Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Lowering the Bar

One of the first things I learned about law school, well before I applied, was that a J.D. is not worth the paper it is printed on without passing the bar exam in at least one state.

Since I have the misfortune of attending law school at a time when my degree will not be worth the paper it is printed on with or without bar passage, and I no longer have any desire to practice, is taking the bar even worth it?

The thought of going to three years of law school and then forgoing the bar all together is sort of a scary one. On the one hand, as many of my non-law friends say, "now is the time." The odds that I will want to take the bar exam five years down the road are not good. At the same time, if I don't want to practice the idea of going through the aggravation and expense is not particularly enticing.

I don't want the same indecision that kept me from dropping out at one of the several points along the way where I wish I had be the force that pushes me into useless stress and expense. But part of me does worry about how this will appear to non-legal employers. I just don't know.

One thing is for sure: I will not be taking it this summer. If I take it, it will be in February of 2012. Something tells me I won't have a job that requires bar passage by the time I graduate. Just a hunch.

(Sidebar: I'm sorry I do not post very frequently, and while I have probably lost what readership I had at this point I hope to get back in the swing of things. I always welcome your comments and emails and I look forward to your feedback!)


  1. Rose,

    I don't see the point in taking the exam. If you take the exam, you will presumably plan to pass. That might mean taking out $3K for Barbri/Kaplan, plus hundreds of hours of practice exams. You state that you don't want to practice law.

    Find something you enjoy, or at least figure that you can enjoy. I graduated from a TTT and was lucky to find a non-law job, within 2 months of graduation. Yes, I only make about $40K, but I have nice benefits. Plus, I do not have the stress of being a lawyer.

    Good luck and I hope you post more frequently.


  2. Why spend 3K for Kaplin or Barbri? Find an old set and use them. Take the bar, no loss to have the license.

  3. I struggled terribly at a 4th tier school, and barely passed without the help of 3 or 4 ridiculously easy elective classes in the 2nd and third year. An easy A or B.

    Then I took the NY Bar Exam 3X and could not for the life of me pass.Sitting through an 800 hour bar prep course twice. (the first attempt I did not take a prep course)

    After the 3rd try, my score was so far from passing I took it as a sign that I might well have to spend another two years of almost full time study in order to pass.

    Then go into the job market as a 5x taker.
    And I met a guy from my school who was taking it for the 8th time.

    I never had the smarts to pass, and I wanted NY because NY is my home. Though some people told me that other states are easier to pass.

    After all that I was a JD in the larger job marketplace. And had a very hard time finging any kind of non-menial employment.

    yada yada yada

  4. Rose, If you think you can pass, take the bar. Maybe at some point, it will be an advantage to have the license. Good luck.

  5. I agree on the using an old set of books. You could skip this summer and wait til the Feb administration of the bar. Pick up books from someone who would be taking it this summer because a lot more people will be trying to get rid of books in the "off season"(easily done on Craigslist; if you're not taking it where you are, then check CL for the place you will be taking it). Pay about $250 for materials and commit yourself to a schedule. You may as well have a license after all this bullshit, because regardless of how you feel about practicing, this is a bad time to omit anything that could possibly help you pay the bills until you deal with the havoc law school has wreaked on your life. And the fact is BarBri pretty much sets the standard for passing the bar (I'm so serious - a lot of the finer points in their examples and outlines is just plain WRONG), so if you just get a set of books and decide you're going to pass the hurdle you should be ok.

    In the meantime, after graduation pick up whatever crap job you can find and maybe try to do some volunteer work. Use the time between graduation and the bar to recover from law school and think about what is next.

    FWIW I'm a 2009 grad from a really really good school with really crappy grades. I decided to move to a place I like rather than focus on my career. Still in a stupid place jobwise (an eternal "temp" surrounded by other disgruntled temps) but I am happy I just said screw it and did what I wanted in life.

