law school to this final barrier. Yes, resourcefulness has its place, but there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Even a 1% improvement in my chances is worth it in the long run. I know I can make back whatever I invest now within hours or even minutes later.

Check out samples for Magicsheets & Approsheets here.

Brian’s comment: It is indeed possible to prepare for the bar exam no matter your budget. I can think of ways to spend over $1,000 (not counting a bar course) or $0. You could walk a paved road. Or you could go solo dolo and figure it out by yourself. I have many guesses why one might do that.

Somehow, we tend to be the most frugal when it comes to the thing that will stay with us the most—the act of teaching ourselves. I used to cheap out on single pages of paper in school and then pay for it on the back end when my studies were not as effective as they could have been.


Using too many resources

Typical thinking: I’ll keep buying a bunch of tools and jump from one to another until I find the silver bullet that plugs me into the Matrix and upload everything I need to know for the bar.

Conscious thinking: Investing in my success is important, but nothing is going to be perfect. The resources out there can all be useful in their own ways, but their utility depends on how I use them. Where can I get some key supplements and resources that will help me do the work that I need to do?

Brian’s comment: You don’t need to get lost in supplement hell where you have a bunch of stuff that you won’t use. Like with anything else, having too many moving parts only complicates your life. Keep it simple. Here’s a list of resources I curated, but they’re mere recommendations. Add or subtract from them however you want.


What do you notice about these shifts?

It’s your call. Trusting yourself and doing what makes sense to you is a common thread among passers I talk to.

“Trust myself? I did that and still got fucked on the bar”

I’m not telling you to predict your own subjects or write essays the way they worked back in law school or rely on your future self to bullshit the essays based on rules you familiarized yourself with.

The most dangerous thought is, “I know this already.”

I’m talking about having control over your approach to preparation. Saying NO to the fear that seduces you to jump to the shallow end of the pool rather than doing the mentally straining work that moves the needle. Being thoughtful about your decisions despite the 50 different opinions you’re going to hear. Preparing as deliberately as you can, then trusting your training during bar week and trusting that your legs will keep you pushing forward.

Did you know that the muscles pro golfers work on are actually their legs? Stable legs keep their aim true and far. No wonder they wear baggy pants.

In the end, whether you use a prep course, whether you get a tutor, whether you study on your own… you’re the one preparing for the bar. It’s still you taking the exam. It’s still up to you in the end. No one cares about you as much as you. Only you can prevent forest fires.

Whether you take a course or not, bar prep is a self-study endeavor. You’ll be responsible for your own success either way, no getting around it. It’s scary to be the boss, but I encourage you to embrace and own that.

If you don’t proactively think about what’s possible, you get the default. Your life decides for you instead of you deciding your life. If life gave you lemons, you weren’t looking for the oranges.

To that end, next week we’ll go over how to craft your own flexible study plan that caters to your needs.

In the meantime, which of the above shifts spoke to you the most? What will you change? What will you keep the same? Leave a comment to let me know.

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