Friday, May 10, 2013
My law students are looking a bit ragged these days. Exams have started here, and many look tired, worried, or discouraged. Smiles and laughter have seemed to die out amid the seriousness of exams and final papers. The graduating 3L students are ambivalent about any elation over graduating because they know bar review will be immediately on the heels of that ceremony. For those who desire employment that requires bar passage prior to application and those still waiting to hear about jobs, additional tension is felt.
It is easy to get discouraged when under stress. My advice to my students is that they stay focused on their goals. Rather than get mired in the enormity of a difficult exam, future bar review study, or uncertainty about jobs, they need to remember why they came to law school in the first place.
Most of our students came because they were passionate about helping others and being of service. A few may have been motivated by future high salaries, but not that many in reality. We pride ourselves on graduating students who are ready to practice. Because of the large number of rural areas and small towns in the huge geographic expanse of Texas, we enroll many students who want to go back home to small or mid-sized firms and make a difference in their local communities.
Despite all of the current animosity generated about law school, the legal profession is still very necessary to the lives of ordinary citizens. There is still a nobility in helping others find justice and in solving legal problems for those who cannot be their own advocates. If students can focus on these purposes and the intrinsic values that brought them to law school, they can respond with greater resiliency during exams, bar review, and job hunts.
I hope that all of our students will be able to keep the faith in their goals and their chosen profession during the difficult times and when obstacles seem so great. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, May 9, 2013
At most law schools, final exams are rapidly approaching. The drawn-out "practices" with course material over 14 or 15 weeks are drawing to a close. A few professors are providing last-minute dress rehearsals with practice questions or reviews of material.
The tension is mounting just as it would before opening night of a theater production. Everyone knows that this is it: the law must be at one's finger tips, the exam strategies must be in place, the last-minute tweaking is all that there is time for at this point. Those who have not "learned their lines," "blocked their places," and paid attention "to the director" will be frantic soon.
Butterflies are natural just as they are before a production. Sheer panic, however, indicates a lack of preparation. Those who are trying to learn 14-15 weeks of material at the very end of the semester are struggling at this point.
If students have been diligent throughout the semester, then they need to focus on the following points:
- Review material learned already by reading outlines through at a moderate pace to keep material fresh.
- Concentrate on newer material that needs to be understood and learned.
- Complete as many practice questions as possible - some under timed, exam conditions.
- Spend extra memory drill time on the few (hopefully) areas that are still troublesome: rules, exceptions, policy arguments.
If students are faced with an overwhelming amount of material to learn at this point, then they need to consider the following:
- Prioritize studying: what areas are most likely to be tested heavily; what areas are still the most confusing or hardest and need extra time.
- Spend time on study strategies that will get the most results: it might be too late to make flashcards, but reading one's outline may work well; attack outlines or flowcharts may be more helpful than starting a full-blown outline for some topics.
- Balance individual study time with any group study time so that personal knowledge will be there for the exam.
- Remember to do practice questions to go beyond just memorizing material and become proficient at applying the material.
- Have a list of the material one is going to complete during the day for a particular course - be realistic, but diligent enough to complete the topics over the days left before an exam.
A good night's sleep before an exam will pay off more than staying up to the wee hours cramming. Brain cells need sleep to work properly during the exam. A good breakfast or lunch before an exam is also a must to fuel one's brain cells.
Good luck to all of our student readers on your exams! (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, May 8, 2013
First, no matter what you hear, the urban myths, tales from judges, friends, and fellow students, or articles such as the one in the ABA Journal, every bar exam is difficult. Or, possibly better stated, the hardest bar exam is the one you are taking… If there was a bar exam that was “easy”, wouldn’t everyone flock to that particular jurisdiction? If the bar exam was “easy”, wouldn't that particular state have problems with the competency levels of the attorneys that they license? If the bar exam was “easy”, what would be the point of administering it? Is it not a tool to protect consumers of legal services?
Next, what if the Washington bar exam is actually the third hardest bar exam in the country? What does that mean? Is this a deterrent to future bar takers? Is this an ominous warning to steer clear of imagining your legal career taking flight in WA? I hope this is not the case. Instead, I believe this is simply a result of generalizing. Comparing WA State’s bar exam, which was an essay only exam, to other state bar exams is like comparing apples to oranges.
Washington State was an outlier with regard to their testing format. (Note: WA will administer the UBE for the first time this summer.) Generalizing bar exam difficulty based on limited quantitative data, even when a regression methodology is employed, could lead to less external validity. Variables such as the specific testing measures and format, state bar association grading standards, student’s qualitative characteristics, and state bar associations internal set pass rate all affect pass rates; and, thus could skew rankings. As an Academic Support Professional, I find that a student’s qualitative characteristics and/or psychological factors more strongly influence a student’s ability to pass a bar exam. Quantitative factors are more easily calculated but are not always predictive.
Bar exams are difficult. Yes, some applicants struggle more with multiple-choice questions than with essay writing. Other applicants cannot stand the time and attention to detail required to achieve a high score on the performance test. Some applicants fear arcane legal concepts or nuanced legal theories that are not practical or relevant to their interests. However, the bottom line is that the bar exam requires extreme focus, months of studying, repetitive practice, and strong internal motivation. High stakes exams do not get more intense than the bar exam.
Focusing solely on statistics, whether you are a student or a teacher, is the wrong way to approach the bar exam. Remember, as attorney’s we read between the lines and pay attention to the fine print. Avoid the hyperbole in articles and blog posts such as the ones mentioned above. Instead, focus on what it takes to pass the bar...determination and hardwork.
Tuesday, May 7, 2013
Whittier Law School seeks candidates to work with our Academic Support and Bar Preparation programs. Successful applicants will work with Academic Support for first and second year students and Bar Preparation for third and fourth year students. Primary responsibilities include individual and group work with students on legal analysis and study skills, time management and other academic success skills, support for classes and workshops, participation in program development and assessment of programs and student learning. We seek candidates who excelled in law school, who exhibit a passion for teaching and learning, who have a strong work ethic and who enjoy working on and collaborating with a dynamic team of professionals. Salary and benefits depend on level of experience. Candidates must be law school graduates with a JD degree who have passed the California Bar Exam. Whittier Law School is an equal opportunity employer that welcomes applications from all qualified individuals. Please submit resumes and letters of interest that describe the applicant’s qualifications for the above position directly to Sara Berman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A 30-hour a week Director of Academic Success position (eligible for full benefits) is available at the Louis D. Brandeis School of Law at University of Louisville. Ideally, the successful candidate will begin on July 1, 2013. Interested candidates must submit a resume, cover letter, and the names and contact information of three references via the online application. Review of applications will begin May 21, 2013.
The full job description is posted at: