The July bar exam is right around the corner, and if you’re like most recent law school grads, you’ve probably got some pre-test jitters. DeMario Thornton welcomes young lawyer Taylor DiChello to pick her brain on strategies for successful bar prep and test-taking. Taylor discusses her approach to studying, the usefulness of BARBRI courses, the structure of the bar exam, and much more. Tune in for practical tips and reassurances to calm your nerves as the exam approaches.
Taylor DiChello is a corporate associate at Gunderson Dettmer where she specializes in the representation of emerging growth companies throughout their life cycles.
Special thanks to our
Intro: Welcome to the official ABA Law Student Podcast, where we talk about issues that affect law students in recent grads. From finals and graduation to the bar exam and finding a job, this show is your trusted resource for the next big step. You’re listening to the Legal Talk Network.
DeMario Thornton: Hello everyone. If you are listening, this is the ABA Law Student Podcast and we have a very interesting guest today. I think very interesting because I am going to pick her brain like there is no tomorrow. We have Attorney Taylor DiChello on. Taylor, thank you so much for coming on today.
Taylor DiChello: Thank you for having me.
DeMario Thornton: Okay, so we have so much in common. First things first is you used to be a news reporter. So did I. Oh, my God.
Taylor DiChello: No way! Where?
DeMario Thornton: In Jackson, Tennessee. In St. Cloud, Minnesota. Yeah. I did it right when I got out of college and I have a degree in mass communications. But then I took a detour and I was like, hey, this getting stories every day is not competitive enough. Let me go to law school where I can lose my mind.
Taylor DiChello: Exactly. I actually initially wanted to go to law school to supplement my journalism career, but then when I started going to law school, I just fell in love with it and decided I should actually practice.
DeMario Thornton: So did you work and go to school at the same time?
Taylor DiChello: I did. So I did the part time program at the University of Connecticut and during the day I would go out report stories in Connecticut for their local station, Fox 61 News. So shout out to them. Thank you for letting me do that, by the way. And then at night, I would come on over to law school.
DeMario Thornton: Yeah, I actually started as well. I guess I would still be considered a non-traditional student just by my age, but I took 10 years off, so I was a flight attendant and I would work and go to school as well, so we have that connection. But ladies and gentlemen, if you are just joining us, Taylor is here because it is now May and we are gearing up for the bar exam. Bar exam is in about two months and I am about to take the bar exam. Taylor actually took the bar exam a year ago and passed. So shout out to her and we are going to pick her brain like there is no tomorrow. So Taylor, you ready? If I had the Who Wants to be a Millionaire lights, they’d like, okay, first question is when did you start preparing for the bar exam?
Taylor DiChello: Let’s see, I graduated on May 15 or 16, and then my roommate and I actually took a whole week off and spent time with our families and we kind of knew the rest of the summer we were going to be in the law school or bar exam whole. So we took a week off and I think we started whatever that Monday was, whether it was May 21st, 22nd, 23rd, around that time, and we just dove right into we both decided to take the BARBRI bar prep course. So we just started with day one on there and took it all the way through.
DeMario Thornton: Yeah. So my plan is so I graduate on May 20. I think that’s a couple of days away, probably like a week and a half away. And my plan is I took my last finals on the 28th and then I am teetering on when I’m going to start. I want to start before the bar exam because I have to move, I have so much stuff, but I feel like I’m so nervous about when do I start, do I start now? Do I start in a week? Do I take me a little bit of time? Do you feel like that little bit of time gave you the extra boost that you needed or did you want to jump straight in?
Taylor DiChello: I wanted to jump straight in, but I wish I took another week off and started almost Memorial Day. And I’ll tell you why. Because I did the entire, I think it was 12-week program for BARBRI and then I had another week where I was also supplementing with the critical pass flashcards and doing a bunch of multiple choice questions. Oh, you’re holding them up to the camera.
DeMario Thornton: Literally have them right here.
Taylor DiChello: Put them away, don’t start right now. I think. And it’s just because there was a point where I felt, okay, I’m ready. And I still had a whole another week to go to wait until I could actually take it. So if I finished right on that Friday before and then had Monday off and Tuesday and Wednesday dove right in, I think I would have been in a better head space. Whereas, I had a week where I was just, okay, let’s go over these flashcards again or let’s do more multiple choice questions.
But I kind of just at that point wanted to get it over with.
DeMario Thornton: Okay, so were you working during this time or by this time you had stopped working?
