Surviving the Colorado Bar Exam Again…
If you have joined the ranks of those who must re-take the Colorado bar exam, be reminded that you are in good company. Throughout history, many governors, members of Congress, mayors, attorneys general, military generals, law school professors, and judges have failed the bar exam as first-time test takers. The good news is that all is not lost. Not passing the bar exam is certainly unpleasant; you may be upset, and this is a normal reaction. You may also experience an array of other mixed feelings. However, please remember: you are not alone. That may not make it easier to accept, but most lawyers will understand and can empathize because of their own experiences with the Bar Exam. It is also important to remember that an unsuccessful attempt does not end your aspirations of a legal career. It is only a minor setback. You can get beyond this bump in the road and move on to a successful legal career.
The following is a guide on how to approach life after an unsuccessful bar exam result and a resource guide for finding success on your next attempt.
GETTING BACK ON TRACK
Lots of professions have tough exams. Doctors take tests throughout their training to advance. So do actuaries and dentists. Real estate agents and CPAs take tests for certification. But none of those seem to cause the widespread physical and emotional stress brought on by the bar exam. If you are unsuccessful on the Colorado bar exam, the first step is to let yourself feel the disappointment, anxiety, dread, anger, and other emotions that may arise.
It is important that you allow yourself to be disappointed and frustrated by the outcome. The bar exam is a very emotional experience and you put in a lot of time and effort to take the exam. You want to give yourself time to deal with the results. That means you should take some time for yourself.
Prioritize eating healthy foods, staying hydrated, getting sufficient sleep, and not self-medicating to avoid feeling your emotions. While spending some time alone to collect your thoughts and process the situation is understandable, avoid isolating yourself from your family, friends, and colleagues. Maintain your daily routine and allow yourself to find joy in the things you love. Don’t forget to breathe.
When you are ready, reach out to the Colorado Lawyer Assistance Program (COLAP). The Colorado Lawyer Assistance Program is confidential and here to help you overcome this temporary setback. A confidential conversation with COLAP can be the beginning of a solution to the problem. COLAP’s services include resources for a broad range of professional and personal concerns such as:
Stress and Burn-out
Alcohol and Drug Abuse
Prescription Drug Concerns
Marital & Family Relationships
If counseling and/or treatment is needed, COLAP will provide appropriate referrals to treatment providers vetted for experience working with high-level professionals.
Telephone: (303) 986-3345
Office visits are by appointment only:
Colorado Lawyer Assistance Program
2490 West 26th Avenue
Denver CO 80211
The first step to finding success on the next bar exam is to take care of yourself and ensure that you are physically and emotionally ready to undertake the process again.
PLANNING FOR THE FUTURE
Analyze your score report and copies of your exam answers when they become available in your application account.
Remember, the bar exam is comprised of three parts:
Multistate Bar Exam (MBE): For more information refer to: http://www.ncbex.org/exams/mbe/
Multistate Essay Exam (MEE): For more information refer to: http://www.ncbex.org/exams/mee/
Multistate Performance Test (MPT): For more information refer to: http://www.ncbex.org/exams/mpt/
For an explanation of your bar result notice, the Colorado scoring process and how to review your written answers, please refer to the bulletin titled “Unsuccessful Exam Applicant Information located on the Office of Attorney Admissions webpage : http://coloradosupremecourt.com/Future%20Lawyers/BarExaminationResults.asp
When looking at your score report, analyze the areas in which you fell short – the MBE, the MEE, the MPTs, or some combination of them. This will help you decide where you need to change your study strategy.
No one enjoys critically reviewing where they fell short on the exam. However, this information can be invaluable. Perhaps you did not organize your essays well, or you wrote too little, or recalled too little law or failed to answer the call of the question. You can gather a lot of valuable information by reviewing your MEE and MPT answers and the accompanying grading materials
Use this information to determine where to focus your energy on the next exam.
For general information concerning bar exam, please refer to the bulletin titled “Bar Exam Information” on the Colorado Office of Attorney Admissions webpage. http://coloradosupremecourt.com/Future%20Lawyers/BarExamination.asp
COMMIT TO MOVE FORWARD
The next step is committing to taking the bar again. This may sound like an easy decision but it is not. It has many parts to it.
Time: It takes time to study for the bar again. You may be working and already have a job. You may have to consider whether or not that job will allow you to take time to adequately study and prepare. You must decide which bar exam you are going to take next. It is typically recommended to sit for the next bar cycle so you retain as much information as you can from your previous testing experience.
Money: Finances are an important piece of taking the bar again. We all know and appreciate that taking the bar is not cheap. The test itself is expensive, even before you decide to pay for any additional preparation help. Most bar takers are already in debt from their law school loans and previous bar-taking experience. It is important to determine if you can financially support yourself taking the next bar exam. You do not want to be distracted while studying by having to worry unnecessarily about finances.
Attitude: This is in many cases the most important part of getting yourself ready to commit to taking the bar exam again. Everyone deals with a challenge like this differently. But you must emotionally commit to beating this test. You must decide that this is a goal that you want to achieve and you are going to do your best to get there. You cannot approach re-taking the bar exam without determination and gusto. You cannot approach it simply with a fear of failure. You must decide that you will overcome this challenge and give yourself the best chance to do so.
