Bar Exam Study Tips for Foreign LL.M.s

The semester is over and with it, for many, the LL.M. program. For those who have decided to complement the LL.M. degree with a U.S. bar admission, exam preparation is here to entertain your nightmares.

It doesn't come as a surprise that foreign lawyers struggle with the bar exam. But it may be a surprise to learn that the reason is not because they haven't studied the tested subjects before or even because many of us are not native English speakers.

The struggle is rooted in insufficient preparation and what Einstein discovered to be relative: Time

Every section of the bar exam should be completed within a certain time frame so as to ensure the completion of every section of the exam.  Naturally, a foreign lawyer is slower in comprehension and expression, especially with regards to legal analysis. The difference in speed, in comparison to a native speaker, may be minuscule in one multiple-choice question or essay, but when compounded over the entire exam the difference can be significant. 

It is, therefore, crucial for foreign lawyers to practice their timing under real exam conditions. The biggest mistake foreign LL.M.s make is to not practice under real exam conditions from the outset of the bar preparation. I am often told that we don't know enough in the first weeks to be able to write an essay without using study materials, so it wouldn’t make much sense to do it under real exam timing.

This argument stems from the wrong premise, namely that at some point we will know everything covered in the bar exam. The truth is, no matter how diligently we study, we will encounter legal problems we have never heard of and we will have to deal with it during the exam in the time frame allocated for it.

If the bar exam were indeed testing how well you can memorize data, the situation might be different, but it is not. Since comprehension and analysis is slowed down by virtue of the language barrier it can cost the exam if you haven't prepared to deal with this situation under time pressure. And the situation, in which you will actually have to think and analyze rather than just spill on paper what was previously memorized, will come as sure as the sun goes down every night.

Those LL.M. graduates who have trained like an athlete trains her timing will be just fine.

Timing is important for both J.D. and foreign LL.M. test takers but for the latter even more. Before my bar preparation I asked a lawyer colleague for one piece of advice for my bar exam, which I now pass along: Practice your timing.


Desiree Jaeger-Fine, Esq, is a regular contributor to The National Jurist and principal of Jaeger-Fine Consulting, LLC, The Hub for Foreign Legal Talent™ - helping foreign lawyers seek employment in the U.S.