Monday, December 12, 2011
A guest post from Ron Dees, of Washburn Law School:
A tool for teaching bar takers the importance and value of accurate and complete rule statements:
As you all know, many times students fail to memorize and/or transcribe accurate and complete rule statements into their exam essays. This almost always leads to incomplete analysis due to missed issues and missed opportunities to discuss facts relevant to those issues. It can also lead to incorrect conclusions. Incomplete analysis and incorrect inclusions in turn lead to lower overall scores on exams. This is an issue that is relevant throughout law school, but is even more important on the bar exam because bar exams are rule based exams. That is to say that legal theory and policy are not heavily tested. What is tested on bar exams is the examinee’s ability to reach a well-reasoned conclusion by applying the rules of law to hypothetical fact situations.
Even after three years of law school, some bar takers simply don’t seem to realize the importance and usefulness of rule statements. They sometimes seem to think of rule statements as nothing more than a technicality to be placed at the “Rule” place marker section in their IRAC or CIRAC format. Thus, it is often necessary to show them the importance of using accurate and complete rule statements. Doing so will help the student do a more complete analysis, and the student will begin to realize the added value of rule statements when shown how using rule statements as outlines for analysis makes formatting and writing essays easier. That in turn can help lower exam stress levels, because the student will feel confident that the rule they memorized during study can be used to easily format essays on exam day.
A simple table can be used as a tool for teaching the importance of accurate and complete rule statements. As the table below shows, breaking down the rule statement into its individual parts or elements allows the student to quickly form an outline for the analysis portion of their essay before they begin writing. This outline allows them two advantages. First, their writing will be well organized and secondly the outline serves as a checklist of items that should be discussed in the analysis. If the rule statement is accurate and complete, the checklist will be accurate and complete, and the likelihood of missing necessary parts of the analysis is lower. If the rule statement is incomplete, the analysis may still be well organized, but vital parts of the analysis may be missing, which will cost the student potential points.
The rule for “piercing the corporate veil” is used here in IRAC format as an example:
Essay Roadmap using complete rule statement
Essay Roadmap using incomplete rule statement
Issue: Can the corporate veil be pierced to reach the personal assets of the shareholders?
Rule: The corporate veil protecting shareholders from personal liability can be pierced to reach the shareholders’ personal assets if: (a) corporate formalities are ignored and injustice results; (b) the corporation was undercapitalized at the time of formation; or (c) the corporation was formed to perpetrate a fraud.
(1)Were corporate formalities ignored?
(2) If so, did injustice result from the lack of formalities?
(3) Was the corporation undercapitalized?
(4) If so, was it undercapitalized at the time of formation?; or
(5) Was the corporation formed to perpetrate fraud?
Conclusion: The corporate veil may not be pierced to reach the personal assets of the shareholders
Issue: Can the corporate veil be pierced to reach the personal assets of the shareholders?
Rule: The corporate veil protecting shareholders from personal liability can be pierced to reach the shareholders’ personal assets if: (a) corporate formalities are ignored; (b) the corporation was undercapitalized; or (c) the corporation was formed to perpetrate a fraud.
(1) Were corporate formalities ignored?
(2) Was the corporation undercapitalized; or
(3) Was the corporation formed to perpetrate fraud?
Conclusion: The corporate veil may be pierced to reach the personal assets of the shareholders.
Student A uses the complete rule as an outline, and we can see that a complete analysis will discuss the existence or non-existence of facts relating to five issues. Student B uses an incomplete rule statement, and thus is missing two sections of analysis that should potentially be included in the analysis. The missing analysis sections result directly from the missing portions of the incomplete rule statement. This represents a lost opportunity to earn points on the essay. The potential points for discussing resulting injustice and capitalization at the time of formation will likely be lost because the student failed to use a complete rule statement as an outline for their analysis.
Furthermore, Student B may reach an incorrect conclusion on the issues discussed due to the same shortcoming. As an example, the hypothetical may contain a fact stating that the corporation has recently become undercapitalized. Student B may thus incorrectly conclude that the veil may be pierced on the grounds of undercapitalization, because the incomplete rule statement does not contain the associated requirement of “at the time of formation.” Student A will be able to use checklist issue number four to cause her to recognize that the undercapitalization came about at a later time in the corporation’s existence and that timing must be considered. Thus, the undercapitalization in the given hypothetical does not fulfill the requirement of “at the time of formation.” Therefore, Student A will correctly conclude that the veil may not be pierced on the grounds of undercapitalization.
An example such as this is often helpful in teaching students the importance of using precise and complete rule statements. First, it highlights how the rule statement can be used to provide a roadmap to success in the form of a complete outline for essay answers. Secondly, it highlights how the resulting outline can aid the student in formulating a complete analysis and reaching accurate conclusions.
Monday, December 5, 2011
The temperature is cooling and the brightly colored leaves are beginning to lose their hold. Autumn vividly embodies transition and change. However, the leaves are not the only things changing; changes are also underway with regard to the bar exam.
The Uniform Bar Examination is gaining popularity. Recently, Nebraska and Colorado became the latest jurisdictions to adopt the Uniform Bar Examination (UBE). Other States that have begun administering the UBE or have adopted it for future administrations are: Alabama, Colorado, Idaho, Missouri, Montana (conditional approval), North Dakota, and Washington. Susan Case, The National Conference of Bar Examiner’s Director of Testing, announced at this fall’s NCBE’s Anatomy of a Bar Exam Conference that several other jurisdictions are currently considering adopting the UBE as well. Decisions are still pending for Utah, the District of Columbia, and others.
