Thursday, August 20, 2020
It's been many months that some of our Spring 2020 graduates have been waiting to take postponed bar exams. Florida, for example, just recently postponed its postponed exam, from July to August and now to October. If that sounds exhaustingly frustrating, it is... So here's a suggestion for the many September/October bar takers that might just help rekindle a bit of the flames of learning:
Get your heads out of the books and instead take time each day to work through some of the latest current events because much that is in the news also relates to bar tested problem-solving.
For example, take today's federal court indictment following the early morning arrest of former White House adviser Steve Bannon on conspiracy charges: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-bannon-idUSKBN25G1J4. Try locating the indictment and the arrest warrant. Once found, here's a few things to ponder: (1) What authority if any does Congress have to adopt the criminal statutes that are the basis of today's indictment? (2) Did the federal government have probable cause to arrest Steve Bannon, and, if so, why? and, (3) What are the elements that the government must prove for the conspiracy charges?
Here's another possible bar-issue in the news: Many businesses and restaurants are delinquent on rent contracts due to the COVID-19 pandemic. And, some business owners are seeking rent abatement. Others are seeking reimbursement from their insurance contracts. https://www.forbes.com/sites/paulrosen/2020/03/26/what-happens-with-contracts-amid-the-covid-19-pandemic/#774454d342af These sorts of things raise a number of bar issues, such as, (1) What contract law applies to these contracts? (2) Do the defendants have any contract defenses, such as impossibility? and, (3) How should courts interpret force majeure clauses?
Finally, here's another news item to tickle a bit of bar exam intrigue. This case involves whether a lawyer has a defamation claim against an online reviewer when the review stated that the lawyer "needed to go back to law school." https://www.abajournal.com/news/article/need-to-go-back-to-law-school-comment-isnt-libelous-appeals-court-rules After reading the article, here's some thoughts to ask: (1) What are the elements of defamation? (2) If you were an appellate court judge, would you reverse the lower court's decision on whether the statement was actionable and why or why not? and, (3) Does the lawyer have any First Amendment issues as a member of the bar (a public officer of the bar?) and why or why not?
Of course, there are lots more issues in the news, from the COVID-19 pandemic to election interference to protester arrests to lawsuits against the President seeking TRO's and PI's, etc. Search them out. Find the civil or criminal complaints. Figure out whether the courts have personal jurisdiction and subject matter jurisdiction. Focus on the substantive elements. If it's a civil case, figure out if you could intervene as a party in the case. Work through how you would rule or litigate these matters. In short, this is not time to turn your backs on the news. Our world needs your voices now more than ever. So, over the course of the next month or two in preparation for postponed bar exams, feel free to take breaks from the books and take time to talk through and work out what's happening in the legal news of today. And in the process, you'll be learning more about the law. (Scott Johns).
P.S. Not sure how to get started, here's a helpful link with summaries of current legal news-making events: https://www.abajournal.com/news/
P.S.S. For entering first-year law students, taking a gander through the daily news in academic support groups can help bring life to the law, whether they are studying contracts, or torts, or constitutional law, for example.
Thursday, July 30, 2020
This week, a number of states were holding in-person bar exams, complete with formidable safety protocols as defenses. Nevertheless, a group of Colorado bar takers were notified shortly after completion of their in-person bar exams that they were in close proximity with a person who tested positive for COVID-19. Here are the initial details: https://www.cpr.org/2020/07/30/law-student-tests-positive-for-coronavirus-after-taking-colorado-bar-exam/. Previously, recent graduates from the state's two law schools along with many other people sent a petition to the Colorado Supreme Court seeking an alternative licensure pathway, namely, diploma privilege, arguing that conditions were unsafe for individuals to take in-person bar exams. https://www.denverpost.com/2020/07/07/colorado-bar-exam-july-coronavirus-covid-cu-du/.
Thursday, July 2, 2020
That's how Texas bar taker Claire Calhoun put it when describing what she and thousands like her face with the prospect of in-person bar exams in light of increasing incidences of COVID-19:
“We really, really hope and frankly need the bar examiners and the Texas Supreme Court to do something here to step in on our behalf, because it’s life versus licensure, and I don't think that's fair to make us pick." https://www.texastribune.org/2020/07/01/texas-bar-exam/.
It seems like Claire has been heard, at least in part. On July 2, 2020, the Texas Board of Law Examiners, in part due to calls from students such as Claire, has decided to recommend to the Texas Supreme Court that in-person bar exams be cancelled and replaced with an October 2020 remote online bar exam instead. Id. As of this writing, let's hope that the Texas Supreme Court has heeded Claire's warning too. Frankly, it's a choice that no law graduate ought be forced to make.
