Inside Perspective: My tips for the bar exam and beyond

Anita Wilson is VP & Chief Employment Counsel at TreeHouse Foods Inc. in Westchester, Ill., where she handles all labor, employment, benefits, ethics and compliance issues.

Phil, a young man who was part of a summer internship program I helped manage a few years ago, recently e-mailed me and told me that he had graduated from law school and was studying for the bar exam.  Oh, the bar exam.  Taking the bar exam is kind of like delivering a child.  As time passes, you kind of forget how painful it was.   Phil, who graduated from my alma mater, the University of Illinois College of Law, is smart, assertive and enterprising.  He already has a job which is no small feat in this economy. However, as confident and accomplished as Phil is, he sounded a wee bit nervous – as he should. The bar exam has bested some of the best of us.  So I gave Phil the tips that I give all law students for getting through the bar exam and beyond.

Focus completely on the bar exam and remove distractions.

I stayed in Champaign, Ill. to study for the bar.  I knew that I would be distracted if I went home:

“Can’t you take a break and meet us for one quick drink?”

“There’s a ‘Star Trek’ marathon on!!”

“Nordstrom’s sale starts today and doors open at 8 a.m.!”

There was nothing to do in Champaign BUT studying for the bar.  All I did was study and then study some more.  I did not collect $100.  I did not pass go. I did not watch my beloved “Star Trek.”  I’m not saying that you shouldn’t take occasional breaks.  You should exercise.  Bathe every once in a while.  But turn off the phone.  Get off Facebook.  Hunker down.  Study.  Get it over with.

Get organized

After you take the bar exam, take some time to get organized.  Collect those old outlines and give them to the 2Ls.  Tell the 2Ls to give them to the incoming 1Ls.  Take all the business cards you’ve collected in the past two years and send out LinkedIn invites.  Send out e-mails telling people where you will be working.  If you don’t have a job, send out e-mails telling people that you don’t have a job, but that you’d like one.  Then follow-up.

Get rid of bad habits

In law school I drank a pot of coffee a day.  While studying for the bar, I developed some what of an addiction to gummi bears.  I bought those things by the bagful and chomped on them constantly all through Bar/Bri.  To this day, I have an odd Pavlovian-like response to gummi bears where I start thinking about the rule against perpetuities whenever I see them.  After I took the bar, I ditched the coffee and the gummi bear habits.  You’ve got some time between the bar and your first job.  Use that time productively to get rid of the excessive soda-drinking, nail-biting, pack-a-day smoking, whatever it is, habit.

Get some work clothes

I stayed in sweatpants while studying for the bar – sweatpants, comfy socks and this one old sorority T-shirt that was so old it felt like silk instead of cotton.  After you take the bar exam, you gotta get some real clothes and/or check out the clothes that you wore last summer.  You’ve heard this before but here it is again. Women: make sure that your skirts aren’t too short and your shirts aren’t too tight.  Judges are complaining that they can see things that they really don’t want to see when some women attorneys step up to the bench.  Men: get some white and blue shirts. No jazzy colors.  Everyone, get some real shoes (do NOT wear flip flops.  Trust me, people do it but you shouldn’t).  Then shine the shoes.  Seriously.

Take some time off and relax.

Finally, take some time off to relax.   Enjoy the fact that you made it through law school.

If you can afford it, take a trip. Go somewhere far off the beaten path that requires a passport.  Go see something breathtaking.  If you can’t afford it, be creative.  Take a train somewhere, or simply turn off your phone if that’s all you can do.  The point is: take a moment to relax. You will most likely never have a time like this again where you aren’t expected to be somewhere or don’t have some work to do.

Let me know if you have any other tips.


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