For the Lawyers

For the lawyers out there who are thinking about taking the CFA exam, I thought I would quickly share my impressions having just finished the Level 1 exam. 1. Experience. For someone like myself without any background in accounting or finance, the CFA is an eye opening experience. As a corporate lawyer, I deal with financial terms and concepts all the time, but would only understand them enough to be able to effectively handle the legal side of things. Even after taking just the Level 1, I feel like I have a much richer understanding of financial statements, debt instruments, derivative products, etc. The coursework is particularly effective at developing fluency in financial statements, which is tested at a deeper level in Level 1 than some of the other concepts. 2. Difficulty Level. I am still waiting for my test result, but can give you my impression so far. The amount of material is roughly equivalent to what you review for a bar exam. The challenge for the lawyer is that unlike the bar, you won’t have seen most of this information before and thus are learning it for the first time. I had not taken a quantitative class since high school (god bless the liberal arts education), so I found the quantitative methods section the most challenging. It makes sense to start there first though, because you continue to apply these skills through the remainder of the program. The materials and practice tests tend to be rather computational - the actual exam was not. As others have noted, the exam problems are more conceptual in nature and there is very little number crunching. To illustrate what I mean, if a formula is A - B = C, the question would ask you to determine what happens to C if B were to increase, but you would not have to perform an actual calculation. Thus, like the bar, if you have done a good job memorizing the material, the actual application is not that challenging. You will also have a natural leg up on the ethics questions, which are easier versions of the types of questions you would find on the multi-state. Know ethics cold, as this is definitely something you can ace and it is 15% of the total exam. 3. Preparation. Here is something I would definitely do differently. I opted for a 10 week accelerated program for Level 1. At least for me, that was not enough time. I used the Schweser materials to prepare, which I thought were pretty good (don’t even think of using the source materials). Even with the condensed materials, you need to get through roughly 1200 pages of reading. The quant book is a bear, because there are tons of problems that you need to complete. I would HIGHLY recommend structuring your time so you finish the reading 3 weeks before the exam. You will need that time to make study materials and take tons of practice problems. Here is another real difference from the bar - with the bar, you can take practice exams even before you are done with the reading because most of the concepts are familiar. For the CFA exam, this is tough to do because you lack the background (and more importantly, the formulas) to even make an educated guess at the answers. I averaged about 150 pages of reading a week (which was damn uncomfortable), which only left me a little less than 2 week to focus on practice problems and making notecards. I then crammed in 5 practice exams into one week (again, I really wouldn’t recommend this), as like the Multi-State, practice problems are the key to feeling comfortable on the exam. The morning of the exam, I then got up early, reviewed all the problems I had gotten wrong on the practice tests, and then took the exam. My total study time was roughly 200 hrs. That was enough to do a credible job on the exam, but had I spent the 250 hrs that AIMR recommends, I would have felt much more comfortable. Do the standard 18 week program if you can. 4. The Test. Not sure how I did, but the test itself was not that bad. I thankfully spent very little time on my calculator and finished the am session with 20 minutes to spare and had a little less extra time in the afternoon. The questions themselves were pretty straightforward and there seemed to be less trick questions (at least that I noticed) than on the bar exam. 5. Passing/Pass Rate. Again, no clue if I passed, but don’t be intimidated by the low pass statistics. There is a much wider range of abilities/backgrounds that take the CFA exam vs. the bar. And unlike the bar, which is a do or die situation for most of us, the CFA exam is an optional certification for most folks, so the amount of time that people study varies substantially. If you spend the 250 hours studying (or at least close to that amount), you really should have no problem passing. Best of luck!

Thanks for your input! I like hearing how the preparation path works towards the final exam. I have decided recently that I must bite the bullet and purchase Schweser. Those CFAI texts are just so long!