I just be­came a mem­ber of the Cal­i­for­nia Bar (it’s of­fi­cial!) and a ques­tion I get a lot is what tips can I give some­one who is a for­eign­er and is think­ing about sit­ting for the bar ex­am.

Cal­i­for­nia is an at­trac­tive state for many be­cause it is one of the few states where you can sit for the bar with­out hav­ing passed through law school or an LLM in the state. For ex­am­ple, you can sit as a “for­eign at­tor­ney” ap­pli­cant, if you show that you are a mem­ber in good stand­ing in a for­eign ju­ris­dic­tion. This makes things eas­i­er for ap­pli­cants and much more straight­for­ward.

But at the same time, Cal­i­for­nia is daunt­ing be­cause of its low pass rates. For ex­am­ple, in the Ju­ly 2015 ex­am, on­ly about 14% of for­eign at­tor­ney ap­pli­cants passed. And this fig­ure was sim­i­lar in oth­er edi­tions of the ex­am.

So the ques­tion is — what can you do as a for­eign ap­pli­cant to pre­pare your­self? Here are some tips from my ex­pe­ri­ence sit­ting for the bar last Ju­ly.

1. Choose the right course for you

It is near­ly im­pos­si­ble to pass the bar with­out tak­ing one of the bar-prep cours­es. For­tu­nate­ly for me, not hav­ing an em­ploy­er to pay for the course and I was free to choose which course I want­ed.
Themis, Ka­plan and Bar­bri “tabled” at Stan­ford, and each time I went to vis­it them, each would gift me a “sam­ple book” to pre­pare for the bar. Sam­ple book! Huge near­ly 1000-page book­lets full of in­for­ma­tion with no clear or­ga­ni­za­tion for me. I was nev­er go­ing to make it in the 8‑week pe­ri­od from grad­u­a­tion to bar ex­am with that sort of prepa­ra­tion.
So do­ing a bit of on­line re­search I chose Bar­Max. It was the right course for me for many rea­sons:

* It is the on­ly course that is ori­ent­ed to prac­tic­ing, not to “study­ing”. This course comes with re­al MBE and Es­say ques­tions, li­censed by the NCBE and the Cal­Bar. With the MBE, this means that dur­ing prac­tice time, you can have a re­al idea of how well you are do­ing. The es­says are grad­ed by Bar­Max’s team of for­mer bar ex­am­in­ers, and the grad­ing process is easy and quick — on av­er­age I had feed­back on my es­says be­tween 12 and 36 hours af­ter I up­loaded them. This was in­cred­i­bly help­ful, not on­ly to know where I was stand­ing but al­so to get in­to the right emo­tion­al state, re­as­sur­ing that things weren’t as bad as I feared and at the same time that I had to pay a lot of at­ten­tion to how the es­say is made and the things graders are look­ing for.

The course fo­cused on what re­al­ly mat­tered: prac­tice, prac­tice and more prac­tice!

* Flex­i­ble study sched­ule. Many friends com­plained that they could nev­er fol­low Bar­bri’s sched­ule and that was in­cred­i­bly de­mor­al­iz­ing. I want­ed to avoid that for me.

In my sit­u­a­tion, a flex­i­ble sched­ule was es­pe­cial­ly im­por­tant be­cause I need­ed to pre­pare on a “short” dai­ly sched­ule. I was 6 months preg­nant with my sec­ond, with a 20-month old ba­by home, and was al­so work­ing re­mote­ly with my firm in Buenos Aires. Plus an un­ex­pect­ed in­ter­na­tion­al trip home for work that took away cou­ple of days. I need­ed ef­fi­cien­cy and ef­fec­tive­ness.

Luck­i­ly, the Bar­Max app re­al­ly al­lowed me to pre­pare and change my own sched­ule, while giv­ing me the con­fi­dence that it was pos­si­ble to make it with­out be­ing over­whelmed. In prac­tice, I end­ed up prepar­ing for about 6–7 hrs a day for 8 weeks, and due to my com­mit­ments, some days would be dif­fer­ent than oth­ers. I would start at 8 and leave at 3 pm, with small breaks to walk, buy cof­fee or lunch. To­wards the sec­ond month, I in­creased it to 7 days a week, usu­al­ly 4 hrs on Sat­ur­days and Sun­days.

While in the be­gin­ning I felt bad about chang­ing the or­der of the lec­tures, or leav­ing the li­brary ear­li­er than my class­mates (es­pe­cial­ly those with no kids, who would stay up un­til 7 or 8 there!), or in gen­er­al be­ing more cre­ative and flex­i­ble about the course, I re­al­ize that in the end that is what worked bet­ter for me.

* The plus. A free iPad. Great phone and e‑mail sup­port when I need­ed it.

Con­tin­ue read­ing about tak­ing the Cal­i­for­nia Bar in my next post on the top­ic: Sit­ting for the Cal­i­for­nia Bar as a For­eign­er – How can I sit for the Bar Even If I Have Not Tak­en an LLM in the US?