Should You Work During Bar Prep

Some individuals HAVE to work during bar prep. If you are in this group, keep reading because you need to see that it is possible but will require top-notch scheduling and time management. However, if you do not have to work but are considering it, you definitely need to keep reading. This is for those of you who worked during law school and it was fine. In fact, it was great. You had no problem with the work-school-life balance. You can totally work part-time while studying for the bar exam.

There is one small problem with this mindset: The bar exam is not law school. Preparing for law school exams is easy. In law school you could choose classes based on the professor, get to know that professor and what he or she expects on the exam. Even if you created your own outlines, you probably relied on outlines from people who already took the class. At the most, you prepped for exams in 4-5 subjects, had an entire semester to take in information, are tested on one subject at a time, can prepare for each single-subject exam one at a time, and the exams are often open-note or take-home. The bar exam is nothing like this.

Preparing for the bar exam is a 10-week, full-time commitment.The bar exam is closed-universe and tests 12-14 subjects at once over a 2-3 day period; you only have 10 weeks to learn the material and the skills; you don’t know what, how, or when something will be tested.  In spite of the differences, you still think you can work while preparing for the bar exam. I hear this from students all the time. The conversation usually goes like this:

Student:  I can work part-time during bar prep because I’m better when I’m busy.

Me: That’s great. You need to devote 40-50 hours a week to bar prep.

Student: No problem. I’m working now and have four classes. 

Me: Super. But to be clear, that’s a minimum of 40 billable hours: on-task and studying.

Student: Yeah, yeah. Sure. I’m only going to work part-time, 20 hours a week.

Me: Awesome. Just to make sure, can we do the math?

Student: Math?

Me:  Yes, math. Let’s start with the limited resource of time. There are 168 hours in a week. This is what we have to work with so let’s break that down into chunks of time. To make it simple, we’ll have you work in the mornings and study in the afternoon. Again, we’ll keep it simple and do 6 hours a day, 7 days a week. That gets you to 42 billable hours a week, slightly above the minimum.  

Then we sketch out a typical daily schedule:

Typical Workweek: Monday-Friday

7am: get up, shower, dress, breakfast, get to work.

8-12: work

12-1: leave work, eat lunch, maybe change clothes, commute to study location, set up lecture materials.

1-4:30: watch bar prep lectures (3 ½ hours a day is standard).

4:30-5:30: exercise, break, give your eyes a rest from staring at a computer screen for 3 ½ hours.

5:30-8 do assigned bar prep work.

8-9: go home, prep/order, eat, clean-up dinner.

9-12: watch tv, hang out with friends, read for fun, talk/text, social media.

12: go to bed.

This doesn’t seem too bad, right? Assuming you are on-task 100% of the time, you will have no trouble doing things like eating, exercising, socializing, and getting plenty of sleep. It’s true this example schedule does not account for anything like doctor, dentist, counselor appointments, but that shouldn’t be a problem because you’ve got 3 hours of free time every day. Easy to find time for other things.

The weekends will be even better because you only have to study 6 hours a day. Since you are already putting in 10 hour work/study days during the week, 6 hours will be easy. You can sleep til noon! Of course you won’t do that but you can sleep in.

Typical Weekend:

9am: get up, shower, dress, eat, get set up to study or commute to study location.

10-1: do assigned bar prep work you didn’t get to during the week.

1-2: eat lunch, stretch, take a break, etc.

2-5: do regularly assigned bar prep work.

5-bedtime: free time! This is plenty of time to do things like work out, socialize, do laundry, basic cleaning, go to the grocery store, get gas in car, get a hair cut, etc.

Note: If you go to church, make sure to either get up earlier or add two hours to the day as you’ll need time to dress, commute to and from church, change into study clothes.

This weekend schedule also assumes that you will be 100% on task for those 3-hour blocks of time. But that shouldn’t be a problem because you will disengage from all distractors and not need to take any unplanned breaks. This schedule doesn’t sound too bad, right? You can do this every day for 10 weeks.

Again, assuming you are 100% on task for the 42 hours of study time, you have 25-35 hours of free time every week. You can do whatever you want. Go to the dentist, clean your apartment, binge-watch something on Netflix. What’s really great is that your time is flexible so if something comes up, all you have to do is adjust your schedule accordingly. For example, if you don’t want to study one weeknight, you can move those hours to Saturday or Sunday and just put in a full day then. If you have plans to go out of town for the weekend simply add 2 hours of studying to each day during the week. Or if you are attending a friend’s wedding, if it’s in the evening, you are good to go because you can get 6 hours of studying in easy, especially if you get up earlier. And if you’ll need to sleep off the celebrating, you can just study Sunday evening.

One and Done

The bar exam is the final step to becoming a licensed attorney. You want to pass the first time so you can actually practice law. If you don’t have to work, then don’t put this at risk. If you still think working during bar prep is a good idea, get a copy of the detailed bar study schedule from your commercial bar prep company. 40 hours a week will get you through 70-75% of the material. If, after seeing the sheer volume of material and assignments, you still think working and studying is a good idea, go talk to the bar support person at your law school. Let that person help you create a structured schedule that will keep you on track. Once you fall behind (and you will), it is extremely difficult to play catch-up.

This was a really long post because deciding to work during bar prep is a huge decision and it should be an informed one. Make the decision that will best help you achieve the goal of passing the bar exam.



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