Taylor DiChello: Yeah, I stopped working and I took the entire time off. It was nice because I was going to be switching jobs anyways, so I just ended that job and I devoted my entire 6 days a week, 40 hours a week to studying for the bar exam. And I think it was the most scheduled I’ve actually ever been in my life. I was so regimented.
DeMario Thornton: Okay, so in my school so I go to school in Louisiana my entire matriculation through law school. I have practiced civil law, well studied civil law. And so I am actively calibrating to some of the common law things. Like I did not take real property, I took civil law property. Concepts are similar, but they have different names. Were all of the courses that were tested on the bar did you take all of those classes?
Taylor DiChello: No. And I’m trying to think back at what I did not take. I did not take family law.
DeMario Thornton: We had to take family law.
Taylor DiChello: I did not take, let’s see, I have to think back. Most of this you block out, by the way, after you’re done taking it, because I have such PTSD, I have to go back on my memory.
DeMario Thornton: I could not even tell you what classes I took this semester, and anything about them is completely out of my mind.
Taylor DiChello: Okay, so remind me. There’s 12 subjects, right? So there’s your core five, which I took all of those.
DeMario Thornton: So you have agency and partnership. You have family law. Let’s see, of course, you know those core —
Taylor DiChello: Yeah, so agency and partnership and corporations I kind of took as one business organization class, which was an elective.
DeMario Thornton: Right, okay.
Taylor DiChello: I did not take family law. I took wills and trusts. What else? I tried to take as many bar classes as I could. I took criminal procedure. I think it was really only family law that I didn’t have any introduction to.
DeMario Thornton: So with that not taking family law. So at my school, we have to take 72 required courses. So all of the courses that are on the bar, we take. However, because like I said, property is one thing that is completely different, and I feel like I’m behind the eight ball. Did you feel like because you didn’t take family law, I need to go harder in this, or I’m having to learn these things? Or was it just kind of like just push through it?
Taylor DiChello: At first when I started, I did get a lot of concern and anxiety around, I mean, even criminal law or torts. You haven’t seen that since one L. And for me, that was three years ago, not two years ago. And there’s so much that happens in your life up until then. I mean, we had the beginning of COVID as well. So I had a crazy law school experience in terms of just regular life. So by the time I’m going back to review even what are the four elements of negligence, I’m like, I’m starting from square one again. I might as well not taken those classes.
And then I took a step back after I had all of that anxiety, and I knew that wasn’t helping me study because I’m not ingesting any of the information. I’m just thinking about all the information I don’t know. And I just trusted the process. I knew I would just have to watch the lectures. Some things would be jogged in my memory. And for those subjects I didn’t take or didn’t know, I would just have to kind of pick up where everyone else left off. And I think I had comfort in knowing I did take a good amount of classes, and that most people pass the bar exam. If you put the work in, you’re going to pass. I kind of had comfort in that.
DeMario Thornton: Would you say that you did fairly well in law school, so you were okay with passing?
Taylor DiChello: I think so. I had pretty good grades. I wasn’t by any means the top of my class, but I knew how to put the work in, how to study, how to take exams, just like everyone else in law school does. And I think it was more getting used to the format of the test, because I had not taken many multiple choice question tests in law school. They were mostly written and they were all open book, so my memorization skills were so lacking. So a memorization test, 200 multiple choice questions. I thought I was in for it, and I thought that the test companies really prepared you for what you were going to see. I’d say that actually with a little asterisk because they told us not to worry about the role of perpetuities, and then we got an essay question on the role of perpetuities.
So I thought they kind of let us astray.
DeMario Thornton: That is so crazy.
Taylor DiChello: But everyone’s taking this same test.
DeMario Thornton: I literally just started just skimming over the rule against perpetuities. Just trying to understand it. But with that note, we will take this quick break, and it will not go into perpetuity. See what I did there? We’ll be right back.
Christopher T. Anderson: If you’re a lawyer running a solo or small firm and you’re looking for other lawyers to talk through issues you’re currently facing in your practice, join the Un-Billable Hours Community Roundtable, a free virtual event on the third Thursday of every month. Lawyers from all over the country come together and meet with me, lawyer and law firm management consultant Christopher T. Anderson, to discuss best practices on topics such as marketing, client acquisition, hiring and firing, and time management. The conversation is free to join, but requires a simple reservation. The link to RSVP can be found on the Un-Billable Hour page at legaltalknetwork.com. We’ll see you there.