The biggest news regarding this significant change is that Washington State (my home state) will begin administering the Uniform Bar Examination in the summer of 2013. Washington has been a holdout state (along with Louisiana, who is also now considering changes to their exam) until now. Washington State’s current bar exam is essay only. Yes, it is true, presently WA does not require the MPT, MBE, or the MPRE; at least not until the summer of 2013 when the UBE will first be given in Washington.
Some of you may be asking, “What is the UBE and how it is different from what states are currently administering?” Although, the Uniform Bar Examination does not differ greatly from what most states are administering twice a year, there are a few exceptions and some potential benefits with its adoption. The Uniform Bar Exam consists of the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE) (200 multiple choice questions), the Multistate Essay Exam (MEE) (six essays), and the Multistate Performance Test (MPT) (two 90 minute closed universe legal writing tasks). For the UBE, the MBE is worth 50%, the MEE is worth 30%, and the MPT is worth 20% of the overall score. The overall score, or the “UBE score”, is the important number in this equation.
Score portability is the major selling point for this exam. But it is important to remember that the UBE score is portable, not the applicant’s pass status. Therefore, if an applicant passes the UBE in one jurisdiction, they may not pass in another. Admission is not automatic. An applicant needs to reach a passing UBE score in each jurisdiction for which they are applying. Therefore, a higher score on the UBE allows for greater ease of portability.
Other factors may also influence whether the creation and adoption of the UBE produce a positive impact on the ability to move from state to state in search of legal work. For one, UBE scores do not last forever. Thus, once a student takes the UBE, the score is only portable for a time frame determined by the state accepting the UBE score. What this means in reality is that portability may be short lived unless the applicant obtains licensure in multiple jurisdictions soon after taking the UBE.
While maintaining a license to practice law in multiple jurisdictions could be a positive step in one’s legal career, it is also fraught with possible hardships; namely, financial ones. According to the Comprehensive Guide to Bar Admission Requirements (produced by NCBE and The American Bar Association), applications fees for bar admission cost between $100- $1500 depending on the jurisdiction. Additionally, in order to maintain multiple licenses, yearly license renewal fees, pro bono requirements, and mandatory Continuing Legal Education credits may be required in each jurisdiction. In light of the state of the US economy, fees and requirements such as these may pose a genuine disadvantage to holding multiple bar licenses.
Will the advent of the UBE create more lawyer migration and/or provide more job opportunities for new law graduates? Potentially, yes. Here is the bright side of the UBE. The UBE could create more opportunities for new law grads by giving them more flexibility in where they are able to seek employment. Considering the legal job market, this could be a huge benefit for new attorneys willing to migrate to more marketable jurisdictions.
While in theory the UBE appears to have many benefits, more seasons of UBE test taking need to pass before this question can be precisely answered. Missouri and North Dakota administered the first UBE in February 2011, Alabama in July 2011, Colorado and Idaho will administer the UBE in February 2012, Nebraska anticipates the effective date of adoption to be January 1, 2013, while Washington will administer the UBE in July 2013. Once the UBE is underway in more jurisdictions and UBE transfer data is compiled by the NCBE, we will likely see the true benefits of the Uniform Bar Exam.
Until these benefits emerge, it is important to have students thoughtfully consider where they would like to live and work before applying to take the bar exam. The UBE will likely allow law grads greater mobility but not without a potential price. Although an essential rite of passage, the bar exam is not a task worth repeating and if the UBE makes that possible I hope we see more states sign on.
*Information regarding the UBE and UBE jurisdictions obtained from the NCBE and ncbex.org.
Friday, August 26, 2011
There is no doubt that you have been caught up in the flurry of activity that accompanies the beginning of the academic year. Heavy meddlesome casebooks; jam packed orientation; a throng of new faces; and the cacophony of perplexing terminology bombarding you in each lecture- Welcome to Law School! Although the first days and weeks (or even your entire first year) of law school may seem overwhelming, there are ways to ease your transition and maintain a positive outlook.
Here is one way to get started on the right track with your law school journey. Grab a sheet of paper and a pen (yes, this requires a little work). Do this when you have about 30+ minutes of quiet, uninterrupted time to devote to it. Now, open your mind and focus on yourself…
First, take a few minutes to reflect on your personal strengths. These could be anything from having a friendly smile to being a great basketball player. Create a list of as many positive attributes about yourself that you can think of. Do not shy away from being excessive or even exaggeratedly vain. This list is for your eyes only- so go for it!
Next, write down your fears related to law school. Is it hard for you to meet new people? Are you nervous about the infamous Socratic Method? Are you scared that you do not have what it takes to succeed? Do you think the workload will be too challenging? Again, write it all down. This too is for your eyes only- so try not to limit your list.
Finally, take the remaining time to think of how you can put your strengths to work on your most dreaded fears. This may take some work. Connecting your exquisite knitting ability with your debilitating fear of being called on in class may not seem feasible. However, with a little creativity anything is possible. Such as: if you could knit while being called on in class or while in a study group (possibly with other stitchers), you may find that your anxiety has decreased.
Use your strengths to overcome your fears. If you are a great communicator one-on-one but fear speaking in large groups, try sitting in the front row and pretend you are conversing with only the professor. This may help you in more ways than you can imagine. Grab a seat in the front row and you will likely be more actively engaged and less intimidated or distracted by other classmates.
