April 07, 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. (Amy Jarmon)
November 28, 2007
Sharing time & spotllight time again!
First things second.
Spotlight time. Presenting ... ALEX RUSKELL. Alex took over leadership of the Academic Success effort at Roger Williams University School of law this academic year. From all reports, he's doing a super job!
Before this year, Alex served as the Director of the Academic Support Program at Southern New England School of Law, and before that, Associate Director of the Legal Writing Center at the University of Iowa College of Law. In his earlier life, he litigated in Boston, focusing on securities and corporate non-competition agreements. He has also served as General Counsel for a mid-size publishing company, Associate for a large oil and gas firm, and as an Assistant in the Texas Attorney General’s Office of Environmental Crimes.
His academic background is varied — and thus well-suited to academic support! He holds an M.F.A. in Fiction from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, an A.L.M. in English from Harvard University, a J.D. from the University of Texas at Austin, and a B.A. in English from Washington and Lee University.
Before practicing law, he taught in a Russian orphanage and counted otters for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. Both of these resulted in several articles, printed in The Tampa Tribune and many other publications.
Alex frequently presents at writing conferences and symposiums across the country, most recently at the 2006 AWP Conference in Austin, Texas, where he sat on a panel questioning the continuing vitality of the American novel.
Now, how does this tie in with "sharing"? Alex gave me permission to post his latest exam-answering advice to the RWU SOL students. It's terrific. Here goes . . .
June 06, 2007
Video Explanations of Answers to Simulated MBE Questions
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)
April 13, 2007
A Healthy Fear
The pastor of my church happens to be an avid mountain climber (I'm sure it is painful for him to now be serving a church in Kansas), and his sermons often incorporate stories of his mountain climbing experiences. A couple of weeks ago, he told a story about a time when he led some novice climbers on a non-technical climb up a mountain he had never scaled before.
His experience in climbing is extensive, and the mountain did not look particularly challenging. The night before the climb, he studied the mountain in a cursory way and felt confident that he could lead the group safely to the summit and back.
The climb went well until the group came within a few hundred feet of the summit. He had been keeping an eye on a thunderstorm that was moving toward them, and he decided that trying to reach the summit would be too dangerous. A storm in the mountains can be deadly because of lightning, so he knew that they had to get back down the mountain before the storm overtook them.
Unfortunately, the storm moved more quickly than he expected and cut off the path he had planned to follow back down from the summit. He then began to look for another way down, but because he was unfamiliar with the mountain, he could only guess which way to go.
He chose a route that looked good, but it led them into a ravine with no cover. The storm overtook them in the ravine, and they could only crouch down among the rocks as lightening began striking all around them. He realized at that point that some in the group would very likely be killed in that ravine and that his cavalier approach to the climb had put them there.
The storm finally passed; and, happily, everyone survived; but he was very shaken by the experience. He had relied on his experience in those mountains to carry him if anything were to happen; but his experience was not enough, and his failure to prepare carefully for the climb very nearly cost several climbers their lives.
The moral (for my purposes) is not that he should have been terrified of the mountain or that he was incapable of leading a group safely to the summit. Instead, the moral is that he should have had sufficient respect for the mountain to prepare carefully for that particular climb. He should have known the several routes of escape in the event of a sudden storm, and he should not have found himself and his group stranded in a ravine above the tree line at the worst possible moment.
A few days ago, I suggested that as our students approach the bar exam we should "scare 'em into success." My pastor's story captures fairly well what I meant by that. The bar exam, of course, is not a matter of life and death. That aside, however, it is otherwise very much like a mountain that is deceptively familiar to the experienced climber.
Like the overconfident climber, law students run the risk of approaching the bar exam with a serious lack of respect for its demands. Relying upon their training and experience, many assume that they need not prepare deeply and carefully for the exam because it sounds as though it will be like every other exam they have taken in law school. Many will find out too late that they have underestimated its particular hazards.
On the other hand, like the experienced climber, they need not be terrified of the exam or fear that they haven't the training and experience to conquer it. Rather, they need to have sufficient respect for the exam to prepare carefully for its particular challenges. It isn't an exam completely unlike any other exam they have ever taken; but it isn't those other exams either.
If we "scare" them in the right way, we will inspire them to prepare thoroughly for an exam that will present its own particular hazards for the unprepared. They can all pass the exam, and they need to know that. They can all fail it, too. The trick for them is to develop a healthy fear, not so much of the exam itself, but of taking a particular high stakes exam as if experience is all they need. (dan weddle)
May 18, 2006
Clearing the Last Hurdle: the Bar Exam
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)
July 25, 2005
In Defense of the Bar Examination
With only a few days until the July bar examination, it's not a bad idea to have a few ideas from a recent article about the value of the bar examination to pull out of your hat when you talk with a student facing the test who is grumbling and griping about the challenge ahead.