Consider transferring your Colorado UBE score to another UBE jurisdiction
While we would much prefer to have you join the profession of law in Colorado, it may make sense for you consider transferring your UBE score for admission in another jurisdiction. If you scored 260 or above, your score may be sufficient for admission in several UBE jurisdictions.
For a list of UBE jurisdictions and their minimum required score, please refer to the NCBE website: UBE: www.ncbex.org/exams/ube/
Colorado UBE scores may be transferred to another UBE jurisdiction by submitting a UBE score transfer request to the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE). UBE score transfers may be requested on-line using the NCBE score services.
Colorado MBE scores may be transferred to another jurisdiction by submitting an MBE score transfer request to the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE). MBE score transfers may be requested on-line using the NCBE score services.
To transfer UBE and MBE scores to another jurisdiction, go to http://www.ncbex.org/ncbe-exam-score-services/ and select the applicable exam scores you wish to transfer.
Consider law-related careers without a license to practice
There are several law-related career paths available right now to students contemplating a legal career without taking or passing the bar exam. Those interested in patent law, for example, can work at the United States Patent and Trademark Office as a patent examiner without passing the bar. Financial services is another industry that welcomes law school graduates, but doesn’t require them to take the bar. Law graduates can do compliance work, which involves helping make sure the financial entity complies with federal regulations. If the public sector is more your speed, law graduates should consider working for the government. In any government agency there’s a need for someone who can interpret legal statutes without necessarily having to have a legal opinion from a lawyer. Graduates can also do legislative work and clerk for a state legislator. Becoming a paralegal is also a popular option for people who want to work at a firm but not as a lawyer.
The following is a non-exhaustive list of jobs that uses the skills you acquired in law school. They are courtesy of Hillary Mantis.
- Bar Association Administrator
- Career Counselor
- Certified Financial Planner
- Commercial Real Estate Agent
- Computer Consultant
- Corporate Trainer
- Designer/Developer of Trial Visual Aides
- Deposition Videographer
- Director of Career Services, Admissions or Alumni Affairs
- Investment Banker
- Jury Consultant
- Law Librarian
- Law Professor
- Legislative Analyst
- Legal Software Developer/Vendor
- Legal Consultant
- Legal Headhunter
- Management Consultant
- Politician/Political Advisor
- Real Estate Developer
- Small Business Owner
- Title Examiner
- Trust Officer/Estate Administrator
If these options are of interest to you, consider obtaining a mentor or coach to help you plan for a career path in these related fields. The Colorado Attorney Mentoring Program can assist you in finding a mentor in many of these related field to assist you in exploring non-traditional legal careers.
Information concerning the re-application process for returning candidates is described in the Office of Attorney Admissions bulletin titled: http://coloradosupremecourt.com/Future%20Lawyers/ApplicationInstructions.asp
PREPARATION FOR THE BAR EXAM
Although preparing for another bar exam may seem like a daunting task, you may be surprised with your retention and recall of the substantive material, particularly if you are sitting for the next exam. However, we cannot overemphasize the importance of proper and adequate preparation. Thus, when you decide to retake the bar exam, we suggest that you consider enrolling in a review course, even if you did so the first time. While you may have previously attended these lectures, the review courses provide necessary structure and guidance in preparing for the bar exam. Below is some information to assist you in your research of what products and/or services are available as you decide which review courses you may want to enroll in or what type of preparation will work best for you. This is not intended to be an endorsement for any of the following products or services, but is merely included for your convenience.
Non-Commercial Resources Dedicated to Bar Exam Preparation
NCBE offers study aids for the MPRE, MBE, MEE, and MPT. http://www.ncbex.org/study-aids/
This web page includes links to bar results and exam information, bar review courses, sample bar exams and state bar homepages.
Findlaw for Students: The Bar http://stu.findlaw.com/thebar/
Provides links to state and national bar associations, links to state bar exam information and links and descriptions of the multistate tests.
lexisONE – Bar Resource Center http://webservices.lexisnexis.com/legalresearch/legalguide/bar_resource_center/bar_resource_center_index.htm
Bar exam and bar admission information, plus academic advice on how to study for and pass bar exam.
Jurist: Bar Exams/ Bar Admissions http://jurist.law.pitt.edu/barexam.htm
University of Denver Bar Success Program http://www.law.du.edu/index.php/barprep
The free DU Bar Success Program is available to all graduating students and alumni, providing instruction, coaching, and feedback throughout the two-month study period immediately prior to the bar exam. The series includes a variety of strategic workshops, practice mock bar exams, individual consultations, and timely feedback on writing assignments. However, the series is not a replacement for a commercial bar review course. Rather, the series provides opportunities to refine the learning process under expert guidance to achieve success on the bar exam.
Efficient study habits are crucial. If at all possible, you should treat bar exam preparation like a job, even if you are already working. Setting start and finish times for each day adds structure to your preparation schedule. At the same time, since your stress level may already be high because you are preparing to take the bar exam, it is extremely important to take time each day to relax. Avoiding “burnout” and mental fatigue is critical. A well-rested mind and body make preparation more efficient.
