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Month

March 2015

Bar Review Summary

This post is the third in the series linking to the actual Bar Exam experience and law school graduation. I’m going to hold off on commentary until results are released in May, 2015, so it will be void of helpful hints and suggestions. I kept a journal during Review that I plan to post later; until then this is simply a summary and description of what I did in the months and weeks leading up to the California Bar Exam.

I attended and graduated from Concord Law School. Concord is a non-ABA-approved online law school. Graduates are allowed to sit for the California Bar Exam, and with a passing score, are allowed to practice law in California. Some graduates have been admitted to Bars of other states, although on a case-by-case basis.

I chose Kaplan Bar Review for my review program. Most law students choose a commercial Bar Preparation program. It’s a review of all the law learned through the years in law school, in a format designed to prepare the student to take the Bar Exam of his or her state. Typically these programs are marketed as a 2-to-3 month, 6-day-per-week, 8-10 hours-per-day review.

Let's get this out of the way. I'm a color-coded, dry-erase, schedule junkie. This is early review.
Let’s get this out of the way. I’m a color-coded, dry-erase, schedule junkie. This is early review.

I began my Bar Review in October, in preparation for the February, 2015 Bar Exam. The months of October and November were spent in a soft review of all of the testable subjects, on about a 6-hour-per-day schedule. In December I transitioned to longer days and more intense study.

I stuck with this pretty closely; I know once you begin negotiating with yourself, everything gets too loose.
I stuck with this pretty closely; I know once you begin negotiating with yourself, everything gets too loose.

There are 3 portions of the California Bar Exam, each of which requires a different type of study. Additionally, there are about 14 topics upon which the testing can be based, and the California Bar does not reveal before the test the subjects that will be tested. Predictions are made, some with more accuracy than others, but ultimately, students have to be prepared for any subject that may appear on the test.

A very important part of Bar Review: Vaughn and Darwin. My constant companions, exercise buddies, room odorizers, bed warmers, and rule statement practice audience.
A very important part of Bar Review: Vaughn and Darwin. My constant companions, exercise buddies, room odorizers, bed warmers, and rule statement practice audience.

On a personal note, in October, my honey reached out to my social networking family and sought a little note of encouragement – one for each of the 100 days leading up to the Bar Exam. He got an overwhelming response, and each day’s study began with the opening of the envelope. Each note was encouraging and sweet and kind and loving and supportive, and I am grateful to him for starting the project, and to everyone who participated!

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Besides the world’s best partner, I also had in place a tremendous support group in family and friends. I live alone, which is very conducive to study, but left to my own devices, I would overstudy and underrelax. My kids checked in with me regularly, and my local girls’ group (the Ish Girls: we meet a noon-ish, for a glass of wine or 2-ish, for a couple of hours-ish) held me accountable for taking some down time. Emily, Susan, Caroline, and Maddie Mae – you will never know what that half-day off per week meant!

November. I had lovely, lovely people taking care of me to be sure I didn't stay hermitted up in my home, which is my inclination.
November. I had lovely, lovely people taking care of me to be sure I didn’t stay hermitted up in my home, which is my inclination.

Because each segment of the exam tests a different set of skills, each must be studied differently. For the most part, I followed the guidelines given by my Bar Review.

 

ESSAYS

The essays use compound skills, and each skill must be developed both separately and jointly. Legal essay writing is not like college essay writing, where those of us with the gift of gab can just prattle endlessly about any one topic for an hour. Legal essay writing is structured and concise, and requires recognizing a legal issue, declaring a memorized statement of law, analysis of facts to that law, a reasonable conclusion, and so forth, catching all legal issues in the hypothetical.

The skill of essay writing has been practiced in law school, and becomes refined even further during Bar Review. There are anywhere from 60 to 160 statements of law, so to speak, in each subject, for a total of about 1400 statements. Do you have to memorize them all? Only if CalBar tests them. So yes.

There is debate about the detail and length of the definitions. CalBar clearly states that the analysis portion is much more important than the memorized rule statement, but the analysis can only be done if the elements of the statement are present.

During the course of my Bar Review, I submitted 60 essays for grading, and outlined nearly 40 more.

Another shot of my support team.
Another shot of my support team.

MBE

MBE stands for Multi-state Bar Exam, which is the multiple choice segment of the exam. These questions are written in a manner to test very fine distinctions of law. I once heard a lecturer say that the answer can turn not just on one sentence, not just on one word, but on ONE LETTER of one word. (The defendant LIVES in the house with his girlfriend/The defendant LIVED in the house with his girlfriend: in one sentence the defendant has standing to object to an unconstitutional search, in the other he does not.)