Now I know that some might say that that's a bit too dramatic. That Claire overstates the risk of harm. But as any bar taker can tell you, it's a real palpable foreseeable risk of harm, something that tort law might and ought to recognize. And, I don't think that Claire's concerns are that far fetched, because some states, seeming to recognize the tort risks at hand, are requiring bar takers to waive liability claims against bar examiners as a condition to sit for bar exams.
In my opinion, that's too much to ask of our future colleagues. Let me speak plainly. It's wrong, downright wrong, especially because the risk of harm is not just a risk that the bar takers and proctors are being asked to assume but it's a risk that bar takers will then be spreading to others who didn't assume that risk at all. That's just not fair or right.
But I'm not convinced that postponement to October 2020 for a remote online exam is right either. Here's why. At this point, with just over three weeks to the scheduled bar exam in July, most bar takers have been studying full-time since graduation in May. They've been planning and preparing for July bar exams. And, as cited in the Texas Tribune article, the financial impact of a 3-month postponement is not something to be taken lightly: “I specifically budgeted my whole summer to take this July bar,” [bar taker] Anastasia Bolshakov said. “None of us are working right now. We have no income. The money we had in May, that's been slowly depleting.” Id.
Listen again to the words of these two bar takers. Don't just read them. Listen to them. Take them to heart, or at least hear them out:
"Budgeted my whole summer."
"Life versus licensure."
Perhaps the risk of COVID-19 will not materialize such that the July and September 2020 bar exams can safely take place in person without putting bar takers, examiners, or the public at risk. If so, by all means have the bar exam.
But if not, let's not fail our most recent graduates by not being ready to immediately provide an alternative licensure path, without any delay at all. For some states, that might mean being ready to immediately transition to an online bar exam with materials and procedures ready to go, for the July 2020 bar exam. For other states, that might mean be ready to roll out a diploma licensure option for July 2020 bar takers.
As every pilot knows, no flight plan is complete if it doesn't plan for the possibility of a diversion to an alternate destination in case the weather turns sour or the destination airport closes.
But it seems like many states have no alternative bar exam plans at all. And, in my mind, postponement is not really a viable alternative plan because it's asking too much of those who have so little to give, especially when they've spent so much, over the course of the past three years, emotionally, mentally, and financially, to prepare for embarking on the profession of serving as attorneys. To not have a viable alternative plan for our most recent graduates, at this point of time in the summer, is to leave our bar takers suspended in the air, without any place to land.
Perhaps I am speaking out of turn. Perhaps states have alternative licensure mechanisms ready to go so that the July 2020 bar takers need not fear any delays whatsoever. If so, let them be known. Share them with your future colleagues.
But if not, reach out to them. Work with them, their law schools, and state bar associations and practitioners to develop and plan viable alternative licensure pathways that are ready to go if need be. After all, at this point, no one has been able to accurately predict that path of COVID-19, not even the scientific experts.
That suggests that the best laid plans must include ready-to-go alternatives, too. That's the only way to fly safely. And that's the only way to practice law wisely. So also, it's the only way to do justice to not only the public but also our most recent law school graduates. (Scott Johns).
P.S. Let me suggest two possible licensure alternatives.
• First, a remote online exam with law schools footing the bill to provide - as needed - stable internet and testing locations for individuals without such capabilities. I would envision a 3-hour open book written exam, composed of four (4) 30-minute essays and (one) 1 mini-performance test, drafted by local practitioners and courts and their law clerks. Such an exam could be easily prepared and logistically administered by state supreme courts with just under three weeks to go to the July bar exam.
• Second, a diploma licensure "plus" program. In the event that in-person exams must be postponed without an alternative remote exam, partner with jurists, practitioners, and faculty to host two-day online workshops, guided by these experts, in which bar applicants and attorneys join together to work through a number of legal problems. In shaping the online program, I would encourage state supreme courts to frame workshop problems around current events that raise issues from the bar tested-subjects, with the workshops implemented in lieu of the July bar exam, such that completion of the exam would result in the admittance to the bar.
Wednesday, July 1, 2020
So, most of you had a scheduled practice test this last week, or will have one soon. It’s likely you’re feeling many things, so let’s talk about what the score means, and what you can do.
First, the score tells you where you are NOW, not whether you will pass or fail. Before I tell you what you can do AFTER the exam, I want to tell you a story.
Once upon a time, there was a bar taker. Right around July 1st she took a practice exam from BarBri. This was so long ago that you had to do everything by hand, including the grading. As she graded, it slowly occurred to her that her score was not great. Really not great. She got 90. Not 90%, but 90 questions right out of 200. Yikes. And she thought she was good at multiple choice. This came as quite a blow to her ego, and she was very distraught. There might have been some wallowing, crying, and ice cream.
So, after some wallowing, she did what I’m going to tell you to do, and ended up getting a 148 raw on the actual MBE. I only point this out because that’s an increase in 58 points. And trust me, if she can do it, you can too.
