Here we are, another school year winding down. 3Ls are gearing up for the big day they’ve long awaited— graduation—while simultaneously thinking about how fast the bar exam is coming. 2Ls are trying to avoid senioritis as their final year awaits. And 1Ls are breathing sighs of relief as they come to the realization that they have the toughest year of law school behind them, and they’re no longer the new kids on the block.
Whatever year you are, or if you’re in a slightly different place because you’re a part-time student— the idea of being in your final year, graduating, and taking the bar exam is something all law students have in common.
Consider this final year to be the chrysalis phase of law school—that time where you’re changing from being a law student into a baby lawyer.
Here are some things to consider as you come down the home stretch of law school, where the light at the end of the tunnel has become the finish line.
Congratulations, you’re graduating!
The saying is that law school is a marathon, not a sprint. But people also say that time flies. Isn’t it kind of crazy how that happened? One day, you’re a fresh-faced, wide-eyed 1L with the whole world in front of you. The next, you’re nine months away from graduation and bar prep.
By now, you should be well aware of your school’s requirements for graduation.
Look at its list, and definitely check it twice! The last thing you want is to be a month or two away from the big day only to find out you’re short credits or a service requirement.
This is a great time to check in with your academic advisor or one of the deans at your school. “Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help,” advised Janet Stearns, dean of students at the University of Miami School of Law.
Don’t forget to register for graduation. Even if you’re not walking in your school’s graduation ceremony, graduation works a lot like it did when you were in undergrad.
You have to apply to obtain that juris doctor you’ve worked so hard for, and you can’t apply unless you’ve met all your graduation requirements.
Commencement-related issues are typically handled by your university’s registrar’s office. Don’t be afraid to reach out to those staffers if you have any questions regarding your school’s commencement exercises or even questions about how you go about getting your commencement regalia. That’s what they’re there for.
A visiting semester?
It’s not unusual to go to law school in one state and then return to take the bar exam in another state. But did you know you can do a visiting semester at another law school? Meaning, you can take classes at a law school closer to where you’ll actually be practicing once you graduate but still graduate with your classmates.
It’s an option few students know about, and Michael Jack was one of them until recently. He’s a 3L at Creighton University School of Law, and he’s in his final semester taking classes at the University of Houston Law Center. Jack, who was determined to practice in Texas after graduation, didn’t even know taking classes at a different law school was possible until his mentor mentioned it.
“He suggested I consider a visiting student route if I wanted to practice in Texas, and at the time, I had no idea what that even meant,” he said.
After doing some research into the idea, he found it to be completely beneficial to his goal of practicing in Texas. “My biggest motivation was
to place myself in front of Texas law firms and have a strategic advantage in taking the Texas bar exam, since examinees who went to a law school outside of Texas are 10 percent more likely to fail their first time,” Jack said.
Jack is quick to note that this route is completely different from being a transfer student. “Many of my colleagues believe I’ve transferred,” he stated. “But students are typically allowed to transfer only after their first year or possibly after first semester of their 2L year.”
However, you can’t just ask another school to let you visit for a semester or more without actually applying. To spend his final semester at the University of Houston Law Center, Jack had to go through the same application process as a new, incoming student. But he found it to be more difficult since he was already a law student.
“Schools you apply to are still going to comb through everything, and you’ll get more rejections than acceptances,” he noted. “I applied to a majority of the eight law schools in Texas but was accepted to only two.”
Be sure to talk to your school, or your academic advisor, before you make the leap to doing a visiting semester at another school.
To infinity … and the bar!
Now I have to ask you a serious question: Have you thought about your application to take the bar exam?
Do you know when the application deadline is? This is definitely something you should be thinking about as you start your final year. You’re nine months away from graduating and just under a year away from taking the bar exam.
However, application deadlines for the bar exam vary by state. For example, applications to take the Nebraska bar exam are currently due March 1 for students taking the July bar exam. In Massachusetts, however, applications for the July bar exam are due in early May, which corresponds with the final exam period for many schools.
Laura Ferrari, dean of students at Suffolk University Law School, suggested getting a jump start on your bar application. “Start to work on your bar application as soon as the application becomes available,” she recommended. “Bar applications usually require a lot of information gathering and written recommendations.”
Not to mention, starting your bar application early will prevent you from stressing out later, as Ferrari notes. “The bar process is stressful enough without having to frantically try to assemble information at the last minute,” she contended.
Don’t forget, after graduation is the 10-week marathon study session known as bar prep. I’m sure you’ve heard all the stories about how you’re not supposed to work during bar prep because bar prep becomes your full-time job. But how will that full-time job keep a roof over your head?
Did you know there’s such a thing as a bar loan?
OK, I’m sure you just thought to yourself, “Bar loan? What is this madness?”
A bar loan is self-explanatory. It’s a loan you take out to cover the fees associated with preparing for the bar exam. Think rent, groceries, cell phone bill, electricity, and whatever else you need to cover.
Currently, all bar exam loans are private loans, meaning there’s a credit-based approval process— similar to how it works for federal student loans—and the interest rate varies based on the lender you choose to go with.
Currently, four private lenders offer bar loans: Discover, Sallie Mae, Wells Fargo, and PNC. You should apply for a bar loan at any time during spring semester of your 3L year. Since these are private loans, the money will be disbursed directly to you. This differs from federal student loans that are disbursed to your school, and then the school provides you a refund after your tuition and fees have been paid.
The maximum amount for bar loans typically varies, ranging from $12,000 to $15,000 depending on the lender.
Before choosing a lender, make sure you do your due diligence and compare the lenders to see which one is the best fit for your needs. What’s good for your classmate may not be good for you.
Graduation means you’ll no longer be a law student but a law school graduate with a juris doctor degree in your possession. This doesn’t mean the ABA resources and connections you’ve come to rely on and love with the Law Student Division have to end.
To be honest, the only downfall of this is that your free ABA membership expires. You’ll be able to access tons of valuable resources from the Young Lawyers Division such as TYL magazine and After the Bar, a digital publication that has all the information you’ll need to face the world as the holder of a shiny, new law license.
And you’ll still be able to find job leads and great advice from the ABA Career Center. That includes ABA Career Forward, which gives you resume tips and an AI video tool that analyzes your interview style— without judging you.
Not only that, but have you thought about what will happen to your medical insurance after graduation? Most schools require students to be insured through either their own plan or a plan offered through the school. If you’re on the school plan, coverage usually ends after the summer semester, right before the next school year starts.
Here’s where the ABA comes in. Did you know the ABA offers medical insurance, including short-term and temporary health insurance? This option is perfect for that transitional period between graduation and finding a job or waiting for your current job’s insurance coverage to kick in. Even better if you’re considering a solo practice. And it’s just another perk of keeping your ABA membership alive.
If you’re a 1L reading this, start on these things now. This way, when it comes to the fall of your final year, you’re ahead of the game. If you’re a 2L, don’t sweat just yet. There’s still plenty of time to get all your ducks in a row so you’re ready for your big day.
And if you’re a 3L, congratulations on making it to your final year. Now just tidy up your loose ends so you go into the summer ready to tackle bar prep head on!