Acknowledging your strengths and your fears will help you determine your best personal strategy for success in law school. Putting your strengths at the forefront and focusing on them (instead of being destroyed by your fears), will lead to more productivity, less stress, and better mental and physical health (and likely a higher GPA).
Therefore, above all, remain optimistic even on your darkest day. If you need a reminder of how great you are, ask your significant other, best friend, or a close relative. They will help you see through the self doubting haze that many law students acquire their first year. Of course if you need to hear it from an unbiased, trustworthy source, I suggest that you read your list.
Thursday, August 18, 2011
On the heels of my last post, I realized that a time line is appropriate for 3L's planning on taking the bar exam next July. This is especially important if your school does not offer bar prep; every year I hear about students who miss the deadlines for bar exam paperwork because they didn't know when they were due. The best resource when creating a 3L time line is Denise Riebe and Michael Hunter Schwartz's Pass the Bar!; I would strongly recommend it to all 3L's.
A few pointers for 3L's and the ASPer's who work with them:
1) Know the state where you plan to sit for the bar and and the paperwork deadlines.
2) Know what paperwork is required for character and fitness and how long it will take to get the required documents. If students need to request their driving records from a state DMV or work summary from Social Security, they need to know how long this will take.
3) If a student is moving before the bar exam, they need to know when graduation is scheduled and when the commercial bar prep course starts. If graduation is on a Sunday and bar prep starts on Monday, it is good to be packed and ready to go before Sunday night.
4) Know the deadlines for signing up for commercial bar prep courses, and decide if they will need additional loans in order to pay for a course.
5) Ask recommenders how much time they will need to submit a reference.
There are many other pointers for 3L's that are state-specific. These are just a sampling of the things that trip up students and add stress to the 3L year.
Thursday, July 21, 2011
The last week of bar exam preparation is upon us. While everyone studying for the bar exam will need to spend their precious last days slightly differently,all bar applicants need to focus on staying positive and prioritizing their individual study needs. One size does not fit all. Here are a few helpful tips to assist those in their final bar study stretch this summer.
- Make a plan for your last week and stick to it. Prioritize your weaker subjects and/or the sections of the exam that are most difficult for you. Try to gain a minimum level of competency in each subject area and on each section of the exam.
- Clear all non-essential tasks from your schedule. If it does not involve essay writing, MPT practice, or MBE review, do not do it.
- However, it is best to incorporate some physical activity into your day even if it is a just a short, brisk walk. Leave the library or your study area to get some fresh air at least a few times a day.
- Remember that memorization is necessary but without practice, memorization is futile. Memorize, practice, and evaluate your progress.
- Remain positive! Tell yourself daily or even hourly that you can do this. Find strategies to stop negative thoughts. Think about prior graduates who passed on their first attempt, think about all of the long hours you have put into your study, and, most importantly, believe in yourself. Repeat out-loud: "I will pass the bar!"
- Although nothing seems balanced right now, try to maintain a balanced diet. Make good food choices and stay away from the empty calories. Load up on protein and stay hydrated. This will help you stay focused, give you lasting energy, and keep you healthy for your big week.
- Spend 12-14 hours each day studying but do not forget to take care of yourself. Sleep is essential. Do not miss out on the regenerative power of a good nights sleep to learn more about the rule against perpetuities.
- Ask for help when you need it. There are many resources available to you. From friends and family to your law school and bar prep, everyone is invested and committed to helping you achieve success on the bar exam. Reach out, we are here to help!
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
The 4th of July is over. Students have now been studying for the bar exam for at least a month and a half, and they still have weeks to go. Students are tired, and there isn't a break in sight. These are the dog days of bar prep. Many parts of the country are in a heat wave, which means beaches and pools beckon even devoted students.
It is important to keep students going through the dog days of bar prep. Encouragement and strategically timed breaks are critical.
1) Encourage students to mix up their study routines to keep things fresh. It's easy to get bored of bar prep.If they haven't been using flash cards, they should try them now. Study in a different room. Students who try novel ways to mix up their routine recall information better than students who stick with only one method.
2) Breaks are encouraged, but should not be abused. Students need to understand they don't want to peak before the actual exam. If they feel like they are at their very best right now, they need to slow it down. Many super-achievers focus too hard, too soon, and are burnt out before the bar. That is not good.
3) Expect a dip in performance for a week or so. Everyone goes through a period where their progress feels stalled, and they can't find the focus to keep going. It's important to realize that a dip in performance on practice questions is okay if they are still studying.
4) Have an ice cream social for bar studiers, or a movie night that reminds them of why they want to be licensed. Sponsor a night of Legally Blonde or To Kill a Mockingbird. Remind them of why they are putting themselves through this. If money is an issue at your school, ask the development office to sponsor the event. This may be one of the law students last contacts with the school.
5) Shopping should not be a bar prep relaxation technique. This is something I have heard more about recently, in light of the economic challenges facing many law students. Students cannot afford to use shopping as a release, even if they have a job lined up after the bar.