Adriana Linares: Are you looking for a podcast that was created for new solos? Then join me, Adriana Linares, each month on the New Solo Podcast. We talk to lawyers who have built their own successful practices and share their insights to help you grow yours. You can find New Solo on the Legal Talk Network or anywhere you get your podcast.
DeMario Thornton: And we are back with Attorney Taylor DiChello, and we are picking her brain on preparation for the bar exam. So one other fear of mine is, okay, so three L year, they bore you to death. And I am so detached from my normal style of studying, like being straight in the books. Did day one come and you’re just like, I’m a one ill again, or it took time to ease back into that really studying mode?
Taylor DiChello: I can only speak for BARBRI because I didn’t take any other prep course.
DeMario Thornton: That’s what I’ll be taking.
Taylor DiChello: Okay. So I think they ease you into it because the first week is all just watching lectures and kind of getting back into the swing of things, so that by the time you do sit down and say, you have to write your first essay, it’s open book, or you take multiple choice questions throughout. But they’re not as hard as you would expect them to be, so they definitely ease you into it. And then by the time you look back and you say, oh, my gosh, I’ve been doing this for three weeks, you’re kind of already in the swing of things.
I think I did worry about that a little bit, but then once I just learned to trust the process, trust the program, everyone else in the country is doing week one with me. They’re doing the same exact modules I’m doing. So I just kind of thought everyone else was doing the same thing. I’m going to do the same thing as them and trust the process.
DeMario Thornton: So last summer I was working at school and some of the three Ls that had just graduated were studying for the bar, and there was this palpable look that everybody had, almost like right before you turn into a zombie, but it’s almost like soulless look that everybody has. Were you miserable?
Taylor DiChello: I try to think back and I don’t think I was miserable, but I was robotic. As I mentioned earlier, I was extremely structured. So I would wake up in the morning, my roommate and I signed up for a half marathon on Labor Day, so we started training in May, coinciding with starting to train for the bar exam. And it was a way to essentially force us to get outside, go enjoy the outdoors, get our heart rate up, and get our brains focused. I focused on having breakfast every single morning, which I’m not a breakfast eater, but I knew it was brain food. I ate lunch at the same time every single day. We did a 12:00 to 1:00 lunch where we were not allowed to talk to each other about the bar exam, about anything. We watched a half hour show every day, so it was almost like being an infant. We were so structured, and every single day looked the exact same, but that made it easy. And we turned off right at 5:00, so we did a normal workday.
DeMario Thornton: So what was that, nine to five?
Taylor DiChello: Yes.
DeMario Thornton: Okay, so nine to five. Now me personally, I can buy into that because that’s how I generally study nine to five. It makes no sense for me to be studying at 11:00 because I’m usually in bed by nine. So to force myself to do that. Did you find yourself, like, looking over anything after 5:00 or it was straight, I’m leaving and this is it.
Taylor DiChello: Once I got closer to the exam. So two weeks before the exam, actually, my roommate and I decided to both go to our individual houses because it started to get a little like we were both only in bar exam mode. So we needed to go around normal people who are living normal lives, doing their normal nine to five and kind of get out of our little world before we took the exam. So I went down to my parents’ house and I would go on walks with my dad and he would quiz me on flashcards or we’d go on long drives and he’d quiz me on flashcards.
At that point, I probably did a little bit past 5:00. But when we were strictly learning the material, and especially in the beginning, we stopped, hard stop at 5:00 and forced ourselves. And we would go out and get ice cream or go for a walk before the sunset or do something to decompress before getting ready for the next day. Our focus on mental health was at the very top of our priorities.
DeMario Thornton: Did you take any days off, like Sundays or anything like that?
Taylor DiChello: Yes, we took every Sunday off and then —
DeMario Thornton: Did you really take the day off or it’s like in the back of your mind?
Taylor DiChello: No, completely took the day off. Saturday, by 5:00 we were done and we would go for the whole night on Saturday and took Sunday off. We also committed to we didn’t drink the entire time.
DeMario Thornton: Okay, well, I don’t drink, but I know I am a stress eater. I wish I was a stress, like not eating, but I’m a stress eater. So you and your roommate, you all study together?
Taylor DiChello: Yes.
DeMario Thornton: Okay. And how was studying with someone else? Are you all just in the rooms together or are you actively interacting with each other?
