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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.