Why do Big Law Firm Associates Fail the Bar Exam?
While you may think that big law firm associates do not fail the bar exam, that is not true. They seem like they are the exact opposite from the type of person that should fail the bar exam. They presumably did well in law school. They are smart. They are hardworking. So why do they fail?
We see big law firm associates fail the bar exam for
one of the following reasons:
They do not practice essays.
This is a huge mistake! Many students worry about the MBE and they do not practice sufficiently for the written portion of the bar exam. This is a common reason why big law firm associates fail the bar exam — they have too much confidence in the essay portion!
Thus, big law firm associates will sometimes completely ignore essay and MPT questions because they feel confident that they can “BS something” on test day. However, this is a huge mistake. If writing is your strength, capitalize upon that strength! Write even more essays and MPTs than your course assigns you. Most states do not have a minimum requirement for the written portion and MPT portion of the exam. This means you could get a high score on the written portion and low MBE score and still pass with flying colors!
They write “law school essays” in response to bar exam questions.
Big law firm associates usually did well in law school. But they try to use this same law-school-essay-writing style on the bar exam. That is, they “find” issues where none exist. They engage in lengthy policy discussion. They argue both sides. They arrive at wishy-washy conclusions. Bar exam answers are much more straightforward than law school essay answers. It makes sense that big law firm associates do this because this is what got them A’s in law school. And this is what got them their big law firm jobs!
However bar exam essay fact patterns will usually tell you which issues to discuss. And most require a more straightforward rule—application—conclusion. They do not expect lengthy arguments on both sides or lengthy policy analyses (and in fact, you will likely run out of time if you head down too far on this path)…which brings us to our next point.
Their timing is off.
It does not matter how much you know or how well you know it if you do not have time to answer the questions! If you struggled with timing in law school, it is imperative to practice timed exams during bar prep. We know of students who have failed the bar exam not once, not twice, but three or four times because they cannot get their timing down. Do not fail the bar exam for timing reasons!
They don’t learn the law well enough.
Some big law firm associates did well in their law school classes then promptly forgot everything they learned. Then, during bar prep, they do not memorize their bar exam outlines adequately. They float through, thinking that having a general idea of the concepts they learn will be enough. When, in fact, the bar exam tests the details of the law. (Note: This is not unique to big law firm associates – we see a lot of students make this mistake!)
We work with big law firm associates who have failed the bar exam. We frequently see the above patterns as the reason they fail. By practicing essays (in a timed setting!), making sure to write in a “bar exam” format, and learning the law well, you can pass the first time you take it.
What if you work at a big law firm and fail the bar exam?
The good news is if you work at a big law firm and fail the bar exam you will likely be able to keep your job! Most big law firms allow their associates to keep their jobs if they fail once. However, the best thing you can do is to avoid failing altogether!
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