So a lot of people are taking the bar exam this week. A lot of stressed out, no-chill, on the verge of a mental breakdown people. All over this great nation, people have spent time today and yesterday setting up their laptops and holding their breath until it boots completely up. Tonight, thousands will upload their exams with bated breath, praying that there’s no 2014 level breakdown that pushes them completely over the edge. Yes, for folks all over the nation, it’s a time for them to freak the hell out knowing that their future, and indeed their chances at a career practicing law, will hinge on their performance over 48-72 hours.
Likewise, every attorney and bar association nationwide is tweeting, blogging, and emailing their support to the bar takers. They’re sending out tips, giving advice, telling people to “just relax and do their best.” Admissions offices of law schools are crossing their fingers. Everyone is supporting the graduates seeking to enter the profession of law.
Want to hear a dirty secret, bar takers?
Most of us are secretly laughing at you.
It’s not that we don’t remember taking the bar exam and what an unrelenting nightmare it was. We do. We all do. Many of us have passed on business opportunities just because it would require getting licensed in another jurisdiction that doesn’t have reciprocity, and there’s no way in hell we’re suffering through 48 hours crammed in a convention hall shitting words on paper again. No, we certainly remember all the hell bar takers are going to go through over the next couple of days. It’s not that we don’t recall what it’s like. We just don’t care.
We don’t care because, quite fucking frankly, taking the bar exam is a breeze compared to the ins and outs of daily practice. See, in the bar you’re taking a test of minimal competence, and if you fail the only person that suffers is you. Plus, you can always retake the exam again in the future, having recognized your mistakes and errors and rededicating yourself to correcting them. The same is not true of daily practice, because when you practice law for a living there are two simple rules that you have to accept and live by:
- Other people will suffer if you fuck up;
- There are no second chances unless you have an appellate attorney from God that is somehow able to yank your ass from the fire.
See, the people who are taking the bar exam right now think that after the exam, after they pass the bar, they’ll never have to do anything like that again. They think that all those long nights, all those frantic sessions wondering if they made the argument correctly in the essay, wondering if they properly researched a rule, will be over. They may even think that there will never be another time in their lives that they’ll have to learn the basics of entire areas of law in the course of a few weeks. They’d be right, and they’d be wrong, because after the bar exam they won’t be learning any of that shit over the course of a few hours.
They’ll be learning it over the course of a few days, at the most, or, in some cases, over the course of three to four hours immediately preceding an initial client consult. From those few hours, they’ll be expected to know if they can competently handle representation or not (the answer will almost always be no), and, if they are on the fence, if they should refer the matter out (once again, the answer will almost always be no). Unless they are one of those magical fucking unicorns of the legal world, the type of motherfucker that practices some high-dollar version of voodoo law that requires them to only know one of two areas (I’m looking at you, you shit-sucking $500 per hour IP sons of bitches), they’ll leave the bar exam facing a future of learning just enough about many different areas of law to be competent. Because despite the cry of “specialization,” the simple fact of the matter is a decent lawyer working in a decent business will need to know how to do a little bit of fucking everything.
You know that bar question you’ll be in a tizzy about later on tonight? Imagine that it has more riding on it than your ability to practice law. Imagine that, instead, knowing the correct answer, and correctly identifying the issues, will make the difference between the poor schmuck who walked into your office keeping their house or becoming homeless. Imagine that making a spelling error or mistitling a pleading because you were pretty sure it was a Motion and not a Petition meant losing the goddamn case. Imagine running afoul of some obscure procedural rule and ending up with a case dismissed outside of the statute of limitations. If you aren’t fucking sweating bullets at the idea of those things, hang up your pen now and stay home eating bon-bons and scrolling for a J.D. Preferred job.
Fact is, the stress and the anxiety doesn’t stop with the bar exam. The bar exam is not even in the top ten of the worst fucking things you’ll experience while practicing law. It’s two days of test taking in a controlled environment where everyone is on equal footing and you’ve had plenty of time to prepare. It isn’t like walking into the office ready for a day of playing catch-up and getting notified that you have an emergency child removal hearing set for that afternoon, and knowing that you’re walking in pretty damn cold. It’s nothing compared to doing 90 miles per hour to a courthouse in a jurisdiction without electronic filing to get something filed at 3:59:59 p.m. to stop a sheriff’s sale of a client’s home when they retained you at noon. The stress and anxiety of actually practicing law is absolutely crushing when you represent people, and many lawyers who have been in practice for any period of time would rather take a two day exam than have to deal with a client sobbing in the courthouse hall because they lost everything.
That’s the career you’re entering. It’s a career of late nights, obscure areas of law, searching desperately for the precedent that helps your client, and trying to figure out how to win the unwinnable. It’s a fucking profession of looking people in the eyes and saying “Welp, I reviewed the law and you’re fucked. Here’s my invoice.” It’s a soul-crushing grind of daily shit that you wade through searching for that one shining fuckin’ moment where you can lean, exhausted, in a courthouse hallway after your client and opposing counsel have left and know you accomplished some serious shit. It’s also a profession of walking out to the car after reassuring a crying client who just got fucked, sitting in it, and wanting to fucking drive right off the side of the goddamn garage because even if you couldn’t do a single fucking thing to fix the situation, you always wonder if you could have.
But no, no, keep believing that the most stressful thing you’ll ever endure in life is the bar exam and the wait for admission afterwards. It’s cool. I understand. You have no idea what you’re about to start doing for pay, so it’s understandable that you may want to believe it couldn’t possibly get any worse than it is now.
Just know, you sweet summer child, that this profession will suck the life out of you. You’ll go home at the end of the day exhausted, you’ll come in early in the morning even more exhausted. You’ll worry about the bottom line or how to handle a situation. You’ll fret over a decision you made, analyzing and re-analyzing it over and over as you wonder if you’ve done something wrong or, even worse, could have done something else better. At least a million times after you take the bar and enter practice, you’ll consider giving it all up for a life raising alpacas in Peru. You will be fucking miserable.
But then you’ll have a case where you really, truly, sincerely help someone, and you’ll feel like a fucking superhero.
And that’ll make it worth it.