There are hundreds of concepts which can be tested, and thousands of ways in which to test them. There may be a more productive way to study for these without practicing them, but I don’t know it. My posse of fellow students all experienced a similar phenomena in that, toward the end of bar review, after having practiced piles upon piles of these questions, they became the most “enjoyable” part of our daily study. I think it was because they were short, and contained, and eventually you begin to get good at them.

I worked over 2500 multiple choice questions over the course of my review.

December. What would I have done without my girls? For one delicious half-day per week, I ran away from the books and lectures to these beautiful faces.
December. What would I have done without my girls? For one delicious half-day per week, I ran away from the books and lectures to these beautiful faces.

 

PERFORMANCE TESTS

The final segment of testing is the Performance Test. We call it the most lawyerly portion of the test. If you’re interested, they’re posted here, complete with 2 good answers for each test. If you weren’t under such time constraints, they’d be fun; it’s a puzzle with clues to the answer, and it’s a challenge to find the answers. However, when you feel the pressure of the minutes ticking, it takes a little of the joy out.

Bar review suggests working 2 PTs per week for the 8-10 weeks leading up to the test. I submitted 12, and outlined 12 more.

Brought out the big guns for January.
Brought out the big guns for January.

In January I transitioned from 6-8 hour days with a focus on review and outline construction to 8-10 hour days of skills and memorization.

Oh well, good study weather.
Oh well, good study weather.

 

Did you doubt my devotion to the Almighty Dry Erase?
Did you doubt my devotion to the Almighty Dry Erase?

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My study group was a fabulous bunch of brilliant women from law school. In particular my study buddy (and class co-valedictorian), Liz, was patient and tolerant as we messaged and skyped and emailed questions back and forth. Our freakouts parallelled, and having someone who understood where you were, what you felt, and the emotions you were going through was one of the most valuable things I took away from Bar Review.

 

February. Ran out of propane on the day of the big ice storm. Oh, hello, Murphy.
February. Ran out of propane on the day of the big ice storm. Oh, hello, Murphy.

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A last few shots of the Bar Cave:

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Law school in a bookcase
    Law school in a bookcase

 

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Off to California!
Off to California!

Thanks for reading!

The California Bar Exam

This is my experience taking the California Bar Exam in Ontario, California, in February 2015.

This post belongs to a trio of posts about my Bar Review, the test itself, and my Concord Law School graduation. They are out of chronological sequence on my blog, but I’ll link them all up with an edit when I’ve got them all written. I’m afraid it will be a tad esoteric, but it’s probably only fellow students who will be reading anyway!

The CalBarX is a 3-day test offered twice per year to certified law school graduates, and a passing score is necessary to practice law in California. There are several testing sites in metropolitan areas, and roughly 4500 students take the test at the February administration. The test before mine, the July 2014 test, had a 48% pass rate, but the rate through the years has ranged from 27% (probably an anomaly) to 63%. Concord’s statistics are an overall pass rate of 51%, but that includes first and repeat takers.

The test consists of 3 different segments: essay writing, Performance Test writing, and multiple choice questions. The National Council of Bar Examiners administer the multiple choice portion of the test, which falls on the middle of the 3 days. All of the segments are considered together when determining the grade, which CalBar labels “minimal competency”, or 65%.

Most students take a Bar Preparation course, offered commercially in person or online. I took Kaplan Bar Review, post to come. The material is the same subject matter that was studied in law school, but without all of the history, philosophy, debate, and discussion that accompanies classes in law school.

I left my home in Tennessee the Saturday before the test on Tues/Wed/Thurs. It had been along, cold, brutal winter in TN, full of long hours of hard study, and while I was apprehensive about the test, I was glad to see my winter of Bar Review come to an end. We had had an ice storm a couple of days before I left, and it knocked my pasture fence down.

Farm troubles
Farm troubles

I got the cedar cleared, and the housesitter situated before I left town. My sweetheart came to town from Austin, TX to drive me to the airport and put me on my plane. Just his presence calms me down, so he flew all that way to kiss me good luck and send me to slay the dragon!

I got to Ontario Saturday night, unpacked, spread out my outlines on the bed, and tried to stay up late enough to transition to Pacific time.

