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May 11, 2011 9:56 AM   Subscribe

What fun things can I do for my wife so studying for the California bar doesn't suck as much?

My wife and I got married six weeks ago, and moved from the Midwest out to Los Angeles so I could take an amazing job. Unfortunately, she's an attorney, and it turns out it's going to be pretty tough for her to find work here until she passes the California bar exam. So, she's taking it at the end of July. It's all a go - we've paid the (exorbitant) fees, she's got the study materials, and the studying starts tomorrow.

She's been a good sport, but unfortunately, studying for the bar really sucks. She passed the Missouri bar, four years ago, and was very much hoping she'd never have to go through the process again... and now she has to do it in California, a state notorious for having a longer and harder exam than just about anywhere else. Studying for this thing will be pretty much a full-time job for several months. And of course, she's only in California in the first place because I took a job here (though she has never breathed a word of complaint about that). She has a good attitude but it's clear that she's really, really not looking forward to this.

So... how can I help? What fun, nice, unexpected things can I do to surprise her and cheer her up over the next few months? These probably need to be things that don't take a lot of time and won't interrupt her preparation. I know nothing about law myself, so I probably can't help much with the studying itself, but I'd love ideas on what I can do for her to ease the pain of this process a little. I'm not that creative in these areas, so other than things like "cook dinner more" and "keep the house clean" I'm not coming up with much.

I should also say that I'm not that worried about the bar itself. We're not under any illusions - we know it's difficult and lots of people fail. But my wife is self-motivated, diligent, top 10% of her class from a top 20 law school, good at taking tests and writing essays, and of course she's taken the bar before. She'll do the work, and she'll do fine - I'm just interested in how I can make the next few months less sucky for her. Thanks for any ideas!
posted by captainawesome to Human Relations (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Cook, clean, do her laundry, rub her feet, and stay out of her way. ;)
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:00 AM on May 11, 2011 [4 favorites]

get her anything she asks for while studying. give over some part of the house to her private studying. cover her stuff to do. provide scheduled breaks of a day here and there where you've done all the planning and set up everything.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:01 AM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

There was a question like this recently.
posted by rabbitbookworm at 10:02 AM on May 11, 2011

Neck massage! And remind her to stand up and walk around every couple hours on long study days.
posted by Glinn at 10:05 AM on May 11, 2011

I think you are on the right track with cooking and keeping the house clean. Generally taking responsibility as much as you can for everyday lift tasks will help her focus on the prize. This is especially true if she will be studying at home.

In terms of sweet things to do, you know her best so think about her favorite things. Chocolate? Flowers? Massage? Order in from her favorite restaurant?

I actually do think you can help with the studying. When I was studying for the bar my mom helped by quizzing me. Just having someone read aloud the questions is a nice break from endless reading. i made flash cards so we used those for study sessions too.

Words of encouragement are always great - what you said above about her is really sweet and you should remind her that "she can do this" periodically throughout the studying.

You are a great partner for recognizing that she will need a lot of support during this time. I took both NY and CA, and I will say CA is really an endurance test. Three days is a long time!! Tell her good luck!
posted by lvanshima at 10:07 AM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Do not distract her or allow her to make any excuses for not studying and preparing as much as possible. The best thing you can do to make sure that studying for the California bar does not suck as much is to make sure she passes it the first time so that she doesn't have to study for it twice.
posted by The World Famous at 10:08 AM on May 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

Stay out of her way and cook.

And while the CA bar is hard, it's more that it's an endurance test. I wouldn't say the actual questions are any harder, it's more that you are given far more time to answer the essay questions and therefore they must be far more in depth answers to reflect that. And for say the NY bar you have to get in my totally subjective opinion a C or a C+ (which really is pretty easy to do), on the CA I would say you need to get the equivalent of a B- or a B, which with her grades is still way below the quality of exam answers she typically gives.
posted by whoaali at 10:13 AM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

When I had to take the Texas bar after having taken New York, my friends in NYC all chipped in and sent me a gift certificate for a massage at a nice spa, which arrived a few weeks before the exam. It was nice to have that to look forward to at the end.

As an aside:

we know it's difficult and lots of people fail

She may know this, but a significant part of the reason why people fail the California bar is that it's one of a very few states that permit you to take the bar without having gone to law school. She's way ahead of a lot of people taking the bar who didn't make it to law school and haven't taken a bar exam before.
posted by *s at 10:19 AM on May 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

Nthing doing the cooking, cleaning and laundry. Studying for the bar is like a full-time job that leaves you mentally exhausted at the end of the day. I think that effect would be doubled since she's really not looking forward to it.

Other ideas:

- each Friday, surprise her with a new restaurant to visit for dinner.
- leave love notes in her books overnight so that when she opens them the next day she has a nice little reminder of why she's doing this.
- remind her periodically that this too shall pass. She will get to that point where it feels like the process if never ending.
- plan an awesome trip for when she finishes.

On a different note, don't be overly solicitous of her either, meaning don't bend over backwards to constantly remind her that you are so grateful that she's doing this for you. She is in part doing it for her too (to get a job). I'm looking at possibly the same situation of having to take the CA Bar for my husband's job and if he was constantly harping on how he is so grateful that I'm doing this, I would seriously want to bang him on the head and would end up resenting him even more for constantly reminding him that it was because of his job that I'm now in this situation. Of course, she could be a much different person than me, but just wanted to throw that out there.
posted by Leezie at 10:19 AM on May 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

*s already noted that the applicant pool in California is skewed because so many applicants are not from ABA-accredited law schools, which means they generally can't practice anywhere else and probably had difficulty getting into an ABA-accredited school.

