How to Reduce Negative Externalities Caused by the Bar Exam

 An externality is the effect of a transaction on a third-party who is not part of the transaction.  An externality may be either positive or negative.  In the case of the bar exam, the externality discussed here is the negative effect bar exam studies can have on your relationships with your family and friends.  Unless you want these relationships to be damaged or destroyed, you should give some thought to them before and during your bar exam study program.

Have the Talk

If you know any non-bar takers who you routinely see at least once a week, you need to let them know you are about to start studying for the bar exam.  The obvious people to speak with are your significant other, close friends, and children, if you have any.  (For more on S.O. and children, see below.) You should explain that you will be taking the bar exam soon, that it is a difficult test that requires a lot of studying, and that you will not be as available as before.  Tell them this will only last a couple of months, but that it will be intense.  Promise them (and fulfill that promise!) that you will be available on Saturday or Sunday to hang out and that you will be available each day during the evenings to talk.  (As I have discussed elsewhere, I do not believe that it is necessary to study 12 hours per day, 7 days per week to pass the bar exam.)

Significant Other

If you have been with your S.O. through law school, then he or she has gotten used to you keeping long hours away in order to attend class, do your homework, study for final exams, and work at clerking gigs.  If you have already come to an accommodation about this, then the bar exam should not be much different.  Maybe you will be away a couple more hours per day and occasionally on a weekend, but not much more.  If your S.O. is upset at the amount of time you are studying, then (assuming you aren't spending more than 50 or 60 hours per week studying -- and I don't think you should be) there really is no call for this behavior.  Explain that once you get a job as an attorney, it is likely that you will work a minimum of 40 hours per week, which will equate to at least 50 hours per week away from home when you factor in lunch breaks, commute time, and extra-curricular, work-related activities.  If your S.O. cannot take the time away now, the problem is likely to get worse. 

Of course, if you are going to preach in this manner, you have to make the time when you are with your S.O. quality time.  Vent a little about your bar exam stress, but do not make it the sole topic of conversation.  Study at your study place (e.g., law library) and live the rest of your life when you are at home.  (I hate to create some sort of dualistic conflict between life and work, since they are interwoven and cannot really be separated, but it is a useful concept here.)  In the end, if your relationship with your S.O. is healthy going into the bar exam, it should be strong after the bar exam.


The majority of people taking the bar exam do not have children.  For those of you who do, it presents a special problem.  If your children are very young (under 3), then the burden is really on whoever will be caring for the children while you are studying.  Be sure to thank that person often.  If it is your significant other, then get a babysitter every couple of weeks and go out to dinner or even a night away.

If your children are older -- but not so old they don't want to talk to you :) -- then you need to be sure you make time for them.  You can tell them you have a very hard test coming up and that you need lots of time alone to study, but children simply cannot comprehend studying for 7-10 weeks straight for a single test. It seems ridiculous to them.

When children are involved, I highly recommend having a set schedule and never varying from it.  I have discussed my rigid studying schedule elsewhere.  The importance of having a set schedule is two-fold:  (1) your children always know when you are available (e.g., after 5pm M-F, after Noon on Saturday, and all day on Sunday); and (2) you are forced to learn during those hours or else -- it is a great motivator. 


The important thing is that you anticipate who will notice your absence during bar exam studies and to explain to them that it is only temporary.

[UPDATE:  For another, related view, CLICK HERE.]

[Photo: Sara. Nel]


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