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So of course I was up by 5am on Sunday morning. I tried to go back to sleep, but finally gave up and ran through some multiple choice questions and essays before venturing out to the grocery store. I needed my usual brain food snacks of cheese, nuts, olives, sardines, sparkly water, fruit, and veggies. (I also found a Hispanic market that had the best ceviche I’ve ever eaten. We had a little language problem so I ended up with both the shrimp and fish versions, but I was glad to try both. It ended up being my evening meals for 3 days. I’m still thinking about it.)

 

Sunday afternoon I studied, walked, soaked in the jacuzzi, studied some more, visited the convention center test site, texted my family, skyped my honey, and was generally restless and out-of-focus all day. I had been advised to expect that, so I didn’t freak out too badly. And when you’ve put in close to 800 hours of study, the final 10 don’t take on huge importance.

Little hotel desk. Somewhat similar to little home desk, only few marks on the surface from my forehead.
Little hotel desk. Somewhat similar to little home desk, only fewer marks on the surface from my forehead.

I did a little better sleeping and felt like I was nearly on track Monday. Monday was a repeat of Sunday, pacing the minimal square footage of my hotel room, outline in hand, reciting rule statements, then sitting and doing 10 or so multiple choice, then restlessly pacing again. I went to bed Monday night with no less than 4 alarms set: my phone, the front desk, the hotel alarm clock, and my honey.

Unfortunately, I have no pictures of the test center. We were prohibited from bringing in phones of any kind. It was in the Ontario convention center, with 1300 students in rows and rows of tables facing front. Here’s a shot of my CalBar-approved ziplock bag:

This was before I left home. My little stick friend had to wait in the hotel room, along with my pink 3x5 note cards. The glasses, earbuds, and pencils were all allowed.
This was before I left home. My little stick friend had to wait in the hotel room, along with my pink 3×5 note cards. The glasses, earbuds, and pencils were all allowed.

 

Were I a more creative writer, I could better describe the palpable, almost visible blanket of tension in the room. After producing our ID and entry ticket, we worked our way toward our seat assigned for the duration of the test. Some of us reached out to our left and right neighbors (Larry and Brittany), and tried to calm down. I emptied my ziplock bag, lined up my pencils about a thousand times, opened my laptop and the file for the test essays, and attempted to access my relaxation techniques. The instructions were clear, written by and for attorneys, and long. I had a little chuckle when our proctor said: “If you can’t hear me, raise your hand.” Finally: “You may now begin.”

I pushed in the stem of the 2 analog watches I had set to 12:00, and the California Bar Exam, February 2015, had begun.

Tuesday’s essays were –

Full disclaimer: I did not remember all the essay topics. I remember feeling that they were straightforward with no real surprises. I remember working close to exactly 60 minutes per essay. I remember vividly certain words and phrases, topics, and “calls-of-the-question”, but I had to reach out to my law school posse for help. Erin, Dawn, and Liz, all honors-winning graduates, were part of my study group, and they helped me retrieve the essay subjects and topics. They will be posted at the CalBar website after results are released in May.

Tuesday’s essays were:

Contracts – UCC performance and remedies, Real Property joint tenancy/right of survivorship/recording statute/bona fide purchaser/quitclaim deed/landlord-tenant/breach of covenant/adverse possession, and finally CivPro/discovery/physical-mental examination/motion to strike/demand for jury trial. I know that’s a lot of legal gobbledy-gook, but they were pretty good as far as essays go.

The proctors said: “Stop!”, we all put our pencils down, and we were 1/6 finished. I ran back to my room, pulled my snack food out of the fridge, called my honey, texted the kids, and it was time to go back.

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Tuesday afternoon was a PT. For the uninitiated, a PT is a roughly 30-page closed universe legal task that includes the task memo (usually a letter from the senior attorney in the firm), transcripts (trial, deposition, interrogation), Columbia statutory code (our fictitious state), cases (persuasive and controlling), and 3 hours to craft whatever it is the senior attorney has requested. Here’s a couple. Here’s a couple more. The answers that are posted are good, passing answers to each Performance Test. For some students, this is the favorite part; for others, the worst. For all of us, it’s the most lawyerly thing we get to do on the exam.

Tuesday’s PT was about a lawyer holding some stock in escrow blahblahblah. Like the essays, I don’t have the ability to recall completely all of the details. I remember I thought it was tough. The organization was fairly easy to discern, but the transcripts/code/cases had a lot of extra info to distinguish. I outlined for the full 90 minutes, then set to writing and did not finish until I heard the 5 minute, then 1 minute, then 30 second warnings.

I returned to my room, kind of dazed, but knowing I had 2 more days. Another restless night of sleep, 4 alarms, and on to Wednesday.

