I train students for the bar exam. In my many years of teaching, the question of working while studying has come up often. Now given the recent economic downturn, this question comes up with even greater frequency. While I always advise students not to work while studying for the bar exam, I realize that some students simply do not have that luxury in today’s economy. Therefore, I have devised a more nuanced answer to that question.
As a general matter, studying for the bar exam should always be treated as a full-time job. That means that during the roughly two-month period from the start of your bar review course through the start of the exam you would be putting in a minimum of eight hour days, just like a real job. In fact, most students end up putting in more hours than that each day not to mention studying through the weekends.
Therefore, if you are working, you should absolutely take time off to study for the bar exam in order to give yourself the highest probability of success.
Your goal is to free up as much time as possible for studying. Talk to your employer as early as you can so that they can re-assign your workload to others in your absence. If you cannot take a solid two-month leave of absence, then perhaps you can negotiate a way to trim back your office hours and still retain your job.
I have heard of employers who will allow bar applicants to have flexible hours to permit them to attend bar review lectures. I have also heard of situations where employers will let bar applicants study at their desks when the office is quiet so long as they are available to assist when needed. Every employer is different but the key to find a way to free up time for you to study while making sure that your workload is somehow being handled. So be considerate of your employer’s needs and you may find that a workable compromise is possible.
What if your employer will not let you take time off? If you find yourself in a situation where you need to keep your job but your employer will not allow you any time to study during the workday, then you must start the process much earlier. Remember, that you need to be able to put in the same number of hours as everyone else. So if you cannot do that in the two months leading up to the bar exam, then you need to start much earlier so that you can put in the same number of hours over a longer time horizon.
See if your bar review course will allow you to order their books and other materials well in advance of the start of their course to give you extra time to review. If you can get your bar review materials at least four to six months before the bar exam that will give you more time to review the bar subjects, put together your flash cards, and do the necessary practice testing. Choose a bar review course that provides a home study option which allows you to get all of the lectures in audio or video format to review at your own pace.
The bar exam is hard enough without setting yourself up for failure. Therefore, if it is already less than four months before your bar exam and you realize that you cannot set aside the hours necessary to adequately prepare, you may want to postpone taking the bar exam for six months so that you can give yourself time for effective preparation.
I learned all I know about bar exam preparation from my father, who taught his own bar review course for over 40 years. I am reminded of something my father used to say to his students: “If you unable or unwilling to put in the necessary time and effort to be successful on this bar exam, then tell your friends and family that the bar exam is given in two parts. The first part is in July. The second part is in February.” Hopefully, that advice will not apply to you. Good luck.