Taylor DiChello: We actively interacted with each other. So we would watch the lectures on our own headphones and then at the end we would go to the next module. But if the next module was writing an essay, for instance, we would write our essays and actually grade each other as if we were the bar exam graders. And it helped because you could see where either maybe your organization wasn’t well written or you didn’t write out the rule of law properly and just to see how your writing comes across in another person’s brain so that you could adjust it and fix it that way before you actually have a greater grading your essays.
But it also just kept us accountable. If one of us woke up in the morning and we’re really tired, we said, no, we’re going on our run and then we’re going and 9:00 we’re starting and that’s it. And I don’t know if I would have been that disciplined without that accountability for myself.
DeMario Thornton: Did you have like periodical freak out straight meltdown moments?
Taylor DiChello: Yes. So halfway through you take this multiple choice test as if you take the 200 multiple choice questions simulated bar exam. We actually went to our school library and took it in the two hours we gave ourselves the hour for lunch. Just like you get on the bar exam. And I didn’t fail it, but I was right on the cusp of you passed it and my roommate passed it with blind colors. So I thought, okay, I’m clearly not learning as much as she’s learning or I’m not ingesting the material. I already knew taking multiple choice questions was a stressor for me and a weak point of testing. So at that point I thought, okay, I’m done. I’m not going to pass by the time this comes in July because they tell you as well, oh, if you don’t pass this one, it’s a good indicator that you’re not doing enough to pass. So I’m like, how can I do more? I’m doing my eight hours a day. I’m focusing on my mental health. I’m doing all of the things they tell you to do.
But then we each had our own mentors who had already taken the bar exam, which I highly recommend people have, and they’ll tell you, oh, my gosh, I failed that thing too. But don’t worry, you’ll still pass the exam. Just focus on putting in the work. Don’t worry about how many multiple choice questions you get wrong, especially by the end. BARBRI gives you multiple choice questions that are harder than the ones on the exam. So you’re taking these multiple choice tests that are supposed to be easier as you get better or learn more material, and you’re getting a four out of nine or a three out of nine. It messes with your mind. But if you just stay on your schedule, follow the path, trust the course, put the work in, I think that’s the best thing you can do.
DeMario Thornton: Good deal. Okay, we’re going to take a break here and we’ll be right back.
Dave Scriven-Young: You like legal podcasts because you’re curious and want to be the best attorney you can be.
I’m Dave Scriven-Young, host of Litigation Radio, produced by ABA’s Litigation Section with Legal Talk Network. Search in your favorite podcast player for Litigation Radio to join me and my guests as we examine hot topics in litigation and topics that will help you to develop your litigation skills and build your practice. I hope you’ll check out Litigation Radio and join the ABA Litigation Section for access to all of the resources, relationships, and referrals you need to thrive as a litigator.
Female: As you know, it’s important to keep your voice down when you’re inside a library. But it would be really annoying to talk like this all the time. So I’m happy to say that even though the ABA Journal’s Modern Law Library Podcast discusses a new book with its author every episode, it doesn’t take place inside a library, so we don’t whisper on the show. What a silly idea that would be. The Modern Law Library Podcast. Part of the Legal Talk Network. Follow along wherever you get your podcasts. Shhh.
DeMario Thornton: All right, we are back with Taylor DiChello, and we are picking her brain on the bar exam and all the stresses and ups and downs that go along with it. Okay, so we have prepared, we are ready. It’s maybe the day before. Are we stressed? Are we ready? What are we feeling the day before?
Taylor DiChello: I think all of the above. We were definitely so nervous, but we were ready. You’re just waiting for the time to start actually going comes. We felt prepared. They tell you to learn, I think 75% or 85% of the material. I forget the exact number, and we had felt that we did that. So now it’s just putting your skills up to task. We actually spent the entire day before, so the Monday before, not doing any work at all, not looking at a single flashcard, not looking at a multiple choice question, not even talking about it because we kind of knew it’s not going to help to do one more day. If we’re going to pass the exam, it’s because of the 12 or 13 weeks we put behind us, not this one day.
So the day before the exam, we started by going to a Topgolf, and we golfed for an hour. The owner graciously opened it up for us at 10:00 a.m. on a Monday. Then we went in, saw the new Top Gun movie, which had just come out, so that was fun. And then I think we did lunch and ice cream, and then we went to an escape room, and I was taking the test in Massachusetts, she was taking it in Connecticut. So by that time, I kind of went home, packed my bags, we gave each other that one last look of, okay, here we go. And I went up to my hotel room. So I got a hotel the night before just to make sure that I was up there. But yeah, that’s what we did the day before. It was kind of a nice day when you think about it. Doing all of those things that you don’t usually do in the middle of the summer.
