It has not at all been haunting me that I haven’t written a blog post for almost a year. That is not at all what the title of this blog post refers to.
No, I’m thinking about the bar exam. July may be vacation season for most of the country, and waitlist and transfer season for law school admissions offices, but for the population of folks who just graduated from law school, it’s bar-prep time. The bar exam is offered even less frequently than the LSAT: a mere two times per year, during the last week of February and the last week of July. The infrequency of the offering is both good and bad. On the one hand, it does tend to add to the anxiety level for the test-takers, who know that if something goes awry, they will have to walk around with the knowledge that they failed the exam for a half a year before they have the opportunity for a do-over; on the other, it minimizes the numbers of times per year that those of us who aren’t taking the exam have to watch the drama. So there’s that.
When you’re studying for the bar, the amount of stress you feel as the approach to late July ramps up is wholly out of proportion to the probability of disaster. It’s not unlike nuclear war—not terribly likely to occur, but really really unfortunate if it does. Even people who are typically sanguine about standardized tests start getting a little cranky, and the person who reports a completely restful sleep the night before the first day of the bar exam is, I submit, a big fat liar.
The result is anxious former 3Ls all over the place in July—I mean, if “the place” is defined as a law school. I see them hunched over Bar-Bri books in the Commons or nibbling on pencil stubs in the Jeffries Lounge, earbuds in place for the delivery of a hopefully mellifluous voice monologuing about commercial paper. I see them in pairs or threes in seminar rooms, staring up at a Wizard of Oz-style giant head on the flat screen TV. Occasionally one will pass me in the hall with a slightly demented expression on her face, and express her sincere conviction that she will certainly fail. People who do that don’t really seem to be seeking reassurance; they shake off all placating attempts with dire remonstrances of “it does happen, people do fail.”
That happened yesterday, and in my vain effort to cast a warm glow of perspective about the amount of suffering that flows from bar prep itself, as opposed to the suffering that is self-inflicted through obsessive focusing on the consequences flowing from a negative outcome, I happened upon an analogy: Bar study is a lot like being on maternity leave. It feels overwhelming, simply because it is all you can think about. But you have to re-set your standard. With a newborn, the one task in life you’re really truly responsible for during that first three months is having that infant with you at the end of the day; feed the baby, change the baby, nap when the baby naps. Anything else you achieve is gravy. Likewise, with the bar exam, studying for the exam is the one thing you’re responsible for. Just put in the time; listen to the tapes or watch the video and do the practice exams. Sleep. Wake. Repeat.
True, this analogy has some flaws. Some babies are more challenging than others; sometimes people have to hold down a job while they’re studying for the bar. Let’s not let the perfect be the enemy of the reasonably okay. The point is to try to focus on the relatively narrow scope of what needs to get done, rather than fixate on the possibility of doom. Lower the bar, if you will.