To Law Students Preparing for the Bar Exam…

The lawyer assistance programs (LAPs) have pulled together some tips, words of encouragement and resources for you during this stressful time.

In case you don’t already know, LAPs provide confidential services and support to law students, lawyers and judges who are facing substance use or mental health issues.

If you or someone you know needs assistance, contact your state or local LAP.

Dear Law School Graduate and Bar Examination Taker:

In the week before the bar exam, you need to accept that “the hay is in the barn.”  (We like using any phrase or euphemism related to horses or farming, here in Kentucky).  What that means is that you’ve (hopefully) done the hard work, you’ve studied, you’ve treated it like your job this summer, and the hardest part is done – it’s time to perform.  At this point, it’s going to be difficult to memorize much more, so now is the time to focus on practice tests and the art of taking the test, the actual process, and your pace.  Spend your time wisely – not cramming in more random facts you probably won’t recall anyway.

It’s so important that you breathe!  Don’t forget to breathe!  Take the time to meditate (using one of the many free apps you can download), so you can clear your head which will allow your thoughts to become better organized.  This will serve you well in the week leading up to the bar exam.  Start each morning meditating, allowing your brain to be calmed and soothed.  Even if you’ve never meditated before, start now!  What have you got to lose?  It’s just a few minutes of your time and you’ll just be worrying about studying, anyway!  Not only will this help in the week before the bar, studies show that people who meditate make better complex decisions.  Just what you need to answer the complex bar exam questions!  So when you’re taking the exam, and you read that question that seems to be a trusts and estates question, or wait, is it a dissolution question? – stop, breathe, and think!  Allow yourself just a minute to breathe in deep, clear your mind, and breathe out.  Re-read the question, and do what you are well trained to do at this point – apply the law!  Do this anytime you hit a panic-point during the exam.

If you’re like most law students, you’re pretty well-prepared at this point.  On the day before the exam, relax.  It’s not the time to hit the other bar – just relax and do something enjoyable.  See a movie, eat a good meal, and understand that a few more hours of study aren’t going to change much.  You’ve prepared for the marathon, and you’re as ready as you are right here, right now.

And finally, dear exam taker, if you don’t pass the exam, remember that it’s not the end of your world.  We promise.  It just feels that way.  But it won’t feel that way forever.  Lots have taken, lots have not passed, and lots have re-taken.  They’ve become amazing lawyers and judges (yes, I said judges), and had fantastic careers.  Your test score won’t matter forever.  The great news (??) is that you can take it again.

If the stress is overwhelming and you feel you are at the end of your rope, call your LAP program in your state.  We’ll meet with you, have a cup of coffee (probably your 17th of the day), and try to help you through the rough patch.  If more professional help is needed, we’ll guide you to that help.  And if you need help after the exam, we have that covered, too.  We’ll guide you where you need to go, and remind you that many, many other students, lawyers and judges have been exactly where you are, and there’s a way to walk through it (relatively) unscathed.  We’re here to help you however we can.  We want you to succeed!  We’ve got your back.

Good luck!  Or as we say in Kentucky, “a good horse makes his own luck.”

Yvette Hourigan, JD, CEAP
Director, Kentucky Lawyer Assistance Program (KyLAP)

Staying Sane While Studying for Exams

1) Lighten up, smile and relax: The stress associated with law school exams drives many students into unnecessary depression and anxiety. Be sure to integrate fun and laughter while you are studying. The brain operates quicker and more efficiently when we are in a good mood. While your exams are important, if you take them too seriously, you could do yourself long-lasting harm from high levels of stress.

2) Organize your environment: Where will you be studying? Make sure that space is conducive for studying. Is your chair comfortable? Do you have enough light? Have you cleared out distractions? Do you study better with or without music?

3) Set your schedule: Fit in breaks and “time to goof off.” Be sure to plan at least 10 to 15 minutes of relaxation, fun, or planned distraction after every 50 minute period of studying.

