Pass the CA Bar Exam in 100 Hours

I passed the July 2012 California Bar Exam by studying for 100 hours—no more than 5 hours per day between July 1st and July 24th. My approach may not be appropriate for everybody. But here are some details nonetheless; hopefully they will help some future examinee.

I. Bar Contrarianism

I suspect two things about the Bar Exam.

First, it’s probably easier than is commonly thought. The received wisdom is that the exam is quite difficult. Naturally, people who fail believe this because it softens the blow. People who pass tend to believe it because they usually grossly overstudied, and are biased to think that all their preparation was important. (If you pass, the State Bar doesn’t tell you by how much.) Test prep companies do their part to terrify law students into enrollment. Everyone’s incentivized to exaggerate. 

This is somewhat bizarre, since there’s really not much reason for fear: in California, first-time takers from ABA-approved law schools have a pass rate of about 75%. Scarier, lower figures in the 50% range are commonly cited, but those are misleading because they include repeat-takers, people from unaccredited schools, foreign-educated students, etc. (The pass rates for those groups all hover around 25%. And things are really bleak for people in two of those groups; unaccredited or foreign-educated repeaters pass just 7-10% of the time.) So, if you speak English fluently, haven’t failed the exam before, and you went to a real law school, you’re very likely to pass. If you went to a good law school, you’re looking at more like 90 to 95% odds. 

My second suspicion is that managing one’s psychology about the exam is probably as important as anything else. I don’t think most examinees realize this. People tend to become incredibly stressed before the exam. Certainly some small amount of stress can be motivational. But I’d guess that unchecked stress and fear cause more people to fail than insufficient studying does.

II. Plan

Given all this, I figured I could probably pass by studying much less than conventional wisdom instructs, so long as I avoided panicking or feeling guilty about that and instead re-framed it as optimal.

This framing was easy enough because I didn’t have much of a choice. I could not study full-time since I had other priorities and commitments; over the summer, we at Judicata were raising a round of venture capital, hiring people, building a product, etc. So I had to be relatively cavalier in my preparation and relatively carefree about the results.

I think this approach would probably work for most law students who are capable of passing the Bar. Of course, this doesn’t mean it’s a good approach for most people, or that it’s not risky. Because I work at a legal tech startup, not a law firm, passing the Bar was professionally important but not quite professionally crucial. (In the unlikely event that I’d fail and have to re-take the exam, most of my startup work would continue unchanged in the interim.) It’s hard to know how much of a difference this makes. But it’s worth noting. 

III. Prep Course vs. Self Study

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Tags: bar exam work

Liberalize the law

Nonmembers often complain about state-granted professional licensure, only to shift to defend it should they succeed in acquiring its protection. Like many of my friends, I received the good news today that I’ve passed the California Bar Exam. I’d like to celebrate by sharing some words that Lysander Spooner wrote in 1835 while advocating the disestablishment of weighty restrictions on admission to the Bar. 

[T]he ability [or] learning… of an individual, for the practice of law, cannot, with justice, be made a matter of inquire by the Courts or the Legislature… [those matters] concern solely the lawyer himself and his clients. Any man…has the right to decide for himself whom he will employ as counsel…[I]t is the right of the person so employed to have the same facilities afforded to him for discharging his service as counsel, that are afforded to others, whom the public may think much better or abler lawyers….[T]he professional man, who, from want of intellect or capacity for his profession, is unable to sustain himself against the free competition of his neighbors without the aid of a protective system, has mistaken his calling…

[Moreover,] the present rules operate as a protective system in favor of the rich… against the competition of the poor….Take [the] case…of a poor young man,… fortunate enough to obtain credit and assistance, while getting his education, on the condition that he shall repay after he shall have engaged in his profession—so long is the term of study required, and such is the prohibition upon his attempts to earn any thing in the mean time for his support, that he must then come into practice with such an accumulation of debt upon him as the professional prospects of few or none can justify…. [Yet] no one has ever yet dared to advocate, in direct terms, so monstrous a principle as that the rich ought to be protected by law from the competition of the poor.


I’ve slightly edited this except for the sake of brevity. If you enjoy Spooner’s language or his argument, you should read the whole letter, simply titled To the Members of the Legislature of Massachusetts

Would that my classmates and I are among the last to be required to do what we had to do in order to do what we wanted to do.