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Vanessa Selbst

Meet you at the bar (exam)

Law school was one of the most intellectually challenging experiences of my life. Still, I managed to stay disciplined and focused, working long but interesting and invigorating hours. I did that for almost two full years, up until a pesky little poker tournament called NAPT Mohegan Sun 2010. From that point on, the card tables drew me away from the library tables, and all I wanted to do was play poker. I hopped on the poker circuit, began traveling to NAPTs and EPTs, and haven’t looked back.

I did end up graduating law school in 2012 (somehow), but I certainly was not in a great hurry to take the bar exam-the qualifying test you need to pass in order to become a practicing attorney–in fact, it’s the last thing I wanted to think about. Mere months earlier, I had watched my friends struggle painfully and miserably through a summer of intensive study, which served as a cautionary tale. I also didn’t really have plans to practice law any time soon so it didn’t seem like an urgent matter. Poker was going well, and so the idea of skipping tournaments to voluntarily suffer through weeks upon weeks of quality time with my textbooks wasn’t exactly appealing.

Throughout the last few years, whenever folks find out that I went to law school but didn’t take the bar exam, the question is always the same. “Why? Why would you go through all the work of law school and just not take that one last step?” It’s a valid question, and one that I admittedly didn’t really have the best answer to. I always sort of thought I would get back around to it when I was ready. It’s not like I’ve changed my mind about poker–I still really love the game. But as I get older, I’m trying to understand what my life will look like down the road, in all of its facets. I plan on being a poker player for a long time, but I also wanted to get started on my other goals so that I can have a dual career. If I was going to start making that a reality, the bar exam was the big hurdle standing in the way. I knew I needed to bite the bullet.

People have a misconception that if you’ve been to law school, you know all of the things the bar will test you on. In fact, law school was more about deductive reasoning, which is something I’m good at. Law school taught me the theory of the law. The bar exam tests you on facts–facts you never learned because you could just look them up if you needed to, and facts that you need to now memorize for the exam (in order to promptly forget them as soon as possible afterwards, of course). I signed up for an intensive bar preparation program that consists of a series of lectures and outlines crafted by experts in what you need to know to pass the exam.

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So what does studying for the bar look like? Well, it looks a lot like this picture, actually, which is to say that it looks like many consecutive hours of me sitting in my office, watching lectures, reading outlines, taking assessments, and completing practice questions. On a normal day at home in between poker tournaments, I wake up at 8, catch a quick workout, shower, eat breakfast, and then hole myself up in my office for anywhere from 9 to 12 hours, depending on my dinner plans. It’s just me, my ergonomic desk chair, my ipad, contract law, and sometimes a Chihuahua on my lap. And the sick thing is I actually kind of like it. It feels really satisfying to throw myself back into school again.

The bar exam takes place in late February, and the only thing standings in between me and the beginning of my second career are a few poker tournaments (no way I’m skipping EPT Prague or PCA) and a lot of determination. I’m excited to take on this next chapter of my life so that in the short term, in between poker tournaments, I can take on cases for indigent defendants who need representation. In the medium-term, maybe I’ll take some bigger impact cases on issues I care about. And in the long-term, I’m just really excited to never again have to answer the question, “why didn’t you take the bar?”

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