Good luck to all my colleagues who are helping students prepare for bar exams! (RCF)
Thursday, June 30, 2011
I haven't worked on bar prep for a couple of years, but I speak to many colleagues at other law schools who spend most of their summer working with alumni on preparing for the bar exam.This is a short list of recommendations based on what I have heard from colleagues and my own experience preparing students for the bar exam:
1) Never take the bar exam "for practice"
Look at the bar exam for what it is--THE bar exam. Students who worry about anxiety getting in the way of performance sometimes tell themselves they will take it once "for practice" to become acquainted with the exam. However, this can lead them to sloppy study techniques. I hope this attitude becomes more rare with the changes in the economy. Students do themselves a disservice when they try to alleviate anxiety by telling themselves they can take it again, because it removes ALL the pressure. Some pressure to perform is good, because it focuses study. There is a middle ground between paralyzing anxiety and dismissing the exam as practice. Students should focus on that middle ground.
2) Don't let practice tests scare you--let them guide your study
Early practice exams frequently come back marked up with significant suggestions. Students need to realize that they have time to fix the errors. Making mistakes in May and June does NOT mean they are not ready to take the bar exam. It usually means they need more focused practice on the areas that are difficult for them. Don't let students give up if they are struggling.
3) Practice your writing under timed conditions
Some students will take practice exams without the time constraints to test how much they know. This is a mistake because it gives them a false sense of confidence. It does not help a student if they know all the law, but it takes them too long to recall it. Knowledge of the law is critical, but being able to recall the law accurately while under pressure is essential to bar exam success.
4) Stay away from gimmicks
Oh, the gimmicks. There are too many to list. Students hear all about how to "game" the test, strategies to do well on one part and ignore another, or spend disproportionate amounts of time on some area of the law. I am not talking about smart studying based on examination of long-term trends on the exam, which is valid and helpful. I am referring to the word-of-mouth, unsubstantiated gimmicks that students hear about from people who took the bar decades ago, or from friends-of-friends-of-friends. These gimmicks almost always lead to problems. Studying for the bar exam is, for the most part, straightforward. Students need to know the law. Students need to be able to perform under timed conditions.
5) Don't over-study and burn out before the exam
Another tactic of students with exam anxiety is to study 12-14 hours a day, every day, and plan to keep up that schedule for over two months. It is not realistic that your mind or body can maintain that type of schedule. Focused, meaningful study, with breaks and time to enjoy life, is the path the success. It's all about balance. Overstudying means that by the time the exam comes, students won't have the stamina necessary for a 2-3 day test.
6) Don't beat yourself up over minor slip-ups in bar prep
Just like in life, stuff happens. You get sick. You just have a bad couple of days when you can't focus. Your car breaks down and you spend all day waiting for the mechanic to tell you what is wrong. While a bar prep schedule is critical, be sure that the study plan is flexible enough to accommodate life. If something throws the bar prep schedule off course, just get back to the schedule and plan to make up what was missed a little bit at a time, until it's all covered.
7) Don't talk to anyone about the exam during breaks or after it is finished
It is tempting for students on exam day to rehash what was difficult. DON'T LET THEM DO IT! It will freak them out and make them think they failed the exam. What is done is done. There is no point in rehashing the exam, because it leads to unnecessary anxiety.
Friday, May 27, 2011
Many students have the notion that studying for the bar exam is a nine to five venture. “Just like a full-time job…” is what they tell me. There are two major flaws in their understanding. First, am I really the first one to clue them in to the fact that practicing law is not a nine to five gig? Do they truly think that they will be home nightly by 5:30? Sadly, some still believe that they will have more time on their hands when they are working full-time practicing law than they did in law school. I briefly enlighten them to the realities associated with the practice of law but then I focus on a more imminent concern- their bar exam preparation.
Since my main function is to lead them on a path to success on the bar exam, I first need to wipe away any misunderstandings that they may have about the exam or the process of studying for it. Urban myths regularly seep into the law student’s psyche gnawing at their self confidence and challenging their fortitude. Debunking these myths and separating fact from fiction is a strategic starting point as I gradually replace their vision of a nine to five schedule with a more realistic nine to nine one.
For example, end of semester conferences just wrapped up with my Bar Exam Skills Lab students. We have fifteen minutes in which to discuss a myriad of issues. Discussions range from how do I pay for my bar prep class, to how do I study, to lessons in IRAC. But repeatedly the question du jour was, “How long do I really need to study each day during bar prep? Nine-five should really be enough, right?” I was not shocked the first time I heard this but after a few dozen conferences and many similar sentiments, I knew I had some work to do.
First I must ask, is this generational? Unlike many of my students, when I was preparing for the bar exam I understood that my life (my complete existence) would be devoted to bar prep during the summer after graduation. I knew lazy mornings with a cup of coffee and the newspaper, sunny days filled with berry picking and beach-combing, and long weekend camp-outs would be impossible given the shear amount of work ahead of me. For current students (my California dreamers), it was time for me to deliver a cold, harsh wake-up call.
During one of my last classes of the semester, I discussed how to create an action plan for bar exam success. With years of experience helping students through this process and the many useful ideas from the textbook I use, PASS THE BAR by Denise Riebe and Michael Hunter Schwartz , I formulated a snapshot view into the life of a bar student. What an eye opener these soon to be bar takers! Most were shocked by the intensity and length of time necessary to adequately study for the exam. But overall, they were grateful to know how they should be spending their time this summer.
By knowing what to expect and establishing a routine before bar prep begins, students increase their likelihood of success on the bar exam. By heading off procrastination before it starts, delegating unnecessary tasks when necessary, and taking all non-essential items off their calendars, students will free their time and their mind from needless worry.
