justice-smiles-red-large.pngUniversity of Washington School of Law, Gonzaga University School of Law, and my Alma mater – Seattle University School of Law will be soon graduating their respective 2015 JD scholars.

Congratulations! You’ve come a long way and you better soak up every bit of your days in the sun that you can. Why? Well, it’s pretty self evident … you need to pay your initial union dues. More specifically, you need to “clear the bar.”

I say “clear the bar” because the bar exam can be aptly analogized to a high jump. Certainly, it’s one of many events in the Decathalon, which Bruce Jenner won almost 40 years ago. [What can I say, time flies … and the world changes.]  

But, let’s remember one thing. There are very few except highschool and college kids who find the idea of soaring up and over a bar to be caught by a huge blue or red cushion a lot of fun. I mean, really? How many other times in life besides the Olympic Decathlon, do you see people jumping up and over things like that? Very few, right! 

Quite literally it takes a very unique collection of skills that you will not likely be using again after you have cleared the bar. But clear the bar you must if you want to put your education to traditional use.

Now perhaps you are interested in blazing a very new and different trail. That’s a very admirable quality. One which I think is extraordinary considering the fact that law school has a tendancy to inculcate the notion that you should remove passion from reason. Incidentally, this view of severed emotionality in the law originates from Aristotle.

Law school teaches one to identify and attempt to smote risk. Ergo, you as one who is willing to blaze a new trail would be doing something risky and as such fantastic. Yet taking that new road is something which you better very clearly envision and be willing to pay the price. Otherwise, fall in line and take the bar seriously. 

If you do take it seriously, you can – no better … YOU WILL – clear your bar. This is to say that you have to will yourself to master it. If you don’t on the first go, it certainly isn’t the end of the world. The NWLawyer recently had an article about someone who took the bar 7 (seven) times before passing. Though it is always possible, do you want to spend more time out of Law School than in it trying to get on with life.

[I haven’t read the article. If you want to though, you can find it HERE.]

Notably, I am someone who didn’t cleanly clear the Washington bar because I came in on the lower edge of the 2 point appellate band. This meant that I had to agonizingly wait for an extra couple of months to find out that I had cleared. 

Do you think I would learn from that? Apparently not … in  February I went in without anything near full effort in an attempt at the California bar. Well, last Friday my firm suspicions were confirmed … I hadn’t cleared it.

[UPDATE of 2015.05.19 – I received more information from California and I wasn’t even close.]  

My suggestion to you (as a proxy for self) is to not allow yourself the frustration. Get it done and get on with life. So, I am going to take a moment to suggest you figure out how you will hack the system much in the same way that Fosbury – and the Flop he created – changed the high jump with his unique way of clearing the bar. [See Dick Fosbury explain the history of his success and the technique he championed in 1968 HERE.]

Basically, I am suggesting step back and take a broad-view of the challenge you have ahead and consider if there is a better way for you to succeed.

I would suggest you seek to get a good idea of what should end up on the page from reviewing several model answers and then make certain you can produce something which is better than them. True those model answers are of a higher quality than others, but you aren’t told how much better. So, you have no idea as to where that model answer is with respect to clearing the bar below it. To put a precise point on this task, make certain as to your exact target.

Now that you have figured out your target. You need to figure out exactly how you are going to get there. This is a process of stepping even a further step back and inwardly reflecting as to how your mind works. Notably, there is no “right” way to think. Instead, we all have different ways of thinking and I would suggest the “thought path” which is most comfortable to you is the one which you should use to develop your system to bridge the gap between where you are now and the space you need to clear the model answers. 

What are your strengths and weaknesses? What are most people taught to do. Unfortunately, most are supposed to “punch up” their weaknesses. I would suggest differently. There is a great TED Talk (which I unfortunately fail to recall) in which the speaker suggests that people purchase Tom Rath’s Strength Finders 2.0 [HERE] and find out your Kolbe Wisdom [HERE].

[Sure, there is more like Myers-Briggs, Highland Ability Battery, and Johnson O’Connor too. But put all that on the shelf for later if you want to zero in more fully on your abilities.] 

OK, with this info in place make your plan. Let’s Brainstorm a little to come up with a smattering of ideas:

  • If you do good at wrote memorization, set up a system where you create flash cards.
  • If you are a good writer on the fly, write each day about the topic in increasingly tight timed amounts.
  • If you are more of a theorist, take a moment to step back and realize that law really comes down to some very basic principals of notice, equity, proportionality, attempting to divine what’s in others mind based on their actions, etc. …
  • If you are someone that is really auditory, record your voice on tapes and listen to yourself repeating the information over and over again.
  • If you are visual, consider going through and making four-pane cartoons for each of the doctrines and then use them as flashcards.

The one thing I can not emphasise enough is this. For any test in which you need to write – as opposed to just filling out bubbles – make sure you spend a good amount of your time writing practice exams. Review both your answers and the model answers again and again and you will see patterns emerge and the gap diminish.

Ultimately, it comes down to the unwillingness v. willingness divide. Are you someone who has what Nietche calls the will to power. If so, you will find a way. And guess what? Once you pass the bar, you need to maintain that will to win throughout your career.

In the final analysis, it really is that simple. If you don’t want to exert the same amount of effort it takes to pass the bar – directed though then at the legal arena of your choice [or allowance] – don’t do it. Life’s too short to take a pattywack at it. If you want to be a success, you need to swing for the fence with everything you’ve got. And do so each and every day.

There are very few people who realize this. I wish I had much earlier, but as S.E Hinton indicates in the title of one of her novels: That Was Then, This IS NOW.

I wish you the very best of success on your now and its follow through into your future. Cheers!justice-smiles-red.png