For the upcoming bar, prepare to walk in like an Olympian


By Deborah Sanders 

Everywhere around the world some tired Olympic athlete is about to compel himself or herself out of bed while it is still dark outside, wishing for just 10 more minutes of sleep, but passionate enough to emerge nonetheless to begin the day’s drills.

That athlete may have a cold pool or an empty track or an unforgiving gym floor facing them. It’s probably 4 or 5 am. It was the same yesterday.

Of course no one trains at an elite level with an idea of failure, but remarkably, the goal for the would-be Olympian is to gain entry into a field of competitors just wishing for an opportunity to compete, just to have the right to try.

Very few ever hope to win a medal, though the medal looms as something like an aspirational prayer. The athlete knows it is an honor just to reach the level of excellence that being called an Olympian brings.

Suppose you woke up tomorrow feeling grateful that you were among the rare number of people about to sit for the bar exam, and I mean before you know how the test is going to go and before the results come in.

I use the term “sit for the bar exam” for a reason. You may think you are taking a test, but I prefer to redirect you to what it means to place yourself before this test — to sit.

Enter that hall, wherever it is, with great humility. You are attempting to join a group of statesmen and stateswomen. If no one in your law school referenced statesmanship as your goal, you were denied an important pillar of your future work.

In England, the title Esquire was intended to convey a sense of respect for those occupying a higher social rank. William Blackstone said that the title should be “limited to those only who bear an office of trust under the crown and who are styled esquires by the king in their commissions and appointments.”

In this vein, it will become your role to wrestle, to craft, to persuade and to argue, all with the force of who you are at this very moment, in service to someone else’s need. So when you sit down to earn your place, you should imagine you are entering upon hallowed ground.

And at some level, that alone is pride-worthy. And now is when it matters most. To be worthy of your seat and to take the test having done all you could, that is the real accomplishment. The score is the result of that, not the purpose.

You might have become accustomed to believing you are entitled to this reward. You earned good grades in college. You made it through law school, however you fared, and now you have spent some number of weeks in this grueling process of delayed gratification and tedium.

You might think that should earn you something. But you are not accorded a certain outcome based on pure will or even effort, or even raw ability. Usually success requires varying degrees of all three.

That is perhaps a harsh reality, and maybe even a harder one to swallow just days before you do this thing. If you have done the work, you are intellectually capable, and you have matched that work with an internal fire, you are certainly better situated than most people; that is likely a perfect recipe for passing. But what I am talking about here is being worthy of it first, before the test and the results come.

Approach this task with the awe and respect that it deserves; be willing to submit to its rigors without a promise of reward.

Seeing the test as a great “bar” to entry, in addition to your prep, makes the reward more likely. That is for sure. But in a certain sense, you must be greater than the test the moment you sit for it, because once you pass you are empowered with an unimaginable responsibility.

Based on that responsibility, if the test bested you in the past, perhaps it should have. Do you want to be marginal? No. You are not marginal.

I hope you got up every day, swung your legs out of bed, just like the Olympic athlete, and fought again, without the promise of reward, knowing you were doing something aimed at greatness.

More importantly, you must go into that test center and fight until the proctor calls time, until the last question, even if you had moments of uncertainty, because your role as a statesman or stateswoman requires nothing less.

And never forget what you have been doing this for. It is greater than you.

Deborah Sanders is owner of Bar-None Prep and is based in New Jersey. She is writing a book on "The Spiritual Path to Passing the Bar." You can contact her at