The Bar Exam, As In Life

For many recent law school grads, today is the day to sit for the dreaded bar exam. When non-lawyers ask me about the experience, they usually end up with a pained expression and tell me how glad they are to not have to do that themselves. Now that I have distance from the experience, it’s easy enough for me to say “Oh, it wasn’t so bad”—but while I was facing the prospect of sitting for it, I wasn’t quite so Zen.

In reflecting on that endeavor, I realize that the challenges involved in studying for – and taking – one of these exams are more universal than I initially realized; after all, every industry has its unique struggles. I decided to write this post about selected lessons from taking a Bar exam— not just for perspective for anyone who is taking the exam this week, but also because lessons that seem specific can often have broader applicability.

  1. Perspective is key for strategy. Bar exams are more a test of endurance and performance than pure knowledge. Merely cramming information into your head without thinking of how to use it strategically is not a good long-term strategy for taking this sort of exam. This perspective also bears out in legal practice. Knowledge is important, but being able to strategically spot issues is just as crucial. In the world of business, having appropriate knowledge about your industry is necessary, but without a good strategy for how to use and maximize that information, your business is unlikely to thrive. Maintaining this perspective helps for sitting for a bar exam, but also for doing what’s necessary for running your business on a day-to-day basis.
  2. Don’t stress what you can’t control. Once a bar exam has been taken, the waiting period to find out about the resulting score can be just as stressful. For exam takers, know that if you studied as you planned, or even if you maybe should have studied a bit harder, you were likely ready and did just fine. Regardless, it’s out of your hands now – so don’t worry about something that you have no control over. Of course, this lesson also definitely has broader applicability to many situations in business. Learning what you can control (and acting on that, while learning to drop the worries over what you can’t control) is a valuable skill that can be very difficult to learn and put into regular practice. I often remind myself of this one, both from waiting for my own bar score and from many situations afterward.  
  3. Discipline is a very useful skill. The discipline involved in studying for a bar exam will pay off for test takers in the short term, but in the long term also. My advice for all the future lawyers: this practice will absolutely pay off. Keeping the course – even amidst doubt and stress – is an important skill. Of course, this also holds true for an entrepreneur, where stress and uncertainty are present daily. If we focus on what we can control, and work on those tasks in a disciplined way, the achievements will accumulate over time. The value of this discipline cannot be overstated, and bar exam takers get a crash course in learning how to make it happen.  

For anyone who may be taking a bar exam this week: Stay on top of self-care. Remember to eat, remember to sleep, remember to breathe. That advice will also help once you’re a lawyer!

For the other lucky folks not taking a bar exam this week: remember that lessons that seem very specific to one experience can apply more broadly than you might think at first. Your insights from being a small business owner, dealing with professional challenges, or any other similar idea, you may realize those insights have broader appeal and others may benefit from that perspective in ways you don’t expect. Thanks for reading!