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On having a baby, 8 weeks before taking the bar exam

Rachel Gezerseh blog post image

I usually write about strategies for prelaw/law students and lawyers who are looking to break into BigLaw despite perceived obstacles such as grades, school, or background. But what if you actually do achieve what you want – ie: you get that BigLaw job – but are then faced with an entirely new challenge?

In my case, that challenge weighed about 7 pounds and arrived 8 weeks before I took the California Bar Exam.

It was September 2006.  I had already defied the odds, with a crappy LSAT score, yet I still got decent enough grades to (barely) break the top ten percent at Southwestern Law School. Then through sheer will and determination (dumb luck too, and the help of others), I defied the odds again and snagged a summer associate job at Jones Day, a very large, prestigious law firm.

During my summer there, I worked my tail off, threw myself at the mercy of mentors and anyone who would listen to me, begging them all to teach me how to be a good associate. Apparently some of it rubbed off because at the end of the summer, I received an offer to return upon graduation from law school as a full time Jones Day associate.

Fast-forward to the start of my third year of law school. I had a job offer at a law firm I love, to be paid “the big bucks.” I would soon extern with a judge that semester.  I also enrolled in just a few classes for the year. My only worry: Having to take the California Bar Exam.

But that’s months away, in July 2007.

In September 2006, life is good.

That is, until that day in late September when I take a home pregnancy test. Seeing the results, I grab my laptop and check the calendar. In particular, I check the date for the bar exam and begin counting backwards. That’s when I realize that my due date is roughly two and a half months before the exam.  (My son actually arrived 8 weeks to the day before the first day of the exam.)


At this point I should note a couple of facts:

  1. Law students become lawyers only after (a) graduating from law school and (b) passing the bar exam.
  2. Even if you get an offer to become a full time associate after summering at a law firm, you will lose that job if you don’t pass the bar exam.

So, to keep my awesome job, I would have to pass the bar.  Everyone has to deal with that.  But me, I had to go ahead and throw a newborn into the equation. Lovely.

I did what I could, when I could, and at all times was driven by the fact that it had to be done.

I would love to tell you that immediately after I realized my predicament, I began a daily bar exam studying regimen so that by the time the baby arrived, I was so well versed in bar exam topics that the sleep deprivation, new responsibilities, and hormonal crash following childbirth didn’t affect me at all.

But no. That’s not what I did.

I procrastinated and began my bar studying around the same time as everyone else, about 10 weeks before the exam.

However, I did, take full advantage of the resources that were available to me. For example, one of the benefits of getting a firm job while still in law school is that the firm will likely provide a stipend to cover the costs of your bar exam study. I knew that, once the baby arrived, I would not have the ability to attend BarBri classes like everyone else. I would need a more flexible solution.

Luckily, BarBri offered their course on an iPod. It included all the written materials, but you could listen to the lectures on your own time. This option cost less than the live course, so I asked my firm if I could put the remainder of my stipend towards a bar tutor. They agreed, and even threw in some extra cash, because, heck, it was in their interest that I pass too. I then hired a tutor who had overcome some obstacles himself (he had failed five times before finally conquering the beast, and then went on to build a six-figure tutoring business helping others pass).

Other things I did that helped: Once the baby arrived, I was sleep deprived, and in some ways, physically out of whack, but during those 8 weeks, I crammed in studying whenever I could. I kept study outlines all over my house. Baby wakes me up at 3 a.m. screaming and needs to be rocked to sleep?  No problem. I would grab baby in one hand, my outline in the other, rock back and forth in a chair, and memorize civil procedure terms until we both passed out.

I did what I could, when I could, and at all times was driven by the fact that it had to be done.

I also refused to indulge my insecurities. Of course, like everyone else, I have them. But I refused to let my fears affect how I reacted to the situation. I just ploughed through.

There was luck involved, too. I ran out of time at the end and could not study an entire subject: wills and trusts. Wills and trusts wasn’t on the exam that year. Phew.

In the end, I think I passed for one reason: I didn’t have a choice. This made me incredibly efficient; I laser focused only on things that mattered for the exam. During those eight weeks, I bonded with my son as best I could, but I’m not going to lie, that part was tough and got a lot better once the exam was done. Honestly, for most of those eight weeks, I was probably the most awful person to be around.

Despite that, my family was incredibly supportive, and this helped too, immensely.

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Rachel Gezerseh Rachel Gezerseh is a lawyer at Jones Day and an alumna of Southwestern Law School. She runs the blog Breaking Into Big Law, where she writes about her experience interviewing with BigLaw firms, getting a summer associate job, and lessons learned during her career from junior to senior associate. She has also developed an interactive presentation on these topics for students and lawyers and frequently presents at live events around the country.