  6. Rose, I agree with two of the commenters above: yes, take the bar, if you think there's any chance you'll practice. And remember, "practice" can include a wide range of placements. Being able to state that you're a member of the bar opens up a lot of job possibilities. And investigate the possibility of utilizing admission to one state's bar to waive into the bar of another. I don't think this is possible for "tough" states like CA and NY, but check out some others.

    Second, buy a set of used books, and take the exam in Feb. There's less competition then.

    Finally, if there's any way you can survive on unpaid internship(s) and/or volunteer legal jobs, do so. This will both make you attractive to future employers, expose you to folks who might be hiring, and focus your mind as you study for the bar. [It's a lot easier to recall those points of evidence or civil pro once you've had to write a brief/complaint or prepare for a trial.]

    The immorality in all this -- aside from the fraud in inducing thousands of students to GO to law school -- is the inability to discharge student loan debt in bankruptcy. Were AIG or Bear Sterns subject to the same restrictions? I think not.

    But I would suggest taking a bit of a "breather:" focus on studying for the bar; look for employment or internship opportunities that will widen your experience, and get away from the "I've gotta get one of those high-paying corporate jobs to pay off my law school debt" treadmill.

    If you've survived law school, you have determination and imagination. Use those qualities to care for yourself.

  7. I'd recommend taking the DC bar.
    *It's relatively easy (I passed while working full time and only using the BarBri books, and I'm no self-starter, so that makes me think anyone can do it);
    *having the DC bar allows you to waive into other jurisdictions after 5 years;
    *no MCLE;
    *low annual dues;
    *you might want to pick up some doc review gigs now and again. Yes they suck, but they're mindless and pay $30-40/hr in big markets, and they always require at least some license

    good luck!

  8. Take the bar now!! I'm only five years out of school now (licensed in Ohio & fortunately employed), and I've forgotten pretty much everything I learned in school at this point. I doubt I could pass if I took it again now. As the other commenters mentioned, you can at least pick up some temporary document review jobs if you're licensed. (I did quite a few of those).

    I would definitely recommend getting a secondhand set of review materials, or using one of the study-at-home review course using just written materials & no lectures (they cost half as much as a BarBri course). Best of luck to you!

    (PS- Try looking for paralegal jobs at federal agencies- I worked as a contract paralegal at one agency for 3 1/2 years, and it paid quite well. The agency I worked for is called STG International.)

  9. Get your licence. You are unemployable as a temp without it. I graduated from a midwestern law school, passed the bar, and work as a temp. It has allowed me to put 20% down on a house nicer than most of my friends, raise a family, feed them etc. I had 52K in debt, and make/made between 23-30$hr.

    I'm on hiatus from my current job. But can't complain. I think the worst horror stories come from people that graduated from expensive coastal or out of state schools with polyanna ideas about how much money anyone makes in america. its better than working at a call center or costco making 11$/hr, right?

  10. You should definitely take the bar; if you pass, it opens doors, even if you don't practice. I was incredibly burned out from law school, and decided not to practice, but took the bar exam anyway, and passed. I studied on my own using Micromash - cost about 1K, and worked PT that summer. In some ways, sitting for the bar knowing you aren't going to practice relieves a lot of anxiety. You'll regret not taking the bar in 5 years.

  11. I graduated from law school in May 2010 and I felt the same way you did. I went to a workshop on "non-traditional legal jobs" at my school around the time when I was contemplating whether or not to take the bar exam in PA. The speaker encouraged us to take the bar even if we did not want to practice. Her reason? Every interviewer for any non-legal job will see that you went to law school and ask whether you took the bar. If you say no, they will ask why, and then you will have to spend the time to try to rationalize why you went to law school and did not take it. Furthermore, if you do not take it, many people will assume that you were not capable of passing.

    Soon after, I went on an interview for a non-legal job. I was immediately asked whether I planned to take the bar. I said "yes." We moved on. I got that job, worked full-time while studying for the bar, took the exam and passed. I may never need it, but at least I am licensed if I change my mind. I am thankful to have that exam behind me.