While their focus this summer is studying, I also encourage them to balance their bar prep with their personal needs. Reminding students that sufficient sleep, good nutrition, and regular exercise are priorities seems a bit paternalistic but I have found that gentle prompting is always welcomed and needed. Balancing and prioritizing our needs and responsibilities is difficult (for all of us). However with careful planning and advanced scheduling, students should still be able to stay healthy, connect with their loved ones, and have some down time while studying for the bar. Although bar prep is not a “nine to five gig”, “it’s enough to drive you crazy if you let it”[i]. Instilling confidence in your students and teaching prudent time management strategies should make the bar prep process more manageable and less unpredictable.
[i]Parton, Dolly. “9-5.” 9-5 and Odd Jobs. RCA, 1980
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Even though I teach a two credit class to 3Ls for early bar preparation, as Director of the Bar Studies Program at Seattle U, I also need to make sure that students unable (or unwilling) to take my class get the same important information regarding the bar exam before they graduate. Therefore, I provide several workshops during spring semester introducing them to the bar exam and the bar application process.
As weknow, the bar exam application process is time consuming and can pose significant challenges for some students. However, without our prodding, some students do not realize this until the eleventh hour. In light of the AALS presentation “Character and Fitness: To Disclose or Not to Disclose, That is the Question” and the ensuing discussion regarding our role as academic support professionals and the counseling we give to students, it seems necessary for all schools to adopt a similar workshop revolving exclusively around the bar application process.
While meeting with every 3L to discuss their bar application is nearly impossible, holding a short workshop for all 3Ls is easily doable and accomplishes the same goal. Providing accurate information regarding the application process and deadlines and conveying the importance of full disclosure, serve several objectives. Students will be more apt to meet the application deadlines (and not line up outside your office the day they are due), feel supported by their law school during this somewhat tedious process (a good way to end their law school career), and to understand that professional ethics is not just a class they took their second or third year of law school (instead they are standards by which they will be called to live by…starting now). Above all, students in attendance with additional questions or past indiscretions will know whether to schedule a one on one appointment to discuss their application further.
Essentially, the best advice we can give our students is to be open and honest when completing their bar application. During the AALS presentation, Margaret Fuller Corneille, Director of the Minnesota Board of Law Examiners, stated that successful applicants are candid, show no malice when mistakes are made on their law school/bar exam applications, accept responsibility for their past conduct, and show that they have made positive social contributions. Bar Associations act at as “Gate Keepers” to the legal profession. In this capacity, they are determining whether an applicant has the ability to handle the responsibilities of being a lawyer. Instilling the notion that candor on their applications reflects on their present moral character is crucial.
Our role as educators in this process is significant. However, this role may vary depending on how you define your purpose and what your institution determines to be their responsibility. Questions presented by Susan Saab Fortney, Interim Dean and Professor of Law at Texas Tech University School of Law, at the AALS presentation are good starting points as you (and your institution) consider how to characterize this role. I have paraphrased some of Professor Fortney’s thoughtful questions below.
- Are we partners with the bar associations when it comes to character and fitness determinations?
- Should law schools be “Gate Keepers” to the profession?
- Should we be concerned with our law school’s reputation regarding the character and fitness of our students?
- Should law schools take the “ostrich approach” with the character and fitness issues of their students?
While all valid and though provoking, some of us may have differing opinions as to whether we should squarely align ourselves with the bar associations or whether our main goal is to be a “gate keeper” to the profession. David Baum, Assistant Dean in the Office of Student Affairs at Michigan Law School and a member of the State Bar of Michigan’s Standing Committee on Character and Fitness, raised equally compelling issues at AALS that uniquely influence our perspective regarding these bar application disclosures. He acknowledged that in our roles as educators, it would be difficult to engage in open conversations with our students if we were required to disclose every detail discussed within said conversations. He further stated, that these conversations are the vehicles by which we deliver sound advice and help shape the personal and professional development of our students. In turn, as Dean Baum points out, if we are obligated to disclose these details, a negative chilling effect could result and students in need of support, advice, and possibly further professional help may not reach out for it.
Contemplating the questions posed and viewpoints presented during the AALS presentation, as well as, considering your state bar’s requirements and your institution’s policies, should help you create a helpful and informative bar application workshop for your students. During the workshop, I walk through the application and instructions while pointing out areas where students typically have detailed questions or concerns. For example: how to request an accommodation; how to list past traffic infractions/citations/criminal charges or convictions, and how to disclose treatment for mental impairment or alcohol or drug dependency.
Although carrying this out in a group setting can be challenging, I have found that the group dynamic diffuses the potential stigma that a student may feel as a result of an affirmative answer to one of these questions listed on the bar application. Once again, this workshop opens up the opportunity for students to see me as a trustworthy resource and to understand the importance of taking this step seriously. I believe there is a way to be a dedicated advocate and guide for our students while maintaining the integrity of the legal profession…finding that middle ground is up to you or your institution to determine.
Monday, November 24, 2008
Did you miss the e-mail on the ASP Listserv sent by Barbara McFarland regarding the NCBE handout on drafting rules for multiple-choice questions from Dr. Susan Case, Director of Testing for NCBE?
Several common techniques used by law professors in composing multiple-choice questions are specifically mentioned in the drafting rules. Dr. Case is currently working on an article for the Journal of Legal Education on this same topic. I know that all of us will be interested in reading the article when it is published.
