Three Days of the Bar Exam and the Next Great Wellness Benefit

Workplace wellness benefits are almost as common as retirement-plan benefits or life-insurance benefits.  I have a suggestion that I’d like to make regarding a potential addition to the wellness package offered by employers.  But before I make the suggestion, let me explain the circumstances that led to the idea.

I’ve spent three days proctoring the state bar exam, watching as a class of hopeful attorneys-to-be stagger down the halls.  Some have the blank stare frequently associated with zombies risen from the grave.  Others are in a cold sweat, hands trembling, tugging the jacket sleeve of another proctor in a panic because she doesn’t know to what room she’s been assigned.  The scene is one of quiet hysteria.  

For those of you lucky enough to not know much about the bar examination process, either personally or vicariously through a loved one’s experience, let me set the stage.  Law students finish their third year of law school and, within days of graduation (if not sooner), begin what is known as the “bar review.”  For two months, they make the daily trek into the nearest city to watch videos and receive lectures about a predetermined list of topics.  They may have studied these topics in their first, second, or third year of school–or not at all. 

When the day’s lecture is over, the entire class marches en masse back out to the parking lot and return home–where they are encouraged to study for several more hours.  In the morning, everyone discusses how many practice questions they did the night before, how terrible they scored, and how certain they are that failure is inevitable.

The two-month ordeal is rooted in terror.  Three years of school while your college friends went on to the “real world” where they worked “real jobs” and earned very real paychecks, while you incurred three more years of very real school-loan debt. Then, suddenly, the moment that everyone has avoided for three years arrives–the bar exam. 

Should you somehow fail, which you are convinced you will certainly do, how will you earn a living?  How could you face your friends and family, nevertheless your new colleagues who expect that, surely, you will pass.  For those with enough determination to attempt a state bar exam like California, Delaware, or New York, where the pass rate usually grazes 50% of takers, these fears are at least statistically supportable. 

By the time this week finally arrives, the exam takers look, well, strung out.  They have the eyes of a crazy person and the wavering voice signaling instability.  They are just short of crossing over the line into unrecognizable despair but still clawing desperately to maintain clarity of thought long enough to write the dreaded essays.  In all, it’s more than a little creepy. 

Some of the same creepiness pops up in the post-bar “real world.”  Occasionally, you’ll catch a glimmer of the creepiness in the eye of a colleague or adversary who, undoubtedly, has been working on a case for more consecutive days than he can recall.  He’s been sleeping in 2-hour blocks on the couch in a partner’s office.  But he continues to push onward, likely driven by a deeply rooted sense of terror similar to the emotions he felt during the bar exam. 

If you’ve ever seen the look, you know exactly what I mean. 

Now, let me try to connect this to my wellness suggestion.  I propose that businesses offer their employees . . . [drum roll, please]. . . a nap.  That’s right, a nap.  Looking out at the sea of students-turned-zombies as they burn through massive amounts of Number 2 pencils, I can say with confidence that there are just times when a nap would be more appreciated than a coupon redeemable for cholesterol screening or a rebate on an annual gym membership. 

The cost is, well, nothing.  I suppose if you wanted to put a little glamour into it, you could build a “nap room” with a simple mattress, a few fluffy pillows and no windows or clocks.  Otherwise, those with offices could simply shut their door, put their head on their desks and zonk out without worry.  For anyone who recruits students before, during, or after the bar examination, you should give this a try.  Mention the nap idea and see what kind of changes you see in the candidate’s expression.  I bet the creepiness disappears almost immediately.

For those employers who may need a bit more convincing, here’s a video about the serious consequences faced by employees who aren’t permitted to nap safely at work:


The Hazards of On-the-Job Napping

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