By Keisha Stanford • December 13, 2010•Writers in Residence
Over the past several months, Facebook statuses around the country have announced new members of state bar associations. For many new lawyers, passing the Bar marks the culmination of years of hard work and commitment. They’ve finally obtained all the credentials necessary to practice the profession they have chosen. The only remaining step is being sworn in.
However, as I prepared to update my Facebook status to announce that I had passed the California Bar, I was a bit conflicted. On one hand, passing the Bar was a major accomplishment for me. Being the first lawyer in my family, I took great pride in this achievement and wanted to share this news with friends and loved ones. On the other, I wasn’t certain that everyone in my graduating class passed the Bar. I didn’t want to add to the stress and anxiety that often accompanies not passing the Bar the first time. Ultimately, I decided to change my status; downplaying my accomplishment wouldn’t change the outcome. Besides, by that Sunday, the California results would be public and people could check for themselves. I did, however, also decide to write this post.
For some the Bar represents an insurmountable hurdle. They take the exam several times and are unable to pass. However, there are many others who do not pass on their first try, retake the test and go on to have successful and rewarding careers. While studying for the Bar, I remember receiving an email from one of Ms. JD’s Board members who was also studying for the California exam. The email listed a handful of First Ladies of the United States who did not pass the Bar on their first try. The hope was that the email recipients would be reassured, knowing that they were not doomed if they didn’t succeed on their first attempt. I smiled when I read the email and returned to studying a little more hopeful.
My memories of studying for the bar are full of these little bits of encouragement. My friends and I would send each other little notes reminding each other that we could do it or forward one of the many links to Bar jokes just to lighten the mood. I would find funny comic strips and send them to remind ourselves that we still knew how to laugh. Yet, as far as I can remember, not one of these emails said anything about not stressing out. We all recognized stress was unavoidable, even though it might be manageable.
My friends and I also spent time together that had nothing to do with studying for the Bar. We’d have Bar-free lunch dates, where no discussions of Bar subjects were permitted. Or we’d meet at the gym and work out while watching World Cup soccer or soap operas, whichever happened to be on the television that day. Afternoon coffee and yogurt breaks became a regular part of our routine, though they became a bit sparser as the Bar approached.
I say none of this to give the impression that my experience studying for the Bar was carefree and enjoyable. My 3L year, Stanford Law School switched to quarters, so our Bar classes started almost a month after everyone else’s. Our class was truncated and consisted of many double sessions. However, when Bar classes started in the second week of June, we all went to work – slugging through lectures and essays and practice questions. Though at times it felt impossible to get through everything, we did what we could.
My only words of advice with regard to the Bar come from a classmate: “Respect the test, don’t fear it.” Don’t allow the test to psych you out, which may be hard if you are faced with having to retake it. Do what you can, and don’t be too hard on yourself. When things appear to be bleak, treat yourself to an afternoon with friends or a mindless TV comedy. Make sure you take care of yourself because the Bar is just one step on the journey of becoming a lawyer – a hurdle you must overcome, but one which you have the tools to conquer.