How Families Can Support Black Law Students During the Bar Exam

You’ve supported him through three hard years of studying during law school.  Now, after watching him walk across that stage in a cap and gown, degree in hand, you want to breathe a grateful sigh of relief.  But you might want to hold that breath.  While graduating law school is a major milestone that should be celebrated, one cannot become a lawyer without passing the bar exam.  This article will discuss how families can support Black law students during the bar exam.

While there are resources that provide tips to family members, friends, spouses, or significant others of bar takers, none of them focus on the specific cultural needs or dynamics of Black families.  Because there are so few Black attorneys, Black law students are far less likely to have someone in their family who knows what the bar exam is like.  Therefore, an article that focuses on how families can support Black law students during the bar exam.


What is the Bar Exam?  What is it Like?

The bar exam is a test devised by a state to determine whether a lawyer is competent to practice law in that jurisdiction.  A person who passes the bar exam will be given a license to practice law in that state.  Because a person cannot practice law without an active license, a person who fails the bar exam cannot practice law. 

When families hear the word “exam,” they may think that the bar exam bears some resemblance to the law school exams that their loved one took during law school.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Law school exams usually last two to four hours and cover just one subject.  The bar exam lasts two full days (three full days, in some states) and tests multiple areas of law on one exam.

And that’s just the essay portion.  The Multistate Bar Exam (MBE) is a multiple-choice test that covers seven subjects.  Examinees have six hours to complete 200 lengthy multiple-choice questions.  Thus, the test taker must read, analyze, and answer each question in less than two minutes.

As you can see, this is no ordinary exam. 


Will My Loved One be Stressed?

In a word, “yes!” 

As explained above, the bar exam is not like a normal law school exam.  Your loved one will have to adjust, and the learning curve is steep.  Not to mention, there is considerable pressure to pass the bar exam the first time.  Failing the bar has real financial costs.  Most legal jobs are restricted to licensed attorneys.  Indeed, some firms hire graduates on the condition of passing the bar.  If they do not pass, they may be let go.

The bar exam is one time where the phrase, “My entire future is riding on this!” is not an exaggeration.

In light of this considerable pressure, your loved one will likely be more stressed than usual.  With the added stress, she may be more irritable.  She may also be less confident in her abilities.  She may be quite happy with her progress one minute and deflated the next. Understand that all of this is perfectly normal.  Don’t tell her that she “has an attitude” or needs to be more respectful.  Remember, she’s taking one of the most stressful, most important, most difficult exams that one can take.  Be patient and understanding. 


What Are Some Ways Families Can Support Black Law Students During the Bar Exam?

There are several ways that families can support Black law students during the bar exam.  Here are a few things you can do that should help keep your bar-taker sane. 

First, keep the distractions to a minimum!  If your student is taking it seriously, he should have a calendar of his study schedule.  Ask him to share it with you.  Learn it, know it, and respect it.  Do not bother him during study times.  Instruct other members of the household to do the same. 

On that topic, while family is a large part of African-American culture, please let the rest of the larger family know that your student is not ignoring them or disrespecting them if he does not attend family functions this summer or return calls immediately.  Remind them that he is busy pursuing a goal and needs to focus.  Also, let them know it’s only temporary.  Tell them that even if he misses events like the Fourth of July family cookout or the family reunion, he’ll be back by Labor Day.

Second, try to minimize her obligations.  The bar exam is a test that requires her full focus.  She will need help with child care, chores, shopping, cooking, laundry, and other tasks.  Show your support by taking these items off her to-do list during the bar period.  Giving her the time to study and focus is a great gift. 

Third, let him be stressed.  Let him vent.  You may be tempted to say, “You’re so smart.  I don’t even know why you’re worried!  You’ll pass easily!”  Resist the temptation.  Every student is insecure during the bar process.  Ironically, constantly reminding your loved one how smart he is might have the opposite effect.  Instead, be encouraging and positive, but let him lead the conversation.

Fourth, do not complain about being ignored.  It’s normal to want to spend time with the ones we love, but studying for the bar is a busy and stressful time.  You want a night out, but your stressed-out wife would likely be a horrible dinner companion anyway.  You might want to watch a movie, but your distracted son would really rather be studying.  Remember, the bar exam creates enough stress on its own.  Don’t add to the pressure by creating more obligations for your graduate. 

Finally, remember that it’s worth it.  The summer will be over soon.  While your new reality may not be ideal, it’s temporary.  If you can hold on for a few weeks, you will endure.  Your loved one – and really, your entire family – sacrificed three years to get her across that stage.  Six weeks is nothing in comparison.  Not to mention, those three years of sacrifice will have been wasted if she doesn’t get her license to practice. 

There are many ways that families can support Black law students during the bar exam.  Stay tuned to the African American Attorney Network for more information about the bar exam and law school success.