You can read the PDF file for the Dr. Case's handout here: Download multiple_choice_drafting_guidelines_by_s_2. Case of NCBE.pdf . (Amy Jarmon)
Monday, October 20, 2008
Based on some of the feedback I have received about my post from Wednesday, I am expanding my discussion about why we need to consider our students when we are implementing new programs based on research. This is an area where I have personal experience, in two different ways. I am in the unique position of having attended classes at or worked at six different law schools in four areas of the country; UNC Law (my alma mater), Duke Law, UCONN Law, Whittier, ASU--Sandra Day O'Connor, and Vermont Law School. But I also have personal experience evaluating the research from peer institutions when making decisions about new initiatives and classes. Based on my experience, the single most important variable when evaluating whether a program will achieve desired results is the students. Students aren't a monolithic, one-dimensional variable. There are multiple sub-variables to consider.
It would be more than a blog posting, more like a journal article, for me to detail why I would suggest considering each and every factor I listed in my last post. I will examine a couple of key factors as examples of how and why to careful evaluate research before implementing new programs based on research from other schools. I will be making some generalizations based on my experience; your experience may be different. My goal is to encourage you to look carefully at how students may impact the research results, and how this may impact the success of a new program.
One of the critical factors to examine is whether the research was conducted at a school with day only, or day and evening students. Day and evening students have some dramatic differences. Demographically, evening students tend to be older, have more work experience, are more likely to be supporting a family, and much more likely to be working while in law school. There are great benefits to schools having evening programs; my experience is they are more focused students, devoted to becoming lawyers, and more mature than their daytime counterparts. But time is at an even greater premium for these students than for day students. Evening students with families or working even part-time don't have any extra time to relax, let alone participate in supplemental programs, even when it will be of great benefit in the long run. Time and money constraints have a dramatic impact in the programs they will attend, how they respond to new programs, and the time they can put into extracurricular programs, such as Bar/Bri and PMBR. I haven't seen any research on the success of evening students as compared to day students on the bar exam, but my guess is there would be a difference. If a supplemental bar program or bar prep class is evaluated using evening students or day and evening students, I would expect the success rate to be much lower than if the same class is evaluated using day law students only. It's not a measure of the program, but an outcome of the time constraints of the students.
The location of the law school is also a significant factor to be considered when evaluating research. A city school with numerous other schools in the area is going to be very different from a rural school with few or no other law schools within hundreds of miles. A school without other schools in the area is more likely to serve a student body with a diverse range of abilities. If a law school is the only one within a hundred mile radius, some students will attend, even if they could have gone to a higher-ranked law school, because they are locked to the region. Evaluating programs in a school that has an LSAT range of 147-165 is different from evaluating programs at a school where the LSAT ranges from 150-153. Let me emphasize that LSAT is not destiny, but it is a factor when evaluating whether a program will work with your students. Teaching to a wide variety of abilities results in different teaching methods, and in some cases, different outcomes. This factor overlaps with the public/private issue; if the only other law school in the area is private, or much more expensive, you will see some of these effects as well.
The history of the law school is a very important factor, with multiple variables. A new law school is creating a culture and a legacy. They don't have alumni war stories about the bar exam to rely on for student buy-in of programs. Without a strong culture and legacy, students also don't have misinformation to the same degree as students who have a wealth of bad advice built into the culture of the school. New law schools also don't have the stigma, or burn-out, if they don't have a great record with the bar exam. An older law school with more than a few lackluster years can develop a culture of failure than sends self-defeating messages to the students. One such message is that no one from Law School X passes the bar exam on the first try, so take it the first time as a trial run, or just for practice. If a school is implementing a new program while simultaniously trying to overcome the burden of law student stigma, the results of a new program will not be reliable for a couple of years. The results of the program need time to be decoupled from the efforts to change the law school culture.
Another variable relating to the history of a law school is the history of the academic success program. A law school with a well-established, reputable ASP program that has outreach during the 1L year will find it much easier implementing a program for 3L's. When the students already trust ASP, they will buy-in sooner, and put more effort into what you are asking them to achieve. Similarly, if a law school has not had ASP, but is looking to establish a 3L bar prep program for the first time, they need a different marketing strategy and should expect a more conservative student response. I am a strong advocate for starting ASP programs incrementally, starting with 1L's, and gradually introducing programs for upperclass students. The other effect ASP will have on the success of a new program relates to the skills base of the students. Law schools with a well established 1L ASP that focuses on basic skills will have 3L's with a better foundation for bar courses. It's hard to build a foundation when students have already made it through 2-3 years of law school; you wouldn't try to pour a foundation after building a superstructure. Any program that is starting with 3L's without a 1L program will need more time to achieve results, and an even longer time if the school isn't planning on creating a 1L program to introduce skills to students at the beginning of law school.
This is not an exhaustive list of factors to consider when thinking about implementing a new program. I hope I have provided an illustration of the kinds of factors to consider when considering implementing new programs based on the research of other schools. I made some generalizations about students based on my experience, and you may disagree with some of them.