 

A little more study.
A little more study. Starbucks.

Wednesday is multiple choice day. Most of us have done 2000+ questions in review for the test. They’re tricky, and test extremely fine distinctions of law. Once you get a little good at them, they became “fun” (keeping in mind my perspective of “fun” was skewed by 10-hour days of relentless study), but it’s easier to show than to tell:

A man is prosecuted in a federal district court for income tax violations by consistently altering the accounting books of his business to show income lower than income actually received. The man’s wife assisted in falsifying his accounting records. Subsequently, the couple divorced. At the husband’s trial, the prosecutor calls the ex-wife to testify as to her ex-husband’s accounting practices. The ex-wife refuses to testify on the grounds of both the spousal and marital communications privilege.

How should the court rule on the objections?

A. Overrule both the spousal and marital objections.

B. Overrule the spousal objection, but sustain the marital objection.

C. Sustain the spousal objection but overrule the marital objection.

D. Sustain both the spousal and marital objections.

 

Law school students all over the blog are chuckling at this. This is an easy one. We had this answered in far less than the 1.8 minutes allotted to each answer. Scroll right on down to the bottom for the explanation. I sure hope Kaplan won’t sue me for posting this. This is Kaplan question. It comes from the Kaplan material. Please don’t sue me, Kaplan.

100 questions in the morning, 3 hours. Lunch. 100 questions in the afternoon. Every 20 questions I stood behind my chair, did a few squats, deep breaths, neck extensions, and sat back down in the chair. You’re welcome, fellow test-takers. I’m sorry, I was as quiet as I could be – no time to run to the bathroom for this. No penalty for wrong answers, so the name of this game is to mark an answer for every question. Those 2000 practice questions faded into the past and it’s just you and the paper and the pencil. This day had a time warp all its own as it took forever to get through all these, yet the time just screamed past.

Wednesday’s arrival back to the hotel came with a treat: Kid #1 (of 4) and his partner had a care package delivered to my hotel. Ben and Kirsten – you will never know what that meant to me! Between the Bar Exam and the trip to Vegas, I think we used everything. Except maybe the jumprope.

Included antacids, ibuprofen, a jumprope, and coffee. My kids know me.
Included antacids, ibuprofen, a jumprope, sweet note, and coffee. My kids know me.

But Wednesday night came with another surprise. My honey, the honey who had poured me on to an airplane in Nashville, the one who has been my champion and supporter for 4 years, the one who has cooked and cleaned and cooked some more during this phase of law school, came to Ontario. A knock at the door, and there he was. What a delicious and unexpected surprise. To sleep in the arms of the man who loves, supports, and believes in you most, has a calming power that no pharmacological agent has yet to reproduce.

Coffee at 6, shower, and the final pacing/rule statement begins.

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Had I been remotely conscious, I would have been able to take in the beautiful view behind me. This is the Ontario location, so if you’re more aware of your surroundings than me, keep this in mind!

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Thursdays essays were (see posse, above) Real Property, with emphasis on equitable/legal remedies, then General Partnership and liability, and Wills and Trusts with a focus on charitable/cy pres. Once again, they were straightforward and expected. Lunch, and back for one more set of instructions, one more lining up the pencils, one more round of eyerolls to my classmates and fellow test-takers, and it’s time to begin.

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The last PT of the day was a criminal case with our client accused of the murder of his parents: write an objective brief opposing the admission of evidence of the 911 call from the father, and the non-verbal, possibly assertive conduct, of the dying mother. 90 minutes outline, 90 minutes writing, 5-minute warning, 1-minute warning, 30-seconds, and the February 2015 California Bar Exam is over.

First moment:

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Second moment:

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Third moment:

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Make sure to link to the pre-Bar blog and the post-Bar blog (Graduation) for the whole story. I promise to come back and post my results, good or not so good, in May. If you’ve hung with me this long….

Thanks for reading!

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Answer: A. There are 2 testimonial privileges. This is Evidence 101, and if you truly, seriously want more than this explanation, ask the nearest law student. One privilege protects testifying against one’s spouse in a criminal proceeding, but only lasts for the duration of the marriage. The other privilege protects communications between spouses while married (that was intended to be confidential), and lasts beyond divorce, but does not apply if the communication was related to illegal activity. Hence, in this case, neither privilege applies. Please don’t sue me, Kaplan.

 

 

 

 

 

Graduation

What a day.

Today I graduated from law school.

I have been thinking about this day literally for 4 years, and in the abstract for over 50.

