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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A last few shots of the Bar Cave:
Thanks for reading!