4) Pick one task at a time: Your brain operates at its optimum level when you are focusing on one task at a time. If you check your email or search the internet, it could take you several minutes to get back to the task at hand. Save distractions for your designated breaks!

5) Get the food ready: Plan your diet before you start your study period. Your brain and your body need nutritious foods to aid your concentration and memory. Too much sugar, caffeine, and other stimulants will not help your endeavor in the long run; be sure to keep those to a sensible minimum while studying.

6) Drink water and Get sleep: During studying or “cramming” sessions, we can forget to take care of our bodies. Your brain needs hydration to work properly; be sure to help it out by drinking at least a glass of water every hour while studying. In addition, it is necessary to sleep for at least 6-8 hours a night in order for your brain to function properly. Research shows that the amount of sleep the night before an exam is a predictor of success.

7) When the exam is done, LET IT GO: The actual exam is going to go by fast. It’s amazing how quickly 3 or 4 hours can pass when you are focused. However, you still have more to go; so, once the exam is finished, don’t spend time comparing your answers with your colleagues or worrying that other students did better than you. Do not put unnecessary pressure on yourself! Keep your spirits high and move on to the next batch of material you need to study. It will be over before you know it!

Colorado Lawyer Assistance Program (COLAP) 

If during your exam preparation you find yourself becoming overwrought/ overwhelmed/overloaded, take a minute (HALT) and think about whether you are also experiencing hunger, anger, loneliness, or tiredness.  If so, you have permission to attend to your self-care and try to remediate the negative feelings.  Taking a break, accepting your feelings and needs, and attending to self-care will likely make you more productive overall.  Powering through it is not the answer.

Mary Spranger, LCSW
Manager, Wisconsin Lawyer Assistance Program (WisLAP)

Steps to Self CareBar Survival Kit

Lawyer Assistance Program, Maryland State Bar Association

Links to Resources:

Bar Exam Toolbox

Dealing with Bar Exam Stress and Anxiety, by Lee Burgess, Ms. JD

Failing The Bar Exam Doesn’t Have To Be The End Of Your World, by Staci Zaretsky, Above the Law

Keeping Your Sanity During The Bar Exam, by Jeena Cho

Ten Tips for Law Students Dealing With Stress, Mental Health, and Substance Use Issues, prepared by Chris Ritter, JD, Staff Attorney for Texas Lawyers Assistance Program

Tips to Help Stressed-Out Law Students Unclinch, by Angela Morris, Texas Lawyer

10 Tips for Those Delirious From Bar Exam Prep, by Jeena Cho, Above the Law

22 Awesome Bar Exam Tips, Bar Exam Mind

Thank you to the programs named above as well as the Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program (TLAP) and Minnesota Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers (LCL) for creating and compiling these resources. 

And of course, thank you to all the LAPs for the vital services you provide. 


Recent Panel on Improving Lawyer Health and Well-being

On June 2nd, a panel discussion titled, “Policy, Process & Prevention: A Systems Approach to Improving the Health and Well-Being of the Profession,” took place at a joint program of the 43rd National Conference on Professional Responsibility and the National Forum on Client Protection. Information about the panelists and moderator is available here, a list that includes Bree Buchanan, incoming Chair of the Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs.

There, the panelists discussed key findings of two recent studies examining substance use disorders, mental health issues and help-seeking behaviors of lawyers and law students, and used them as a framework for ideas, recommendations and approaches for improvement.

A detailed write-up of the session, including audience contributions, is in the Conference Report here.


Recap of Suicide Prevention Twitter Chat

Yesterday the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs hosted a live Twitter Chat on “Suicide Prevention and Postvention in the Legal Profession.” The guests were Kate Bender, Programming Director of the Dave Nee Foundation, and Yvette Hourigan, Executive Director of the Kentucky Lawyer Assistance Program. They discussed the disproportionately high rate of suicides in the legal profession, symptoms or behaviors that might indicate a person may be considering attempting suicide, how to get help or refer someone else to help, and ways law schools and law firms can better address suicide.