  12. I am so happy I considered myself too poor to apply for law school. Instead, I became a TV reporter and I often worked with attorneys involved in criminal law and I observed how absolutely miserable most of them were and that desire I once had to become a lawyer subsided. Of course, being a TV reporter was also a dead end job as local TV news operations are now dying off and employment at local TV stations is often miserable. So I left that field and now I'm happy doing computer technician type work. The more I read about higher education, the more questions I have about its future. I suspect higher education is about to undergo some radical changes as it appears to be quite broken and -- in my ways -- fraudulent.

  13. I graduated in 2001. I was (am) working in the Information Technology field making good money and don't have to deal with being an attorney. I didn't sit for the bar until 2009 when I was fortunate enough to have my employer pay for the exam and prep course. I passed easily on my first attempt.

    I say wait. If you want to take it later, then you can always take the prep course. If you really aren't going to practice then why deal with the hassle...

  14. Dear Rose,

    You have spent almost three years and thousands of hours in law school. Even if you do not want to practice law, the law license can only be a benefit and not a hinderance to you. I've been practicing for over ten years. Initally it took me more than 1 yr to land my first job and that was as a legal assistant. In short order I was employed as an attorney and now work with a very prestigious company in a well paid position. Had I given up earlier I wouldn't be here today. Skip the summer exam and wait until February. Clear your mind and enjoy yourself. In December start studying, take the test and by March you can put it all behind you. Good luck and God Bless.

  15. Rose,

    I would highly recommend taking the bar anyway. Pick one where you think you might want to live. The six or so weeks of study is somehow manageable after three years of law school. The BarBri and bar fees are a lot but nil compared to the cost of law school. I was in your position and didn't think I wanted to be a lawyer and graduated during a smaller recession. My solution was to get another degree. I had a friend working a minimum wage job who was on law review. A friend convinced me to take the bar anyway, even though I had no immediate prospects of employment. I did and passed. Meanwhile, I realized that my master's program was not for me. I took a nonlegal job that didn't pay too well but definitely paved the way for my current career. I lived at home and saved money so that when I was offered a great internship, I could survive for a few months. If you can find a way to intern for free and work to pay the bills, more power to you. Later I did doc review work for $25 an hour, but it included overtime, and I tried to get into the overtime work by Wednesday. It was not glamorous, but again, it helped me save money for when I found a "real" job.

    Nearly ten years later, I've been through several jobs, but I can honestly say that I enjoy my job. It took me nearly five years to find a field I love. I don't make a ton of money, but it pays the bills and I'm happy with my career choice. I'm in a non-traditional position, but if I had not taken the bar, then my degree truly would have been useless. I would not be in my current career without it. And I can't imagine trying to study for the bar any time except right after school. The mind just isn't up to studying years later.

    I wish you the best of luck and I feel your pain. But it will get better.

  16. I used BarBri and now 6 years after the fact they are sending me money!! Its due to a class action due to price fixing or something like that. Got $450 from them the other day woohoo!
    Another thing to consider that sucks for me right now is required bar membership dues are in excess of $300 per year and required CLE tuition expenses are in excess of $1000 per year.
    Paying for Barbri/the bar exam is the easy part if you are unemployed like me :(

  17. I graduated from law school in April of 2010, I thought- hey this JD will help me land a federal job...over a year of applying later, still have no federal job, and basically every other job I have been applying for I am "overqualified" or I have not passed the bar. At this point I am very disheartened in the time and effort I've put into a degree I am currently wasting, and not to mention the interest my student loan is accumulating. Sadly I've decided that I'm just going to buckle down and take a bar, any bar, and try to pass it, but I can't take it until February 2012, which puts me at a terrible disadvantage for being out of law school for almost 2 whole years before taking it...I'll most inevitably fail and be 3k more in debt than I already am. Please don't make the same mistake that I did and wait. If you're going to take it, take it, and take it as early as you can.