Lastly, if your school is considering implementing a new program, and would like to talk to me about some of the things to consider, I would be happy to chat with anyone on this topic. (RCF)
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
This is a supplement to Amy's post on the bibliography of bar exam articles. I wanted to add my two cents about the incredible value of the article, and about keeping up with th research in the area of bar support. I am incredibly lucky; I have a phenomenal administrative assistant who was able to pull all the articles from the bibliography when the compendium came out last spring. It was an impressive list, and I think the stack of articles was between 6 inches and 1 foot thick. I made it through many, but not all, of the articles over the summer. This was in addition to the articles I have stacking up, read and unread, about ASP issues in general. Despite the amount of time required to read the research, it's an important function of our job that is best not ignored. The research is ever-changing, and in the area of bar support, it is moving faster than ever. I expect that the adoption of 301-6 will inspire even more research on what works and what does work with our students. Some of the material can be extrapolated to work at our school, some of it is just too specific to be valuable in practice. Here is a short list of considerations when evaluating whether to implement policies and practices from other schools:
1) Student bodies differ enormously, and what works for one type of student body won't necessarily work for another group of students.
a) Is the school public or private?
b) Were day, evening, or combined programs evaluated?
c) Was the school religiously affiliated, or have some other focused mission?
d) Is the school the only law school in the state or area?
e) Is the school new (less than 30 years old)? This is very important if evaluating the conduct and involvement of alumni.
f) For-profit or not-for-profit?
g) How many students work during their law school career?
h) Does the school attract large numbers of students with families?
2) Was the research on the student body at only the author's school, or the author's school and other's nearby? Was the author using the research to promote a course under evaluation at their school?
3) Did the school have a "bar pass problem" before the research was conducted? If yes, was their "bar pass problem" limited to the state where the school sits, or did all students have problems with bars from many states?
4) Did the school have an ASP department before 2005? This seems to be the tipping point for ASP programs nationwide.
5) Is the ASP department comprehensive, serving all students, or targeted to only select students? If only a select group of students receive support from ASP, it will have an impact on the results of the research.
6) Was the program being evaluated conducted in-house, by faculty and staff of the school, or was the program purchased from a vendor?
These are just some of the things to think about when evaluating which programs to implement at your school. I love the fact that so much research is coming out, and some of the most interesting research doesn't have immediate applicability to my school. That does not mean the research was not important in shaping my thinking, but bar passage issues are multi-dimensional, and what works best for one school may not work best for your school. (RCF)
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
On April 7, 2008, I reported on an annotated bibliography on bar examination articles. I am including the text of the original post below in case you are new to the blog and missed this item.
I would like to thank Joe Hodnicki of the Law Librarian Blog for the PDF file and the link. Hopefully, this added access will help those of you who have not been able to get a copy of the bibliography. (Amy Jarmon)
April 7, 2008: Annotated Bibliography of Bar Articles
Arturo Torres, Associate Dean of Law Library and Computing, at Texas Tech School of Law and Bryan J. Guymon, a second-year student at Texas Tech School of Law, have compiled a twenty-page annotated bibliography of articles from 1998 to 2007 that deal with the bar exam and admission to the bar. The article appears in the February 2008 issue of The Bar Examiner (Volume 77, Number 1).
Any ASP professionals who deal with bar exam issues will find this article valuable to their work.
Monday, April 7, 2008
Arturo Torres, Associate Dean of Law Library and Computing, at Texas Tech School of Law and Bryan J. Guymon, a second-year student at Texas Tech School of Law, have compiled a twenty-page annotated bibliography of articles from 1998 to 2007 that deal with the bar exam and admission to the bar. The article appears in the February 2008 issue of The Bar Examiner (Volume 77, Number 1).
Any ASP professionals who deal with bar exam issues will find this article valuable to their work. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, June 6, 2007
Gerald Bamberger, a former adjunct assistant professor at the University at Buffalo Law School, has recently launched a new website that provides free video explanations of answers to simulated MBE questions. It is in its initial stages, but Professor Bamberger plans to continually add new simulated questions and accompanying explanations. You can check out his website at http://www.profbamberger.com/. (Dan Weddle)
Thursday, May 18, 2006
I am always amazed this time of year by how many graduating law students fail to prepare intensely for the bar exam that looms just ahead. Most take the exam very seriously, but a few each year apparently seem to think the exam a fairly easy hurdle. I don't get it. After all of the expense, work, and stress of law school, how can anyone let up for the bar exam?
Perhaps they look at the pass rates and decide that there is no way they can end up in the bottom twenty percent of the takers. I remember the story of a student who graduated first in his class at a good school, obtained a prestigious judicial clerkship, only to fail the exam and lose the clerkship. I have always suspected that he became wrapped up in his clerkship duties and thought to himself, "How can I possibly fail the bar exam after graduating first in my class?" I was in law school at the time, and the story scared the socks off me.
I suppose it is understandable that students who have been far from the bottom twenty percent in law school would assume that they can avoid the bottom twenty percent of bar takers without much work; but that assumption overlooks the nature of the exam. The exam tests concepts many takers have not encountered since the first semester of law school. What makes them think that material that old can be recalled and applied with a half-hearted review, especially when the material required so much preparation for the final exam when the material was fresh?
Some, I am sure, fail to prepare properly because they do not believe they can afford the fee for a bar prep course. Again, however, I find it amazing that anyone who has invested three years of tuition, budget-breaking book purchases, and lost wages chooses the bar exam as the best opportunity to save money. Too much is riding on the exam to spare expense at this point. Anything spent on preparing for the exam will be more than offset by a year in practice, and no amount saved can justify gambling that year on recalling three years of legal rules without an intense review.
Perhaps some students take review courses but never devote significant time to further study outside the review classes . Again, the choice is amazing, given what law school exams require. How many students actually get through law school by reading through their class notes once before finals? What could possibly lead them to believe that the bar exam requires little study beyond sitting through a series of lectures in the weeks leading up to the exam?