A review of your previous exam answers may provide you with some important clues concerning where you want to focus your studying as you prepare to tackle the exam again. Perhaps your review will reveal that you were unfamiliar with a particular area of the law tested in the question and that you need to focus more on the areas of the law which are likely to be tested. Alternatively, your review may reveal that you missed points by not answering a question because you ran out of time. Regardless, within the allotted daily preparation time, you should review substantive material for all areas likely to be tested on the bar exam, and you should also practice both essay writing and multi-state problems. Familiarizing yourself with the questions and practicing responses help build confidence and comfort on the essay portion of the examination.
Do not assume that because one area of the law was tested on the previous exam that it will not be tested again. The MBE questions also have their own style, and you will likely find that your score improves the more you practice the MBE. If a review of your prior exam reveals that you were surprised by a question concerning an area of the law you did not expect to see, do not assume that the subject will not be tested again. Prepare yourself as fully as possible to address adequately any fact pattern or area of the law that may be tested. One of the best ways to prepare for the bar exam is to practice — practice reading fact patterns and answering essay and multiple choice questions. When practicing for the essay portion of the exam, it is important to read carefully both the essay facts and the question(s). When reading the essay facts, be wary of “red herrings,” but do not assume that the facts will contain distractions. You should carefully consider all of the facts provided. Typically, the essay questions are written such that each fact is significant in some manner or to some degree to the analysis of the question. For example, a date may signify a statute of limitations issue, which may change the entire direction of the analysis or, at the least, be worthy of a brief discussion. One of the fundamental points of answering an essay question is to always answer the question asked. Be specific and thorough, but be concise. A well-answered essay question may contain only several sentences. Structure an answer with a logical argument based on valid law that you believe may apply to the question asked. Avoid blanket answers, which contain every relevant legal concept, term, or theory that you can recall. Time management is a critical skill to ensure that you adequately answer every question on the exam. Making up lost time on the examination can be extremely difficult. For example, you should not count on being able to spend 45 minutes to answer one essay and expect to leave only 15 minutes to answer another essay.
The second day of the bar exam is the national Multistate Bar Examination day. The Colorado Board of Law Examiners affords only 50 percent weight to the MBE; therefore, you should not depend on the MBE to compensate for a poor effort on the essay portion of the exam. The best way to prepare for the MBE is practice and repetition. Practice and repetition tend to highlight testing patterns and are likely to increase your proficiency on the MBE. Finally, as you prepare for the exam, remain true to yourself. You have forged study habits and test-preparation skills over the years that have served you well through college and law school. Do not change the way you prepare for this examination because of the way other applicants prepare. What has worked for you in the past should prepare you for this examination. Patience and diligence in your preparation will pay dividends.
DURING THE EXAM
First, try to relax, at least for the day before the bar exam. Do something to unwind and to take your mind off of the law for a while. Put the books and notes away, and do not attempt last-minute “cramming.” Following years of law school and weeks of intensive preparation, you will either know the law or not. Overloading your brain on the last days will add to your anxiety level and create unnecessary stress, while only minimally increasing you retention at best. Get plenty of sleep the night prior to the exam. On the day of the exam, the motto should be “less stress, better test.” While taking the bar exam, it is important to remain calm and clear-minded — do not panic! It is not unusual that, at some point during the two-day exam, you will encounter an unexpected or unknown question. If this happens, remember that the exam is graded on a “pseudo-curve.” If an essay question tests an obscure area of the law, it is likely that many examinees will answer the question poorly, which tends to reduce its negative impact on each examinee’s overall score. During the MBE portion, concentrate and pace yourself.
Do not focus on your previous exam experience or result. This is a clean slate and your second exam experience will have its own ups, downs, and result. Just as you are not defined by your previous exam experience, your next exam experience will also not define you as a professional. Take comfort in knowing that you have been here before. You know what to expect. You have the benefit of hindsight and you are more prepared now than you have ever been to find success on the exam.
LIFE AFTER THE BAR EXAM
Life after re-taking the bar exam looks a lot like life after the initial exam. Give yourself permission to celebrate and have fun (responsibly). Of course you are reveling the achievement of sitting for the exam, but it is also important to acknowledge yourself for overcoming the adversity of being unsuccessful on the first attempt. Whether you choose to take the exam again, transfer your score, or explore other career opportunities, you have persevered through this temporary setback. That is something to be celebrated! If you are awaiting new results, spend the next two months blocking out the bar exam white noise. Have faith in yourself and don’t over analyze your performance. Remember, the goal is not 100%. You merely need to reach 276.
Spend your time waiting for results by taking positive, meaningful steps toward professional development. Find a mentor or coach to help you navigate career path options, review your job application materials, and work on your presentation and interview skills. The Colorado Attorney Mentoring Program can assist you in finding a mentor who has also overcome the set back of an unsuccessful bar result. Thinking of hanging a shingle? Be sure to find a mentor to assist you in law practice set-up and management techniques so you will be ready to hit the ground running following your successful bar result. We wish you the best not only on the Bar Exam but also for a rewarding and successful career in law!