Since she's already passed a bar exam, she's got a leg up. The best way for her to approach the bar, as you've already realized, is to treat it as her 9-to-5 job. As long as she takes it serious without freaking out about it, she's got a great chance of nailing it.

So your job, is to make sure she doesn't lose sight of this. Help her stay emotionally on an even keel—neither overly stressed nor overly casual. Because she's practiced law, she probably knows very well how to prepare for a big "trial" with plenty of advance notice. Give her that space.

And don't forget to spend a weekend or two at the beach. (Before I took the Florida Bar, I literally spent one weekend on the beach, piña colada in hand, doing test drills. I passed.)

One thing you should not do, tempering some suggestions from others, is to completely remove the sense of daily routine. If she likes to cook, let her cook—after the "work" day is done. Split the chores—don't become her personal slave. Removing all sense of normalcy will do more harm than good.

Spend time with friends, especially non-lawyer friends.

Good luck!
posted by mikewas at 11:16 AM on May 11, 2011

I took the CA Bar five years after law school because my husband got a job out here and I passed, so I know from whence I speak. The only difference is I also worked full-time while studying. I'm a psycho for punishment.

I think designating a study schedule is a really, really good idea. I.e. I study from 8-6 every day or something like that. That way she can also have some time to relax and not feel guilty about it. And you can take her out to a movie (since I didn't have time to socialize I caught the late move a few times a week which helped me destress) or a bike ride or dinner or out for a glass of wine. My husband cooked dinner for me and that was really sweet and very appreciated.
posted by bananafish at 11:37 AM on May 11, 2011

Top 10% of her class and already passed the bar? Then the big problem here is that she might be OVER-preparing and over-stressing. You don't really need 11 weeks to pass the bar if you've already passed one and you're a reasonably good student, as your wife is. She could do it at a reasonable pace in 6 weeks, or at a more frantic pace in 4.

If she is determined to study for so long, then your role would be to try to keep life as normal as possible, because she can't be in FRANTIC STUDY MODE for that long. As she gets closer to the bar (say, 3 weeks in) she might start getting really stressed and start studying longer hours. That's when you should go into all-out support mode.
posted by yarly at 11:39 AM on May 11, 2011

Someone already mentioned a massage--but could you afford a weekly or monthly massage? Many places offer discounts if you buy a bunch of massages in advance. I would have LOVED this while studying for the bar.
Also, does she like to exercise to reduce stress? Going to the gym, especially in the last few weeks before the examn, was a real lifesaver for me. See if you can buy a gym membership to a nice place for a couple of months if she's not already a member somewhere. Or does she like yoga? Same with massages, you can usually buy a set number of classes in advance at most studios, sort of like a punchcard.
posted by janerica at 11:40 AM on May 11, 2011

I've sat for the bar in multiple states (including California) and yes it's a giant drag. But as others have said, having passed it in MO, being in the top 10%, etc., mean the odds are in her favor. I'm not suggesting complacency, but if she puts in a reasonable amount of study she should do just fine.

You can help her by handling whatever household tasks you can, maybe packing a little study break snack for her, quizzing her on the MBE section with the flashcards, and coming up with some fun non-law breaktime things. Getting away from it for part of the day really helps, as does doing something physical. So maybe go out dancing, or rock-climbing, or tide pool exploring, or whatever the two of you enjoy doing together that has nothing to do with hearsay exclusions or the rule against perpetuities.
posted by ambrosia at 12:28 PM on May 11, 2011

I thought of one thing, if you come home and she's still studying, let her keep studying. Don't make a ton of noise or try to engage her in a lot of conversation or try to get her to stop for dinner. She may want to go until 6 or 7 or 8. When I was studying at my parent's house, I always found it very frustrating that they would come home at 5:45 and would expect my day to be over because theirs was. Obviously it was their home so that's perfectly within their right, but it would have been nice if I could have dictated my study schedule because burn out is a big problem with the bar, so if you are making some progress, you really want to keep the streak going for as long as possible.
posted by whoaali at 1:06 PM on May 11, 2011

The part of the California bar where a person like your wife could slip up is not mastering the essay and performance test formats and their respective scoring rubrics. It's not enough to write a sensible and legally correct response---you need to put it in the expected structure such that the grader can check off all the boxes.

Also, she should study hard but not right up until the test itself; for the few days before, just do a couple of hours of refreshers and focus on being rested and in good health. People who peak in their studying intensity at that point tend to go crazy.
posted by amber_dale at 1:09 PM on May 11, 2011

Nthing cooking and cleaning, but with a caveat: try very hard to do it her way. I'm not saying that you are necessarily less effective at these tasks, but there are probably things like laundry folding or dish organization that she does and likes a particular way. I find myself re-doing a lot of chores that aren't done to my spec, and if I were doing something like studying for the bar I'd really appreciate not feeling any internal pressure at all to do that.
posted by charmcityblues at 5:03 PM on May 11, 2011

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