No one could ever accuse the bar exam of testing lawyers on issues that they’re likely to encounter in practice. After all, how many times do you get a client accused of murder when he accidentally discharged a handgun at the precise moment that a suicidal person happened to leap off the building and fall past the window, colliding with the stray bullet? Or where minors, just a few days shy of majority age claim to be 22 and enter into contracts, then try to void them a few years later? And don’t forget adverse possession: you may never see one of these cases in real life, but the issue is a perennial favorite of bar examiners.
Still, despite the fanciful nature of the bar exam questions, preparing for the bar and taking the test serves as a realistic test-drive for what it’s like to practice law. In many respects, preparing for the bar mirrors what it’s like to prepare for trial or an appeal or an intense negotiation. You immerse yourself fully in the subject matter, barely attentive to those around you. And if you’re lucky, you achieve that feeling of zen, where the preparation starts coming together. When you’re in that zone, all that talk of work-life balance fades as you focus with intensity on the task before you.
The foolishness of the bar also teaches lessons about law practice. As a lawyer, you’ll find that many court rules don’t make a whole lot of sense, or that many judges will impose nonsensical on proceedings. You can argue and fight and challenge those rules, but guess what? In most cases, those challenges won’t help your clients. In many cases, you’re better off accepting what’s been imposed and trying to figure out the best strategy to make those procedures work to your advantage. Likewise, having taken three bar exams myself, I’ve learned that it’s far better to just do whatever the bar instructors tell me, no matter how ridiculous it all may seem.
As for taking the bar exam itself, that’s very much like being in court or a deposition or other proceeding. Because you realize that as much as you’ve prepared, there are still plenty of surprises. You can panic, sure – or pull yourself together and think of something on your feet. You’ll do that on the bar, and then virtually every day in the practice of law.
What’s best about the bar, though, is that it allows a significant margin for error. In the very worst case scenario, you’ll flunk the test and have to take it again. Sure, that’s no picnic, but it beats losing a case that sends a client to prison or leaves a client without compensation for egregious harassment or terrible injury.
So instead of resenting your study for the bar exam, enjoy it. Savor every last moment of this artificial, frivolous little rite of passage. The next tests, both in life and law, are real.