Missed it? Not to worry! You can access a recap of the entire conversation here.


University of Wisconsin Law Student Wellness Coalition Receives WisLAP Award

The following post was written by Mary Spranger, Program Manager of the Wisconsin Lawyers Assistance Program (WisLAP) at the State Bar of Wisconsin. 

On June 15, 2017, at the State Bar of Wisconsin Annual Meeting, the University of Wisconsin Law Student Wellness Coalition was awarded the annual Jack DeWitt WisLAP Volunteer Award.  The student and faculty members of the Wellness Coalition recognized that students could benefit from help with the stress of law school and acted upon that realization.  Despite the stigma that still exists around mental health issues, members of the Coalition formed an organized student group with a mission, programming, and outreach initiatives.  The Coalition seeks to counter the misconception that to seek help and support for the challenges of life and law school is to expose a vulnerability that is best left unacknowledged.  Coalition members carry the message that there are positive ways to counter law school stress.  The Coalition is deserving of recognition for their vision, energy, and commitment to helping their peers achieve health and wellness at UW Law School.  WisLAP is proud to partner with the UW Law School Wellness Coalition in its endeavors.

Pictured from left to right, Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly, newly graduated UW Law Student John Lightfield, UW Law Student Dana Roth, and UW Faculty Advisor Stephanie Johnson, MSSW.

Read more in the University of Wisconsin Law School article, “Law Student Wellness Coalition honored by state bar.”

Executive Director of Kansas Lawyers Assistance Program Receives Award

Anne McDonald, Executive Director of the Kansas Lawyers Assistance Program (KALAP), was awarded this year’s Chief Justice Kay McFarland Award presented by the Women Attorneys Association.

The Award “recognizes an individual who has achieved professional excellence in her field and has influenced other women to pursue legal careers, opened doors for women lawyers in a variety of job settings that historically were closed to them, or advanced opportunities for women within a practice area or segment of the profession.”

KALAP was created by the Kansas Supreme Court to assist to Kansas lawyers facing mental health and substance use disorders. Anne has been the Executive Director of KALAP since 2009.

Congratulations, Anne. This recognition is well-deserved.

For more information, access the full news release here.

“Getting Lost in Our Own Lives,” a Free ABA CLE Webinar

June 28, 2017 | 1:00 PM – 2:00 PM ET

Credits: 1.00 Substance Abuse or Mental Illness CLE Credit Hours

Robynn Elizabeth Moraites, Executive Director of the North Carolina Lawyer Assistance Program

Program Description: 
Lawyers suffer increasingly from depression and anxiety, which are not only impairments in and of themselves, but also major contributing factors to substance abuse. In this program, our seasoned panelist will examine some of the root causes of lawyer distress and factors that the legal profession and lawyers’ personalities contribute to these conditions. Based on the premise that “Work—Life Balance” is a modern day fiction, the program will focus on areas of life that lawyers can control in order to increase their happiness and emotional resilience.

Topics of discussion will include:

  • Identifying root causes of lawyer distress
  • Focusing on areas of life that lawyers can control
  • Increasing your happiness and emotional resilience



Upcoming Twitter Chat on Suicide

On June 27th, the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs will be hosting a live Twitter Chat on “Suicide Prevention and Postvention in the Legal Profession.” From 1:00 to 2:00pm Eastern time, @ABACoLAP will be discussing the topic over Twitter with special guests, Kate Bender of the Dave Nee Foundation (@NeeFoundation) and Yvette Hourigan of the Kentucky Lawyer Assistance Program (@KYLAPtweets). All are encouraged to follow along by tracking tweets with hashtag #LawyerSuicideAwareness and to participate with questions and comments by using #LawyerSuicideAwareness in your tweets.

Please help spread the word about this very important event! Download the flyer below. Flyer - Suicide Twitter Chat - Image