In normal times, the Illinois Bar exam would have taken place two weeks ago. Due to Covid it first got pushed to September 9 and 10 and now is going to be online October 5 & 6.
I remember a lot from the summer of 1994 when I took the Illinois Bar test. The night it finished was a huge celebration with my classmates. The summer itself was very stressful because if I didn’t pass I have no idea what I would do.
Back then every law student I knew took a class called BarBri. It was started by a guy named Michael Spak who was also a professor at my law school. The first week of the class he came to speak to us and gave what in my opinion is the key to passing the test.
He asked us how many of us were nervous about passing. Not everyone raised their hand, but I do know that most people were anxious at least. He then asked how many of us had clerked in law firms or been to the Daley Center. Almost every hand went up. Professor Spak asked how many times we saw an attorney at a firm or court and looked at them and thought to ourselves, “I can’t believe that person is a lawyer.” Most hands went up for that too and we all had a good laugh.
He then gave me all the confidence I would need. He said something to the effect of “All of those dumb people passed the bar exam to become a lawyer and if they did it then so can you!”
That was a great pep talk and the advice after that was to just do the work and treat it like a job. Their class had years of success in getting people to pass and I’m sure they or some other group is still doing that type of work. We all blew off certain parts of school, but with the bar exam, if you go to every class, do all the reading, take all the practice tests and do it over and over and over, your chances of success are really high.
This isn’t some magical advice. I was 25 when I took the bar and was doing it during a typical fun Chicago summer. Those taking the exam this September don’t have neighborhood festivals, Cubs games or a huge nightlife to distract them. In that way, taking the Bar during Covid is slightly easier. But of course there are still fun things to do in Chicago (or anywhere) and while you should be having fun, the people I know who didn’t pass had too much fun and didn’t take getting ready for the exam serious enough.
The reality is that if you treat this time like a job you care about – and you should because you are the owner of the company – then you will likely pass. When you take practice tests, you’ll have an idea of how well you are likely to do. The more practice tests you take, the more you study, the better your chances.
And whether you get the best grade possible or the lowest passing grade possible, you still get to be a lawyer.
There is no other magic formula. It’s kind of like weight loss. There are a lot of gimmicks, but at the end of the day if you want to lose weight it usually comes down to diet and exercise. If you want to pass the Bar in 1994 or 2020 or 2040, it’s a matter of putting in a lot of work so you are as prepared as possible.