Life After Law School
Life After Law School

Barb Vargo, JD’18, took the bar exam in July – and passed! She blogs about the experience for us in our inaugural blog post featuring recent alumni.

May 30, 56 days until exam.

Today is my first day of bar prep.  It feels like I just graduated, took a minute to reacquaint myself to real life, and moved back to South Dakota. I haven’t even started official bar preparation and I already feel far behind.  I’m not unpacked, my dogs and cats want attention, and I have four hours of lecture scheduled today. No way through without starting, I guess. Here we go.

June 14, 40 days until exam.

These cards are my life now.  I take them when we go out.  I walk with them.  I even took them on a bike ride.  Even when I don’t use them, they are like a security blanket.

June 21, 33 days to exam. 

I took the MBE midterm while I was sitting in a hotel on a trip with my husband. Not surprisingly, my midterm grade was terrible. A couple friends texted me support and perspective. I am so grateful to friends who check in with a text or message here or there. Especially when you are studying alone, a text, or a photo of coffee, or a heart emoji can make the difference in a day. Those encouragers in life are precious friends.

Remember, you do not get graded on the bar – it is strictly pass/fail.  Remember the gift of failing early – and how leaning into the reasons for failures can provide tools for long-term success.  Don’t freak out.

June 27, 27 days to exam.

I just realized that the bar prep videos have ruined me for polite conversation. Now I want everyone to have a speed up button. Why do people talk so SLOWLY?

My pet study group understands.

July 4, 20 days to exam.

Do not talk to attorneys who took the bar more than five years ago. They all think they are helping you with a story of how they studied, or didn’t study. Being told, “Oh you’ll be fine,” is surprisingly unhelpful when you are barely holding it together on the trusts and estates questions.

July 10, 14 days to exam.

I also have gotten into a routine in my essay answers. Even my social conversations follow IRAC format: Issue, Rule, Application, Conclusion. Hopefully, I have learned how to write in a way that is easy for my grader to grant points, even if my conclusion is wrong.  “Celia” (the name used by my online Kaplan assessor) has graded all of my essays. She is very nice and gives very specific and direct correction. We are developing a slightly unhealthy friendship. I hope I pass, just so I don’t let her down. 

July 12, 10 days to exam.

Study the bar in the way that works for you…but everybody needs to do practice questions.  My 1L year, Professor Neumeister sat in the lunchroom and told me that to pass the bar you have to do at least 3,000 practice questions. I am getting close to that number. It is not unusual for me to see two mostly correct answers and no perfect answer. Repetition and parsing out the reason for the correct answer results in improvement. 

July 13, 11 days to exam.

Recognize what love and friendship looks like during bar prep.  My husband just left on a work trip and I realize how much he has done for me this summer.  He cooks all time.  He goes to work and I am sitting at the kitchen table. He comes home and I am still sitting at the kitchen table. My recipe cards are all over the house. I’m not sure if I showered. 

My parents pray for me every day. They have for a lot of years. During bar prep, my mom emails me her prayer about 4:30 in the morning. What an encouraging way to start my day. 

Profs. Coté and Real have been lifesavers. I am grateful for the texts and photos and updates from friends. It all gives a bit of perspective. 

July 19, 5 days to exam.

Everything I know about law is in these folders. Distilled from two years of law school, thousands of dollars of books, hundreds of hours of lectures, several reams of notes, to these folders.  I suspect I will never know as much black letter law as I do at this very moment. And while I don’t always have to re-read what I’ve written in these folders, just holding them and picturing them helps me remember.

July 24th & 25th - THE TEST!

I’m off to the state capital, 200 miles away.  I guess I shouldn’t have complained about the 7:00 am live lectures – I have to check in at 6:30 am Central time…5:30 am Mountain time.

Test Day One:  I am still obnoxiously early.  The room is very cold first thing in the morning.  I’m glad I have a sweater.  However, the room heats up as all these nervous bodies crowd into the space.  During our lunch break, I walk back to the hotel and collapse for a bit.  I’m so glad I packed my lunch.  I don’t want to interact with another human being right now. 
After I get out of day one of the test, I run into an old high school friend who is in town for another reason.  He’s not an attorney.  He is wise enough not to ask me, “how do you think it went?”  I just have a nice meal talking about anything other than the bar exam. 


Test Day Two:  It may be a bit of Stockholm Syndrome, but I am happy to see the same faces today.  We have about 20 additional people who have taken the bar in the past, but not passed this section.  They bring with them a gravity of the importance and difficulty of the multiple choice portion.  At the end of Day Two, I rush out of the hotel and hit the road.  In my hurry, I’m pretty sure I left my I.D. behind, or threw it away, or something.  I decide just to replace it.  If I left it in my secured bag, they’ll find it next year. 

When I get home my husband has made oysters, shrimp, clams, gazpacho, and champagne and we sit on the deck quietly.  It has been a long journey.


P.S.  I’m so grateful to friends and family who supported me in so many ways.  One of my favorites was a card from friends whose son wrote this: 






P.P.S.  And I passed! I got notified by mail in mid-September. What a relief!