Let’s be honest. We all knew that the majestic, beige paper with our names and JD written in fancy letters comes with a price tag.
NOT THIS JD
Complain all we want about how law schools duped us all, but at the end of the day, even with greater transparency with regard to employment and salary stats, quite a few of us would have signed up anyway with ambitions of high grades and dream jobs.
However, one very significant cost, which at least in my case was severely underestimated, was the price tag of the most obnoxious and arguably most stressful part of law school—the bar exam.
My bar experience involved a $700 bar application fee (plus a $125 laptop fee), a $2500 Barbri tuition fee, and a $400 “round 2” bar application fee (plus a $125 laptop fee). In hindsight (of course), I could have avoided destitution and months of agony if only I possessed the stones to just-say-no to the Barbri (or Kaplan) pushers, ignore the overwhelming majority of peers who were hooked on it, maintained an ounce of faith in my scholastic abilities, and prepared on my own by ordering a set of bar prep books at a small fraction of Barbri’s full program price.
Why do so many of us fall into the same trap?
I hypothesize the following reasons for the Barbri/Kaplan death spiral, in no particular order of importance:
First, typical market forces do not govern the bar prep market. A very small number of bar prep companies exist (before taking the bar I had only heard of two: Barbri and Kaplan), which in effect allows them to throw their weight around like 900lb gorillas, banging their chests and raising tuition fees. Lacking cheaper alternatives and fearing the unknown, we eventually acquiesce to the bar prep course rep whose table we generally avoid.
Second, students are deathly afraid of not passing the bar the first time. Our pre-law school, previously confident selves, accustomed to the success which accompanies hard work, has morphed into an insecure, child-like creature that refuses to take any chances and just wants to make it out of this process in one piece. But, by the same token, we don’t consider the “what if pay all this money and still don’t pass” scenario. And such thoughts are quickly suppressed in efforts to avoid “negative” thinking.
Third, there is no method of conducting a cost-benefit analysis of the traditional bar prep program. The ones who pass assume that they could not have done it without the bar prep program, and the ones that do not pass tend to hide under a cloud of shame, wait until February, pray to a higher power when that time comes, and then redact any memory of the previous nine months. Also, for the most part, the majority of first-time takers who conquer the beast do not do so by a wide margin, and the unfortunate minority (18% of first-timers and nearly 40% overall in July 2011) typically miss the mark by single digit figures. And, if we take into account the luck factor—that is, if we could somehow throw out the number of correctly “guessed” answers for both groups, we would see an even greater drop in the point differential.
My point is, how can we examine the benefits of the bar prep program on such a hit or miss exam?
As one who has gone through all of these motions, here is my take. I generally do not have many regrets in life. I do not regret going to law school despite my unemployment. I don’t regret taking out a sickening amount of loans to pay for it. I don’t even regret questionable fashion decisions made as a teen (chain-wallet included). However, I absolutely, 100%, positively regret my investment in Barbri. Not because I did not pass the first time, but because it became painfully obvious that at a 90% discount, I could have achieved the same result, or ironically, actually increased my chances of passing the exam.
When you write that check, you essentially pay for online lectures and a pre-made schedule for you to follow. I do not include the books, because if you are even remotely resourceful, you will find them for dirt-cheap. I cannot speak for everyone, but if you are anything like me and found yourself reading an obscure blog in a language you do not even speak while drooling on your keyboard on several occasions in the classroom, the bar videos truly will test the limits of your ability not to gouge your eyes out. And if you managed to make it through umpteen years of college and grad school, then you will find that putting together your own study regimen is not rocket science. Thus, even the two purported benefits will ultimately prove to be a wash.
When taking round 2 of the bar, I refused to waste almost half of each day withering away watching hours of law professor TV. Instead, I stared that stack of bar prep books down and decided that I would go through every single practice question out there. I also decided that I would pace myself by dividing the material in such a manner, where I wouldn’t allow the bar to take over every waking moment. I tried this thing not often emphasized in law school – balance.
No more explaining the baffling concept of not being an attorney, even though I graduated and had the JD, to friends and family. No more feelings of disappointment every time I read a job post requiring a bar license. And, maybe most importantly, I no longer feel like an idiot. Although, sometimes I may get a little mopey about aspects of this whole law school thing, I can finally feel like I walked away with something – the knowledge that in the future, I will be able to avoid being ripped off by services based on missing data and false assumptions such as Barbri, and the confidence that good, ol’ self-motivation, time management, and work-life balance goes a long way.