In a thoughtful article excerpted in the recent issue of The Bar Examiner, published by the National Conference of Bar Examiners, Professor Suzanne Darrow-Kleinhaus writes an articulate and provocative piece about the value of the test to measure the basic skills required to practice law -a response to criticism of the bar examination.
Professor Darrow-Kleinhaus, author of the Nutshell on the Bar Exam, writes regularly about the bar examination and helping students to prepare.
She concludes that the bar exam, "appropriately serves its purpose. I have come to this conclusion after five years of working with candidates who had failed the bar exam multiple times and who passed after we worked together. They passed because they learned to read carefully and actively. They passed because they learned the rules with precision and specificity. They passed because they learned to write a well-reasoned argument based on an analysis of the relevant issue and an application of the law to the facts. They passed because they learned that there were no tricks to be applied, only the law."
So next time you're tempted to collude with your student about the bearish (no offense to bears) nature of the bar examination, it might be an opportunity to point out the value of improving their skills to become better practitioners. I recommend downloading the article and reading it. (els)
July 19, 2005
New York Bar Controversy
While the rise in the minimum bar examination score in New York has gained widespread attention, an interesting exploration is underway within the jurisdiction that could impact the certification process of new attorneys around the country.
A special committee will examine New York's system of bar admission, including the value of the test and possible alternatives to the bar examination as a measure of competence to practice law.
I, for one, am interested in keeping my eye on this issue. Like many directors of ASP Offices, my job also includes a charge of helping the 3Ls to improve their likelihood of passing the bar examination. (Yes, a small job).
While the issue of plummeting bar passage rates can be rife with finger pointing - pointing fingers at students for being unprepared, bar examiners for being unfair, and teachers for abrogating their responsibilities - an evaluation of the testing tool itself sounds like an important inquiry. (els)
July 16, 2005
Looking for used bar exam questions? Here are a few ... including sample answers! Some of these may be useful for displaying to current students who are still trying to figure out what a good answer reads like.
Arkansas: The Arkansas Board has provided "top" answers. The disclaimer suggests that you ought to tinker with the answers before presenting them to students as models: "… many papers may have significant deficiencies in style, draftsmanship and organization. Indeed, some may fail to recognize issues and may have reached erroneous legal conclusions. ... These papers are not perfect papers but are examples of the better papers. They should be used merely as one of many guidelines in preparing for the examination."
Maryland: The Maryland Board presents similar advice. The "Representative Good Answers" included after each question are neither average passing answers nor are they necessarily answers which received a perfect score; they are responses which, in the Board’s view, illustrate successful answers. Maryland includes the State Board's "analysis." This consists of a discussion of the principal legal and factual issues raised by a question. The Board explains that its analysis is neither a model answer, nor does it include an exhaustive listing of all possible legal issues suggested by the facts of the question.
Minnesota: Interestingly, Minnesota's site does not include a similar disclaimer. The Board has posted questions and "representative good answers."
About disclaimers: I intend to adopt all the disclaimers I can find when presenting students with a list of issues or a sample answer. For a sample of an all-inclusive disclaimer, with tongue firmly pressing against the inside of the cheek, visit . (djt)
July 15, 2005
The Numbers Are In!
Curious about the numbers for the 2004 bar passage rates nationally? The May issue of The Bar Examiner contains a detailed report of the results in each jurisdiction in the country.
Results are broken down between February and July takers and first-time and second-time takers, among other details. You might want to check it out, if you're not already a subscriber to this National Conference of Bar Examiner publication. (els)
July 14, 2005
Damage from the Fall Out?
Here's a quirky little item I ran across that was recently published by The New York Law Journal in a column entitled, "Advice to the Lawlorn," by Ann Isreal.
Scenario: Law grad accepts offer at Boston law firm, fails bar twice and is let go pursuant to firm policy, despite the fact that grad was extremely well liked. She moves to New York and the subject of why she left Boston arises, not, unfortunately, at the outset of the interview, but rather, in a way that leaves the question of what else she might be concealing.....
Employment consultant Ann Isreal gives some key advice worth reading, or, for me, worth filing away for the next time a student asks for some insight on how to tell an employer he or she previously failed a bar. (els)
July 08, 2005
Adding insult to injury?
The cost of taking the California Bar Exam will rocket up about 14 percent on January 1, 2006, reports Mike McKee in an article published by The Recorder.
The current applicant fee of $464 will rise to $529. Laptop users will pay $119, up from the current fee of $104.
The fee for the character and fitness determination will rise from $378 to $431. Registration fees will also rise. (els)
June 15, 2005
Unexpected Twist in the NY Bar Score Controversy
The NY Court of Appeals has decided to put the brakes on the graduated rise in the minimum passing score for the NY Bar Examination, an apparent response to criticism of the change.