DeMario Thornton: The calm before the storm.
Taylor DiChello: Exactly.
DeMario Thornton: Got you. Good deal. I actually am going in like a day before and I have a hotel so I might take some of those little tips and tricks. So you are there for that day. So you said that midway through they give you a time where you sit down and go through the multiple choice. Is there ever a time where they give you, like you do a full six-day exam? Because that just seems like a marathon to go in in the morning and just sit all day taking that exam.
Taylor DiChello: Let’s see. Yeah, no, we did the six hours, so we did the three hours in the morning, then you take your lunch, then the three hours in the afternoon for the multiple choice and then we did the same thing for the essays. They gave you an essay day as well, where you do three essays in the morning and three essays in the afternoon.
DeMario Thornton: Okay. Would you say the essays were easier?
Taylor DiChello: Studying? I thought yes. By the time I got to the exam, I can’t really say which one I thought was easier because I thought the exam was really hard. I walked out of the exam thinking I wouldn’t be surprised if I passed because I know it was hard for everyone, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I failed either.
DeMario Thornton: So I’m obsessed with Reddit and looking at all of the statistics and stuff and I was seeing that a lot of students that took the July 2022 bar exam thought that it was like, okay, let’s get these COVID people out of here. All these people that have been had COVID law school. And I heard that it was a little bit harder than what BARBRI and all of the other testing companies said it was going to be.
Taylor DiChello: I for sure thought so. And I think most of my friends did as well. I don’t know if we thought it was weeding out the COVID kids necessarily, but like I said earlier, we had a rule of perpetuities question that they told you on the test prep or the test prep companies told you not to study the rule of perpetuities because it rarely comes up. And if it comes up, it comes up in a multiple choice question. And they have data from years and years and years of bar exams that they use to make these determinations on what to focus on. So yeah, I did kind of feel like we were getting tricked a little bit. I thought I went into it knowing 85% or 75% of the material and they only tested me on the other 25%.
DeMario Thornton: So once it’s done, are you able to completely detach? Or is every waking day of your life like, I failed every single day.
Taylor DiChello: For me, that’s when the anxiety kicked in. Once I got over that initial anxiety that I was talking about and just trusted the process and put the work in, I was kind of in my own little zone of just keep walking towards the July 26th or 25th, whatever date it was. But as soon as we finished, then the months of agony started. And my friends in Connecticut knew September 29, the scores were going to come out. Massachusetts told us nothing.
At one point, I think in September, maybe August, they said, oh, sometime in October. And then in the middle of October, we got at the end of October, and then two days before we found out, okay, 48 hours, the scores will be released because they posted on Facebook. So I not only had to pass the September 29 date when all of my Connecticut friends knew, and thankfully they all did pass, I then had to wonder when my results were going to come out. So that was agony.
DeMario Thornton: I could only imagine. Well, I mean, not for too long, because it’s going to happen as well. But you had already started your job and you were waiting for your results.
Taylor DiChello: I did not. I didn’t start my job until January.
DeMario Thornton: Okay. So that’s a little bit better to be in the sanctity of your own home whenever you find out. I’ve seen a couple of people like, they’re at work and they’re like, let me go ahead and jump out this window so I can get out of here. Taylor, I want to thank you so much. This has really opened my eyes. I am probably going to recalibrate a couple of things. I really appreciate you. I’m trying to see, is there anything else? If you had one thing that you could tell people that are preparing, just one thing, you can only give them one piece of advice, what would it be?
Taylor DiChello: Trust yourself, I think. Don’t look at the pass rates. Don’t look at — try to stay off Reddit. I did it too. But try to stay off Reddit and try to just trust yourself because you made it through college. You got into law school, you made it through law school. And this test is a standardized test. You have to get a D on a curve in order to pass. So if you think about it that way, don’t overstress thinking that you’re going to fail because you look at all these statistics or you hear horror stories of people failing the bar. You will pass if you put the work in.
DeMario Thornton: Got you. Well, this has been another riveting episode of the Law Student Podcast. Taylor, where can people find you on social media?
Taylor DiChello: Oh, let’s see. My Instagram is at Taylor DiChello. I’m also on LinkedIn if you want to connect on LinkedIn. Yeah.
DeMario Thornton: All right, well, thank you so much for coming and I really appreciate you. And we will see you next time on the ABA’s Law Student Podcast.
Taylor DiChello: Thanks, DeMario.
DeMario Thornton: Thank you.