Before taking the bar, reflect upon your law school essay

By Deborah Sanders 

Thousands of students will sit for the bar exam in the coming days. Before going into the test, I would like you to ask yourself a question: Who do you think you are?

I always send my bar students off with some deeply personal message of inspiration, drawn largely from my own experiences, of them and of this work. This bar it occurred to me that it would serve students better if I pointed them to something much more reliable than my words: their own words.  

I am talking about the fact that in applying to law school, without anything else to go on but pure will and self-belief, in writing your personal essay, you were able to characterize the justification for your spot in the class of the law school(s) where you were seeking admission.

We all told a story of our most essential self in that admissions essay; we put it out there for someone to judge. More to the point, we expected that we had a right to be considered.  All of us started the journey with that essay.

We wrote the essay on faith and pure internal fire, pure self-knowing. I still remember mine. I wrote about the arched blazon aqua-blue windows that a ghetto artist painted on a barren cement block of an otherwise windowless industrial building. I used to pass the dank sad building on my way to school every day until one day I noticed that someone, seeing no hope in this building’s pitiful façade, painted the beautiful openings on. Himself. There’s more than one way to create possibility you see. That’s how I saw my life and my journey to law school. That’s how I saw that building. 

I did not come by my education with any traditional ease, but I wanted hope, and openings and windows. Law school for me was my way of painting on windows where I had none. That building propelled me through law school, and it was the story I thought best represented why I deserved my spot. I think I was right by the way, about the story and why I deserved a spot. And that’s why I got in. The same is true for all of your stories and all of your acceptances into law school. You were right; so was the admissions committee.

Looking back at that essay now, I cannot believe the raw guts it took to peddle my worth before an admissions committee of strangers, several admissions committees actually. Who did I think I was? But I do remember the will, and the belief I had in myself that I had some stuff of my own that was made up of greatness, something worth putting it all on the line. Maybe every lawyer does not romanticize their education that way, I admit my unusual path probably informs my deep reverence for my opportunities. But everyone puts themselves on the line in that essay. Everyone.

Whatever the personal struggle, however expressed, you felt entitled to be considered or you would not have written that statement. Once admitted to law school, you also felt entitled, eventually, to raise your hand, to be heard, to vie for a spot, to be considered a contender, to challenge someone in moot court, to compete for law review, to argue your position with a professor.

In fact, most people spend the early days in law school putting forward a front of confidence and competence we have not yet earned in order to survive. Even the desire to be seen as an equal without proof has to come from some strong sense of self regard. Yet, despite these characteristics, I am always fascinated to watch what is otherwise a notoriously self-possessed group of people, whose decades of success got them into law school, become bested by a two-day event. This is even more true of re-takers, whose historical prowess in their families and in college as the “smart one,” suddenly becomes diminished by one unsuccessful attempt at the bar.

Indeed, it seems like the self-belief works backward, we have it before we earn and we lose it when we have a reason to count on it. And when we most need to count on it.

The point is this: you are still that same person. No one could have held you back from law school. Remember? No one could have convinced you that you did not deserve a spot. Why are you shrinking now?  The most important thing you can do to prepare yourself for the exam - after the necessary weeks and hours of study - is to remember yourself as you depicted you in your own personal statement. In fact, take it out an read it over and over. I still do. I cannot tell you anything more about your ability to pass this test than the pure wisdom that document contains. 

Now, after you read the essay, ask yourself: “Who do I think I am?” Go be that person on test day. In fact, be that person every day.

Deborah Sanders is owner of Bar-None Prep and is based in New Jersey. She has been teaching thousands of bar students throughout the country based on her unique method aimed at providing a methodical and predictable approach to passing the bar for more than a decade. She is writing a book on "The Spiritual Path to Passing the Bar" and her writings can be read on, where she has a regular column, and Deborah also independently tutors law students both through her company, Bar-None Prep and on the platform.