Graduation for Concord Law School is held at Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles. It’s always held on the Saturday following the administration of the California Bar Exam. See an earlier post about that experience.

Beginning with the Thursday night at the close of the test, my large and expanded family began arriving. First on the scene were my twin girls. Amy lives and works in Eugene, Oregon (this, this, and this), and Glenda lives and works in Las Vegas, Nevada (this, this, and this). I was so happy to see their beautiful smiling faces after the 3-day beatdown.

Feelin the love
Feelin the love

Friday morning was transition day, from the test site in Ontario, California, to the graduation site in Sherman Oaks, California, just outside LA. But first, a quick trip to the airport to get my Steen. Her name is Susan, and we’ve been friends for years. She is as sweet and lovely as I am loud and snarky. I think that’s how we work so well. We share a love of eating well, of reading, and of writing (here’s the link to her column in our local newspaper). She is also a fabulous professional photographer, and produced most of the grad pics here and on my Facebook page.

My beautiful friend Steen
My beautiful friend Steen

Steen brought along our friend Flat Emily. Emily and her 2 beautiful babies and ever-loving and patient hubby John live in Murfreesboro. Steen, Emily, and I make up the Ish sisters, which is part support-group, part wine-tasting, picnic-sharing, group-texting, mother-daughter-sister love fest that meets regularly to laugh and cry and share and partay. Emily and the fam cheered me on from Tennessee, and on her Flat Emily stick girlie!

Ish girls
Ish girls

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Flat Emily enjoying her salad!
Flat Emily enjoying her salad!

Friday night was the Grad Bash. Because my school is online, our students reside all over the world. The night prior to graduation, our Student Bar Association sponsors an evening at the pub for graduates and alumni. For some of us, it’s the first time we’ve met face to face! And an added bonus for us: a classmate of the girls’ from high school in Tennessee, Kim, who now lives in LA was able to meet up with us!

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Sweet Siegel girls!
Sweet Siegel girls!

And this is where Ben and Kirsten (this, this, and this) come in from Colorado!

Great big happy!
Great big happy!

Back to the hotel where the last of the Jordans arrived – Sam and Jess from Colorado (this, this, and this), and my law school bestie Rosine (this) and her wife Myra from Castro Valley!  We must have been partying pretty hard, because evidently we didn’t have time for pictures that night. The next morning brought champagne toasts at 8am and dressing for the ball!

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All my beautiful people!
All my beautiful people!

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This was without a doubt, one of the most spectacular days of my life. I am so grateful – to Concord for the opportunity to go to law school, to all my professors, to my friends and family for being so loving, and to my honey for being so patient and supportive. I am still so overcome with emotion from the day, I don’t know how long it will take me to process everything. During the weekend, I tried to open my senses and memorize everything – what I was seeing, and hearing, and tasting, and feeling. It’s my plan to take this memory out of storage over and over and relive every moment.

The day was everything I wanted it to be, and so much more. To have my tribe with me for this event, both in spirit and in person, after this long, arduous, gratifying, challenging journey was beyond anything I could have hoped for.

And not to forget my support back home:

Mom and Dad in Georgia
Mom and Dad in Georgia
Sassy Em!
Sassy Em in Tennessee!

Thanks for reading!

 

Teaser

I know it’s not news that I’ve been out of the blogosphere.

I’ve been in the clutches of Bar Review for months. I took that bad boy last week, and I’m just now lifting my head up and noticing there is a whole world going on around me!

So here’s the thing. I kept a log of the Review, and I’m working on trying to get that one ready to publish. I’ve got a lot to say about that.

Then there was GRADUATION! The kiddos, my honey, and friends made the trip to LA and I’ve got LOTS to say about that!

Then that same group motored over to Vegas for 5 days, and I have a crazy LOT to say about that.

I’m in Austin with the honey for a bit, and it’s my plan to get some writing done over this next week. They’re gonna be all out of sequence with no spatial or time continuum, so brace for that.

To get you to come back, here’s some pics:

14 outlines. 4 years in the school. 4 months in the review. 3 days in the taking.
14 outlines. 4 years in the school. 4 months in the review. 3 days in the taking.

 

If I pass, it will be because of the power of the whiteboard.
If I pass, it will be because of the power of the whiteboard.

 

Oh happy day!
Oh happy day!

So check back! I have missed writing for pleasure, and I’m not sure I won’t break out into Issue-Rule-Analysis-Conclusion right in the middle of a post!

Thanks for reading!

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