The New York Law Journal reports today that New York Court of Appeals Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye said in a letter to two Senate committees, "We are distressed by the deep divisions that the subject has generated among the law schools, the Bar Association and the Bar Examiners...You have the Court's assurance that we will devote ourselves to repairing the rifts, beginning with efforts to work with the newly formed State Bar Association Special Committee."
While the minimum score will rise by 15 points with the upcoming July test, the effect of the score hike will be studied before the imposition of further increases in the minimum passing score. Incremental minimum score increases were scheduled for the following two summers, July 2006, July 2007. (els)(Thanks to my sharp RA, Meredith Strobridge, who found this moments, I believe, after it was posted).
June 07, 2005
Bar Curve Is Steeper in NY
Students studying for the NY Bar Examination this July will likely feel a heavier load. The minimum passing score just rose by fifteen points.
Criticism of the point change continues from the president of the New York Bar Association. A 13-member committee, including members of the bar association, law school deans, and bar examiners has been created to evaluate the relevance of the examination.
Read an article on the controversial change that appeared in The National Law Journal. (els) (Thanks to my research assistant MS for bringing this article to my attention).
A Blip in the Bar Rate
They really had nowhere to go but up.
California State Bar Officials recently announced that the pass rate for the February examination rose 4.7 percent over the previous year. The rate was still, gulp, 40 percent, or 1,810 of the 4,520 applicants who took the bar examination.
First-time applicants passed at a rate of 54.4 percent, which translated into 1,281 of the test takers.
Bar examiners are mystified, according to the story reported by The Recorder and available on law.com, "We're very happy that the pass rate went up...Whether this is a trend of not, I don't know," according to Jerome Braun, the State Bar's director of admissions.
(Thanks to my crack research assistant, Meredith Strobridge, for bringing this story to my attention)(els).
May 06, 2005
If you're looking for ways to improve the MPT workshop that you already offer for students preparing to take the bar examination or looking to devise one this summer, consider reviewing a primer on the topic. Suzanne Darrow-Kleinhaus, Assistant Professor of Legal Methods and Director of Academic Support Programs at Tuoro Law School, offers her suggestions for strategies to master the practical test in her article entitled, "Incorporating Bar Pass Strategies into Routine Teaching Practices," 37 Gonz. L. Rev. 17 (2001/2002). Professor Darrow-Kleinhaus identifies the skills tested on the MPT and offers some thoughtful suggestions for how students can complete the required task of writing a coherent analysis of a legal problem under the pressures of time. By clearly identifying the importance of reading directions, organizing the materials, writing clearly and with the proper tone, and following directions students can prepare themselves effectively by working through the myriad of examinations released by the National Conference of Bar Examiners and available for no charge on their website. Professor Darrow-Kleinhaus is the author of The Bar Exam in a Nutshell. (els)
May 04, 2005
Preps or Perps?
Complaint alleges prep courses perpetrated illegal acts
According to a recent "lawschool.com" press release, a complaint filed last week against BAR/BRI bar review, West Publishing Corporation, and Kaplan, Inc. in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California alleges that more than 300,000 lawyers and law students were each charged an estimated $1,000 extra for bar review courses.
The story was also carried by "dBusiness News," an online daily business news service.
The complaint reportedly alleges that "executives of BAR/BRI and Kaplan secretly agreed to a per se illegal market division," according to the lawschool.com story. (djt)
March 27, 2005
Bar Examination Resources
University of Dayton School of Law's Professor Vernellia Randall directs the school's Academic Excellence Program. Professor Randall's web pages (there must be hundreds of separate pages) are filled with information that is not just helpful, but critically important to law students and those who teach them.
On the series of pages beginning with "Passing the Bar," Professor Randall includes an array of links we ought to become familiar with. "This Site," she explains, "provides advice to law students and recent law school graduates on preparing for the bar including advice on how to take bar essay exams and multiple choice exams." That, my friends, is a very modest summary.
For example, under the heading "Other Bar Passage Resources," Professor Randall links to fourteen, other "resources." One link I found very helpful - not only for its California Bar information, but for the nationally applicable advice - is Attorney Travis A. Wise's well-designed California Bar Exam Primer site. A 2000 Santa Clara graduate, Mr. Wise provides an abundance of explanations and advice (including what the letters "PMBR" stand for).
If you find other bar prep web sites that would help our students and those who prepare them for bar examinations, please send them to Vernellia Randall to add to her growing list on the web site (if you include a "cc" to me, I may include the links on this Blog). Also, if you find Professor's Randall's pages and bar links to be a valuable resource, let her know. (djt)