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The bar examination: It is a rite of passage, a common experience that binds lawyers together across many states and practice areas and across private and public sectors. And yet, so many law students feel alone in their angst and utter misery as they toil away in preparation for this all-important exam. For many, the unhappiness does not end with the exam itself. Sadly, another rite of passage is the stress that lawyers feel while awaiting the results of the bar exam. The rule for this article is much more difficult than it sounds: Keep it together! If your bar experience was anything like mine, you started worrying about the test right after you took your last law school exam. During graduation, when your friends and family asked how you would spend the first few months of your post-law school life, you did not do a back flip, click your heels, do a victory dance and shout, “I’m going to Disneyland!” as you had always dreamed you would. Instead, your shoulders sagged under the weight of what was to come, and you whispered in response, “Study for the bar.” That was just the beginning. Next came the bar review course, then the compact “super” bar exam review course, then the second “super” bar exam review course offered by another company — just in case. As if it wasn’t stressful enough to go through the test-taking process itself, your friend persisted in asking you about what seems like each and every question on the test even though everyone knows you are not supposed to discuss the exam after you take it. Sure, you were curious about whether the property essay was as excruciating for everyone else as it was for you, but at least you had the good manners to curb your desire to ask about it. Plus, you did not want to have to admit that halfway through the exam, that really catchy song about leaning back, or sitting forward or something … got stuck in your head, and you completely zoned out for numbers 23 through 45 of the multistate section. But as long as 50 percent of the other test takers put B as the answer to all of those questions, too, you will be fine. You thought that a full 3 1/2 months after taking the exam you would have stopped having such thoughts. But the urge to obsess over the bar exam is strong — very, very strong. The fact that most of your friends, classmates, and fellow co-workers who took the exam are also preoccupied with receiving the results certainly does not help either. So how can you stop the escalating cycle of worry, anticipation and ever-mounting stress? The good news is that, for better or for worse, the results will be announced soon. Discussing the pending publication with everyone that you meet will not make the knowledge of the results come to you any faster. Most of the recent test-takers have already been at work for some period of time, whether it has been closer to two weeks or two months, and chances are that you already have plenty to keep you occupied while you await your fate. Focus on learning what you can as a practitioner — that is what all of the hours of law school and studying were geared toward in the first place, right? Reach back deep in your memory to a time and galaxy far, far away to your life before the exam. You did engage in other topics of conversation; you did not break into a cold sweat every time someone said the word “bar” or “exam”; you were a fun-loving, carefree person without a care in the world (OK, maybe that last point is stretching things a bit). No matter how many times people say “helpful” things along the lines of, “This one exam could change your life forever,” remember that there are numerous other, more important events that really can have that dramatic an impact on the rest of our life. Yes, the bar exam and the results of the exam, are very important, but that is no reason to halt every aspect of your professional and private life until you know the outcome. The first few months of practice can be an extremely exciting time, and the amount of knowledge that you can absorb by the end of the year is truly surprising. Try to focus your attention on what is going on around you, and no, that does not include focusing on the panic of the other first-year associates. Focus on the actual practice of law. Do not forget why you took the LSAT exam in the first place. Your more-senior colleagues all survived the bar exam, and so will you. Look around — there is life after “the bar,” but try to enjoy life before the results are announced, too. There will be many trials and victories during the course of your career; let them come to you. Do not indulge in self-imposed stress just because it has become a long-standing tradition to do so. Here’s another tip: Try to ignore all of the rumors about when the bar results will be announced. There are several of these false rumors that are spread with extreme confidence and maniacal faith every year. Just so that there is full disclosure, this advice is coming from someone who signed up for high-speed Internet service the day after the bar exam so that I could instantly check the results of the exam the minute — no, the second — that they were posted on all of the various Web sites. Was I nervous? Maybe a little. However, checking the results at 12:01 a.m. did not make my life any better than my classmates who got a good night’s sleep and checked the results the morning after they were announced. In fact, it probably just made me a lot more tired. When I was in your shoes, the advice that I have just cheerfully dispensed would not have been easy to actually put into practice. But, take my word for it — if you try and are even a little successful in rising above the hysteria that has been dubbed “post-bar stress syndrome,” you will make the experience easier. And if you learn the priceless skill of managing stress early in your career, your career will be a lot easier. Best of luck Class of 2004 — I am rooting for you! Sharon C. Brooks is an associate in the New York office of Los Angeles-based Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher.

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