Be Selective When Choosing An Elective
Should I take bar exam subjects while in law school? This is a question that most law students struggle with as they choose their elective courses. While most law schools do require you to take bar subjects as part of your core law school curriculum, your state bar exam is likely to test on additional subjects which you are not required to study in law school.
If, for instance, your state bar exam tests “Oil & Gas Law” and you already have a strong interest in taking a course on that subject in law school, then of course you should take it. But what if you have no interest in studying about “Oil & Gas Law” and no plans to practice in that area of specialty? Should you take it anyway to ensure your success on the bar exam? In most cases, I would argue that you should take that class.
Some of you may be surprised by my answer. Maybe you thought I would give you the same advice as your undergraduate academic advisor who told you to “follow your bliss” and take courses that interest you (if those people are so smart, why are they working as academic advisors?).
Don’t misunderstand me. I am not against taking courses that interest you, as long as they fit your schedule. If you have room on your class schedule for classes that interest you as well as classes that can help you pass the bar exam, then by all means take both. But as you survey the list of potential elective courses to take in your upcoming semester, if you are forced to choose one or the other, choose the one that will help you pass the bar exam.
By now you may be wondering, “won’t I learn ‘Oil & Gas Law’ (or whatever subject I am missing) in my bar review course?” Of course you can learn any subjects in your bar review course that you did not master while in law school. However, trying to learn a completely unfamiliar subject in a matter of a few days (rather than a full semester) puts you at a slight disadvantage. You will not be as familiar with the concepts and vocabulary of these subjects as someone who is merely reviewing them (they call it bar “REVIEW” for a reason). Multiply this disadvantage by the number of bar subjects you never studied in law school and you can see that you will have many gaps in your knowledge to fill. Studying for the bar exam is hard enough without that additional handicap.
Of course you must balance the above advice against the desire to specialize in a particular area of law. For example, if you are passionate about intellectual property law and want to practice in this area upon graduation, then it would certainly benefit your career to take an elective course in this area. However, if you are just one of those intellectually curious types who always wanted to learn about the law of endangered species but have no desire to practice in that area (and it does not appear on your state’s bar exam), then you may have to forgo that class if it conflicts with your opportunity to take a course on a bar exam topic.
As for those interesting but non-essential courses you missed in law school, you can always learn about them by taking Continuing Legal Education (or CLE) classes on these topics once you are licensed. That’s right. The learning never stops, even after you graduate and pass the bar exam. Lawyers must be life-long learners by constantly taking CLE classes to maintain their law licenses. So don’t worry about missing out on learning opportunities in law school. You must be selective in choosing your electives. Your biggest priority is to pass the bar exam so that you can become a lawyer. That’s when the real learning begins.