On May 18th, I passed the California Bar Exam. It was my second time taking it after failing it in July 2011. I’m writing this because I want to give other repeaters some words of advice and hope. First, the hope. If you’re re-taking this exam for the second, third, or whatever-th time, then don’t lose heart. You can do this. It is not impossible. I firmly believe that the biggest hurdle in trying to retake this exam is the mental component. I found out I didn’t pass the bar on November 18, 2011. I knew I had to at least start studying in late December or January. But I didn’t want to. It was so hard to pick myself back up and get into that mental groove you need to be in for bar prep mode. Every time I read a flash card, outline, or practice test I kept saying to myself: “Why am I doing this? I don’t want to. I did this already. I’m smart. I graduated law school, I got my juris doctor; I’m not stupid. I’m supposed to be done with school. I’ve clerked with law firms and judges; I’ve already participated in enough real-world legal situations that taking a test to show my minimum competence is pointless. I know how to do this stuff, so why am I taking this test?” Each day was a grind, even more so than it was going through it the first time. But it was either that or flunk again, so I had to just suck it up.
Then, things got worse. My grandfather, a major father-figure in my life, died of prostate cancer. His death occurred three weeks prior to the exam. Words can’t express the personal devastation I felt. A day later, my family and I were planning his funeral. A week later, at his funeral, I told myself I had to pass this exam, for him. And throughout all of it, I kept studying, kept doing MBEs, kept doing essays, flipping through flashcards, etc.
The hope I have to share is that despite whatever personal setbacks and mental speed bumps you encounter, it is possible to pass the bar. You can do it. You WILL do it. Try to shove the bad shit aside and keep going. Force yourself to study, no matter how tired you are (both physically and mentally). Tell yourself it will pay off in the end, that you’ll pass and be an attorney. It’s one thing to give this advice and another to follow through with it — even I had a hard time selling myself on what I’m telling you now. But I had no choice but to follow through with it. What else was I going to do? Give up? No way. Not for my future and certainly not for my grandfather.
Second, the advice. Prepare for the list:
- BarBri - I had the free repeat but I only used BarBri for the practice MBEs. I didn’t watch the lectures again; didn’t see the point. Even Richard Sakai told us in one of the videos that if we were repeating then we shouldn’t be watching the videos. I lamely attempted the BarBri AMP program, but didn’t really find it helpful. I kept the same books, but mostly stuck to the Convisor Mini-Review.
- CriticalPass Flashcards – These were awesome. I never could find the time to make my own flashcards and these definitely helped. They only make these for the MBE subjects, so you won’t have any for Business Organizations, Community Property or Professional Responsibility.
- The Bar Code Cheat Sheets by Whitney Roberts – Other than doing a shit-ton of MBEs, I think this book is why I passed. This book lays out precisely how you should structure each essay. When I wrote my essays this time around I made sure each looked like the samples given by this book. I cannot thank Whitney Roberts enough for writing this book.
- BarEssays.com – The State Bar website has two sample answers for each exam’s essay subjects. The problem is that they’re very polished by the Bar and don’t look like a real person’s answers. Bar Essays is a collection of actual answers and sorts them according to year, score, and subject. I would use this site to check my answers to my practice essays. Very helpful in knowing whether I was aiming in the 60, 65 or 70+ range.
- This blog post by my colleague, Jessie Zaylia, attorney-at-law. She has her own advice and lists on what to do to prepare for the bar. She herself was a repeat-taker, and the videos she has posted on this post were very helpful in perking myself up to go through this for another round.
Aside from this list, my only other piece of advice is to bone up on the MBEs. Don’t let anyone undersell you on how important these things are. I don’t care if they are only 35% of the total weight. DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE THEM. BarBri assigns a certain number of MBEs for you, but they’re not enough. Try and do at least 50 a day. Do so many you’ll see the same fact patterns over and over, and then you’ll start getting to the correct answer faster.
If you’re repeating the bar exam or taking it for the first time, then I wish you the best of luck. You can do this.