Issues · Law School · Work Life Balance

The Bar Exam: Helping Family Understand Your Stress

Many will start their Bar course this week. I remember clearly how much fear of the unknown I had going into my first course.  And rather than feeling somewhat relieved after the first day, I left feeling more nervous than before because I just didn’t know how I was going to learn everything I needed to learn in time for the Bar. I say this not to freak you out, but to show solidarity in the complete mind-F that the Bar prep can be; it’s a really difficult time because this is high stress, high stakes. Throughout the summer we’ll share Bar prep tips that are useful for those studying, but today’s post is for the families of those students who are about to embark on their Bar prep journey.

Families and friends are really the glue that can hold a student together, but they are also a huge source of heightened stress and anxiety. I feel like this is even truer for Latino families because we are generally so close to one another and usual depend on each other for various forms of support. Family obligations imposed on Latinas is a real thing that may have felt like a slight deterrence while in law school, but during Bar prep it will be even more difficult to overcome. So today I want to share three things family/friends can do to provide real support to those studying for the Bar:

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One. Don’t dismiss their concerns. A person studying for the Bar will have many moments of doubt and concern about their ability to pass. It’s common for people to try to allay fears by telling the student to not worry about passing because they’re so smart that of course they’ll pass. It’s great intentions, for sure, but the reality is that comments like this cause more frustration. When the student is struggling to keep up with the Bar prep course or receiving low marks on their practice essays telling them they’re smart and not to worry doesn’t help. If anything it feels dismissive about real concerns that they’re experiencing. Don’t do that.  Instead, acknowledge how hard they’re working and be willing to be a shoulder to cry on during moments of high frustration.

Two. Don’t make them feel guilty for not participating in family activities. I know, to an outsider looking in, how can one test take up so much time from a person? What do you mean you can’t go to a cousin’s wedding in July? Or help with childcare during the evenings? Or make dinner the week before the exam? The amount of time and commitment the Bar exam requires is off-balance with the day-to-day responsibilities of life—especially if you’re part of a family that is highly involved with one another. But passing the Bar is the only way for an attorney to practice law, and in order to pass the student has to put in hours of studying without distraction. During this time, families and friends should strive to pick up that slack and to not expect much from the student. More importantly, do your best to not make them feel guilty for not doing what they’d normally want to do, which is to help their family. Remember this huge time-commitment is only for a limited time, so figure out ways to make things work without relying heavily on the student.

Three. Offer help and support. Many students are not working during this time—or will take unpaid leave for a couple of weeks prior to the exam. If it’s viable for you, offer monetary support or make sure the student is eating by providing home-cooked meals. Early on, offer some distractions–I will always be so grateful when a group of friends randomly showed up near my place in early July when I was studying on a Saturday night. My husband and I met them for dinner with the understanding that I was going to stay only for an hour (and no one hassled me to try to stay longer). This provided me with some much needed distraction and gave my husband a fun time away from the study den aka our apartment. But even if you’re far away or your finances don’t allow it, the most important thing you can do is provide emotional support–along with a good bottle to celebrate once the exam is completed!

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