Nevertheless, every year brings tales of top students around the country failing the bar. Aside from the cases of extreme test anxiety, lack of test preparation is the only thing that explains the failures. They may be saving money, becoming too involved in newly acquired employment, or merely underestimating the exam; but they are rolling the dice on the most important high-stakes test of their legal careers.
Throughout law school, they have had to prepare intensely in order to succeed on finals, and this final is the biggest one they have faced, covering vastly more material than any other they have taken. Should it be a surprise that it requires substantially more preparation?
The bar exam itself should not frighten students; but under-preparation should scare them to death. We need not terrify our students about taking the exam, but we should go out of our way to terrify them about failing to prepare. The exam is grueling, but ultimately no real threat for those who have spent the two months ahead of it preparing intensely, both in the review classes and on their own time.
No one who has worked as hard as our students have worked to get through law school should trip over the last hurdle. As their coaches, we need to make sure they keep running hard to the end of the race and that they not treat the final lap to the bar as a cool down lap. (dbw)
Sunday, February 26, 2006
The most recent (March 2006) issue of the ABA publication Student Lawyer includes (see page 34) a conference notice of interest. Quoting from the magazine ...
"The ABA Commission on Mental and Physical Disability Law ... in conjunction with ABA president Michael Greco and the EEOC, is sponsoring a National Conference on Employment of Lawyers with Disabilities. Participants will discuss ways to further the employment opportunities for and promote the hiring of recent law graduates and young lawyers with disabilities."
The conference is on May 22 and May 23. "The conference," the notice continues, "encourages law students to attend the conference. To support student participation, the commission will offer a reduced registration fee as well as scholarships to students demonstrating need."
Encouraging news: "With proper accommodations and open lines of communication, lawyers with disabilities have proven themselves to be as successful as their peers without disabilities."
In the academic support field, most of us work with students manifesting a variety of disabilities (visible and invisible); and many of us contend with comments by students, faculty and lawyers along these lines, "Why is she even going to law school? Who is going to hire a lawyer with (fill in the blank)?" Oh, that gets to me. Between your school's Career Services office and its Academic Support office ... somewhere ... we need to be able to provide accurate, up-to-date answers to these inquiries ... not only for those who ask the questions above, but, more importantly, for those who ask this question: "Will I ever get a job if they find out about my _________?"
For detailed conference information, visit the commission's web page. (djt)
Tuesday, February 7, 2006
I know I have been away awhile. In part, this is due to preparations for our Law School's sabbatical inspection coming up in a few weeks. In part, this is due to preoccupation with my daughter's college application process. And, in part, this is due to dealing with a recent moderately unpleasant medical diagnosis.
However, as I have been reviewing more and more practice exams of students preparing for the Bar Exam, I have been struck by a common problem: the tendency to approach a subject by talking about everything on the laundry list of topics, rather than exercising discretion on what topics are truly raised by the facts.
As an example, I gave a Civil Procedure question with two calls. One called explicitly for a discussion of defendant's motion to dismiss for failure of the plaintiff to join a particular person. Rather than immediately begin a discussion of Compulsory Joinder and structure the answer along the lines of FRCP 19, most students began by discussing personal jurisdiction, then subject matter jurisdiction, then venue, and finally, after using most of their time, students got to the first of three sub-issues raised in a Rule 19 analysis.
This tendency should be of great concern to us in our training of lawyers. As Dennis Tonsing has written, and as we all recognize, there are analogs between what we ask students to do in Law School and what they are asked to do in the professional practice of law. Selecting and divining the right issues, and only the right issues, for discussion on an exam has its analog in narrowing and selecting the right issues to research and prepare for when a client walks in the door, because clients have neither the time nor the money to pay for unnecessary research.
We therefore need to caution students that, while it makes great sense to go into an exam with a mental checklist of possible issues, they should not answer a question by automatically writing everything on the checklist. They must learn to critically consider which issues are raised, and which are not. This facility is part of "thinking like a lawyer." (mwm)
Saturday, December 17, 2005
Denise Riebe is a Senior Lecturing Fellow at Duke University School of Law, an Adjunct Professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law, a mediator, and author. Any day now, you will find Pass the Bar!—a Carolina Academic Press publication by Professor Riebe and co-author Michael Hunter Schwartz (Professor at Charleston School of Law)—on bookstore shelves.
Professor Riebe has begun research about what type of bar preparation programs schools are offering—one of the hot topics of 2005 that promises to be hot in 2006, too. Specifically, she's interested in what schools have done in the past, whether law school programs are effective, and how law schools are responding to the new ABA Interpretation authorizing for-credit law school bar preparation courses.
Wednesday, November 16, 2005
For those of you involved in bar exam preparation, have you ever wondered about the putative standard for passing the bar? The standard is, allegedly, “minimum competence to practice law.” As states continue to raise their “cut scores” and lower their pass rates, the meaning of “minimum competence” becomes ever more murky.
I have some data and thoughts on this, which you can find at What_is_minimum_competence? I address these ideas: Pass rates and the “cut score”; the effect of the MBE; the “disconnect” between the standard of “minimum competence to practice law” and the means used to test meeting that standard, both on the Bar Exam and in Law School; and the widening divide between law professors and bar examiners on the meaning of minimum competence to practice law, as evidenced by the declining bar passage rates.
I also think it is time to consider possible means to test the validity of the hypothesis that adherence to the “minimum competence to practice law” standard requires ever increasing cut scores and lower bar passage rates. If you are interested, take a look at my short discussion at the above-referenced link, and let me know what you think. (mwm)