Thursday, May 11, 2023

MPT advice, part 2: reading the task memo

This is part 2 in a series of posts with MPT advice. If you missed the first post in the series, an overview, from April 20, 2023, you might want to check it out. Today’s post will focus on how to do an in-depth, active read of the task memo, write your to-do list, set up your document, and get yourself prepared for an active read of the Library. But first, before you complete any practice MPTs, it is a good idea to take a moment to review what the MPT is designed to test. Once you refresh your understanding of the skills you need to showcase, it is easier to write a superior MPT answer.


Read carefully

Begin each MPT with a brief perusal of the table of contents, and then a careful reading of the task memo. Start at the very top, including the letterhead and the memo heading. These items will give you important contextual clues about the role you are playing in this MPT. Are you a judge’s clerk? A junior associate in a firm? An assistant district attorney? That information is implied in the letterhead and memo heading, so don’t skip them. Make sure you understand your role in this MPT world as you are fulfilling the request in your boss’s task memo.

Continue reading the task memo, paying particular attention to the last or second-to-last paragraph, where you typically learn the task type (are you writing a memo? demand letter? opinion letter? brief? etc.), and often the legal issues. Although older MPT task memos could run on for more than one page, more recent MPT task memos are typically only one page and contain the task type and assigned issues in the last or second-to-last paragraph. Keep an eye out for any language that is flagged with numbers, or with words like, “first, . . . ” and “second, . . . . ” When writers want to highlight the importance of material, they often number it. Such flags should cause you to really slow down and make sure you understand the language that follows it.


Make your to-do list

As you read the task memo, you should be asking yourself four questions, and writing the answers.

  1. What is the task type? And is it objective or persuasive?
  2. What are the legal issues? (These are generally whatever you are told to “analyze” or “argue,” or sometimes “address.”)
  3. Any details on what to include and exclude, to emphasize, or anything specific to cover?
  4. Any formatting instructions?

Let’s assume we represent the Jones family who live next door to the Smith family, and the last paragraph of the task memo says:

“Draft me a memo analyzing whether 1) the Smiths will be liable for noise nuisance if the Joneses sue, and 2) whether the Joneses will be likely to collect actual, double, or treble damages. You need not prepare a separate statement of facts, but in each part of the memorandum you should incorporate the relevant facts, analyze the applicable legal authorities, and explain how the facts and law affect your analysis. A carefully crafted subject heading should precede each discussion section. Assume that the potential buyers of the Joneses home walked away from deal explicitly because they did not want to live next door to the noisy Smith family.”

(Did you see how I flagged the legal issues with the “1)” and “2)”? You see that often in the task memos.)

Using this example above, your to-do list that looks like this:

  1. Objective memo
  2. Legal issues
    1. Will the Smiths be liable for noise nuisance?
    2. Can the Joneses collect actual, double, or treble damages?
  3. ASSUME: the noise from the party at the Smiths’ house caused the Joneses to lose the sale of their home
  4. Carefully crafted subject headings before each discussion

Eventually, after lots of practice, you may get to a point where you can stop writing your to-do list on your scratch paper, and instead you can just think it through. But in your early days of MPT practice, I encourage you to exercise the discipline to write it out, to get in the habit of asking yourself these questions each time.


Start filling in your answer (reasonable minds can differ)

Now that you have your to-do list, you are organized and ready to start typing in your answer document. Often, there is enough information to create a very bare-bones outline. If you are assigned a letter or a memo, put the letterhead at the top of the page.* Fill in all the other mindless, window-dressing items specific to that task type that make a memo look like a memo, and a letter look like a letter, etc.

Often the task memo identifies for you the specific legal issues you are asked to address, like in the example above. You should use this information to fill in the beginning of your substantive headings. In this example you would write:

A. Noise nuisance


B. Damages


Start formulating questions

It is now time to prepare yourself for an active reading of the Library. Generally, you should not expect the Library will make you a gift of clearly identifiable rules. You will have to use your legal analysis skills to dig the rules out of the cases and other authority. The easiest way to find the rules is to know what you are looking for, and the easiest way to know what you are looking for is to convert your legal issues into “when” questions.

In this example, you would take the assigned legal issue of “noise nuisance” and convert it into a question like, “When, or under what circumstances, will a court find neighbors to be liable for a noise nuisance?” For the damages issue, “When, or under what circumstances, will courts award actual, double, or treble damages for a noise nuisance?” Write these questions out on your scratch paper, right next to your to-do list. Keep these questions visible as you read the Library. If you feel yourself drifting off in space as you read, glance over at your questions and remember what you are looking for.


Next week

Next week I will explain what to do when you get to the Library, how to write a rule statement in four parts for the MPT, and how to formulate fact questions to help you do a careful and efficient read of the File. For now, work on understanding how to write a to-do list from a task memo, and converting legal issues into "when" questions.


* Some bar prep professionals think it a poor use of time to type letterhead on MPTs, and in one way I agree with that. Adding letterhead to your letters and memos will almost certainly not directly earn you points on the MPT, and it does use up some time. It doesn't score you points but it is a good way to get yourself typing something. Remember that for most bar exams, the MPT is the first component test you encounter, on the first day of the bar exam. If an examinee is going to freeze, it is likely to happen during the MPT. Training yourself to start with something simple like letterhead can break you out of that freeze. So, if you want to skip letterhead, feel free; there is a lot of good advice out there that encourages examinees to skip it. But if you think your nerves might overcome you on MPT day, it is a good habit to have. Maybe all your other legal reasoning and analysis has flown out the window, but you can at least type letterhead, and that will get you moving and lead you to the next step.



(Lisa DeLaTorre)

| Permalink


Post a comment