The first time I started studying for the bar exam, I had a clear purpose: pass the bar exam, find a job, support my children. I wanted to make sure I would not have to be financially dependent on anyone else, and I knew passing the bar exam was the best way to do it, and the motivation worked, because I passed with very little preparation. I never became licensed in that state, and have never worked as a lawyer. Still, it was nice to pass, and I’m not sure how I would have handled failure.
The second time I started studying for the bar exam, I wasn’t completely sure when I would go back to work, or in what capacity. I did like the idea of another layer of financial security, and I also felt it was time to start preparing for the next step, when all of my children are in school full days. I also think, if I’m really honest, I wanted to take and pass the exam, because, as my husband helpfully suggested at the time, I was chasing ghosts. I felt like I had unfinished business in that state, and one of the things I never did was take and pass a bar exam. I think some part of me was afraid I left the first time because I couldn’t cut it. I had a lot of other reasons for leaving, some of them were even valid, but deep down, some part of me was afraid I left because I couldn’t make it there, and that feeling nagged at me when we moved back. I don’t think taking the exam was primarily about chasing ghosts, and in fact I think there were a lot of good reasons to take it when we thought we were going to be living there long term, but I definitely had mixed feelings about taking it. Also, not long after I started studying for it, soon after the baby started taking one nap per day in his crib, he got very sick and we ended up in the Emergency Room, and then later he ended up being admitted. Even when things quieted down after that, studying for the exam didn’t seem quite so important.* I never took the exam, so I’m not sure whether I would have passed, but I never would have worked as a lawyer in that jurisdiction, because we moved only a few days after the exam date.
And here we are again. Studying for a third time. I literally shivered as I wrote that. To make matters worse, this exam is clearly harder than the last one I studied for, maybe even harder than the first one I took and only passed by some miracle from God. Maybe I should have made that my prayer request. I have to know the basic sections (Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure, Civil Procedure, Evidence, Contracts and Sales, Property, Constitutional Law, and Torts), but I also have to know the Florida version of those sections (where the law differs) and several other topics (Family Law, Professional Conduct, Equity, Trusts and Estates, Wills, Partnerships, and Corporations). I’ve never even had a class on family law, partnerships, or corporations, which means I can’t even hope to remember some basic ideas (not that I would), and will probably actually have to learn the concepts from scratch. It’s been a long time since I’ve had to do that.
HW told me not to worry. “You have fourteen weeks,” he said, “remember, most people only spend eight.” Yes. That’s true. And I know he was trying to make me feel better, and I know he has studied for and passed a bar exam with far less time, but we can’t all be super-geniuses like he is, and I certainly am not. Most people studying for their first bar exam study for eight weeks. They attend a course every week day for several hours, they have a set of books they carry everywhere with them, some of them barely sleep, barely socialize, because all they do is study for the bar exam. I have fourteen weeks, but I will be lucky to devote more than five hours per week, maybe ten, to studying most weeks, and I will probably lose a full week at Christmas and most of a week at Thanksgiving. Shit. I was hoping I would type that and it wouldn’t seem so bad, but it actually seems worse now that it’s in front of my face in black and white.
I’m not going to panic. I have a plan. I have fourteen weeks, and I have divided it up by subject, so that each subject is assigned to a specific length of time, within a specific month. November will cover Family Law, Professional Conduct, Criminal Procedure, Criminal Law, and Evidence. This week I will cover Family Law and Professional Conduct, because they are fairly easy, I know the topics relatively well (unfortunately), and I doubt they will be heavily tested, so if my study skills are a little rusty, these are good topics to start with. Next week, when my fancy new notebooks arrive (not really fancy, the same one-subject five-star notebooks I used to study in college – I hate legal pads), I will start with the more intense subjects. And if my plan fails, no one in our house is going to starve. Life will continue. Of course, if I don’t pass, my MPRE score will not be valid for another round, which will mean I would have to take that exam over again in order to be licensed, and that would really not be fun, but I will cross that bridge when and if I have to. And I won’t have to, because I have a plan, and I am going to pass.
So far, Family Law and Professional Conduct are fairly depressing. I guess it all is really, but some of the depressing aspects are outweighed by the interesting aspects, either because they are exciting (Criminal Law, Torts) or complex (Constitutional Law), and some are more boring (Property, Wills) than anything else. Professional Conduct is more boring than depressing, and I’m not sure why Florida tests Professional Conduct separately, because Florida also requires the MPRE, which is an entire exam dedicated to legal ethics. I suppose that means I should know it already. I also once taught a class on legal ethics to college students, so if I have to spend more than an hour reviewing that material, something went very wrong. Family Law is extremely depressing, but it makes sense for me to know it for my own purposes, both for my own situation, and because it is the thing friends and family members most frequently ask about, and in fact I already found two pieces of useful information. It’s not a terribly complicated area of the law, which is one of many reasons lawyers who practice family law are generally not very well liked or respected. Any answer I provide will include “whatever the court decides is in the best interest of the child(ren)” and I should be fine.**
On that note, I’m going to get to work. Maybe, if I work really hard, I will even be able to start Criminal Law this weekend – how exciting! We have a few other things planned, including a trip to the beach and a museum, but I can always drag the books along. What could possibly go wrong?
Oh wait! One more thing! Today is “Love Your Lawyer Day,” so go hug a deserving lawyer. It’s a thing! The Wall Street Journal says it is! Seriously, lawyers need some love. It’s also Nacho Day, so maybe buy a lawyer friend some nachos while you hug?
Be kind, friends.
*Obviously, if taking and passing the bar exam had been a requirement to provide for my family’s basic needs it would have remained a high priority. I am thankful that was not the case, and I could spend several more weeks with a giant baby sleeping on my chest.
**That’s a joke. Family law is less complex than many other areas, but it’s not quite that simple, and the lawyers who practice it have very difficult jobs. People hate family lawyers for a lot of reasons, often because they’ve had a bad person experience with one (or several). I have never encountered one I like, but it would be unfair to generalize to every single family lawyer, which is why I said that in general, family lawyers are not very well regarded. I hope very much to meet and to hire one I respect deeply one day, and in fact I may have already done so, but time will tell.