So, first and foremost, remember that the practice test is PRACTICE. It’s designed to help you learn. You have 4 weeks, and in some cases more, before the bar exam. That means you are still learning!
Next, if you didn’t do well, allow yourself some time to wallow. Grab the ice cream, go for a run, clear your head. Do what you need to do. Then come back, and let’s assess and learn.
First, get out an excel spreadsheet or make a chart in a word doc. You’re going to track what you did wrong, and what you did right.
Obviously, track which topics were better and worse. Did you get more wrong in contracts than torts? But, go a step further, and track the subtopics. So many people will come up to me, frustrated that they aren’t doing well in a particular subject. But what PARTS of that subject are you struggling with? For contracts are you getting all of the damages questions wrong, but doing fine with formation? This matters for two reasons. First, it matters because it helps you decide where to spend your time. Don’t just think about spending your time with “contracts”, but focus it further. In addition, if you notice you are struggling with damages, don’t assume that you don’t know the law. Line up some wrong questions and see if you notice a pattern. Is it the way the question is being asked? Or are you struggling to pick the right answer out of 2?
That brings us to the next important step of tracking. WHY did you get the answer wrong? Don’t just assume it was the law. Could it be something else? Were you reading carefully? If not, mark that down as “RC” or reading comprehension. Did you miss the law being tested? Perhaps you feel confident that you know the rule against perpetuities, but you didn’t recognize that it was being tested in this question. Were you second guessing yourself? Did you have the right answer and change it? Did you miss an important fact?
The point is to look for patterns. Everyone assumes they don’t know the law, but you graduated from law school! No small feat! That means you know something, I promise. So, look for other patterns. For example, most of the time when I get multiple choice questions wrong it’s careful reading. I read quickly and miss important facts, or don’t pay close enough attention to the call of the question. But now that I know this about myself, I can watch for it and remedy it. I also tell students who find they second guess themselves frequently to do the math – what would your score have been if you had NEVER second guessed yourself? If your score would have increased, use that as motivation to NOT second guess yourself. The point is, knowing the patterns help, and will help you study more effectively.
Also, if the law is the reason you got it wrong, be specific. Is it that you didn’t remember the law? Or that you didn’t understand it? Your answer to this changes your review. If you just failed to remember an element or an exception, working on memory will help. But students often assume this is the fix to all things, when in fact, they don’t fully understand the law. If that’s the case, merely memorizing the law will not help you get the question right. To test this, use your outline. With the law in front of you, can you get it right? If the answer is no, it’s not memory, and you need to look elsewhere.
As you track, think of a takeaway per question. So, if I got 90 right on my practice test, that’s 110 opportunities to learn something new. Yes, I know, cheesey. But it works, I promise. Remember 58 points! So, if I can learn 110 new things, that’s an increase in your points for sure. Statistically, about 20-30 points. Your takeaway should be something that you can use on multiple questions. It can be a reminder that when a question asks you for the BEST defense, it doesn’t mean defendant will win. It can be putting a nuance or an exception on a flashcard. It can be the reason why one answer is better than another. For example, if a contracts question asks about breach of contract, an answer choice that talks about reliance or estoppel will be wrong, because that’s not a contract.
The point is to learn something from each question. I promise, it WILL work. Don’t just go back to your outlines and redo them, or make them prettier. Don’t just review law or re-watch videos. Dive into those questions and really learn.
A few last multiple choice notes. It’s important to practice using pencil and scantron (actually bubbling in answers) before the test, potentially multiple times. It’s also important to practice in timed conditions. Make the test conditions as test like as possible – limit bathroom breaks, don’t drink water, or eat. Set a timer. If you plan on using ear plugs, wear them.
If you are struggling with multiple choice in general, our very own Steven Foster has a CALI lesson for that! https://www.cali.org/lesson/18100
Finally, good luck, and remember practice makes perfect!
Friday, June 26, 2020
Let’s talk about what’s been going on with the bar, and what our students have been dealing with. I would like to stress that these recent graduates will be the newest members of our profession. We owe it to them to care about their mental and physical well being.
First, back in March and April, there was uncertainty about the bar in general. Would it happen? Would it be postponed? While the class of 2020 was already dealing with moving classes online, dealing with non graduation, losing jobs they had already secured, now there is the uncertainty of the bar exam.
Sure, we were all dealing with uncertainty at that point, and still are. But I feel like this is different. This is going from looking forward to celebrating something you’ve worked so hard for, and potentially having your future figured out, to complete uncertainty.
In late April, and early May, states started announcing their decisions. Some were going to go ahead with July, some were postponing until the Fall. For those states that postponed, this meant students were now burdened with the stress of potentially changing housing plans, or figuring out how to finance their life (you know, a roof over their head and food to eat) for two extra months.
Added to that, some states like Rhode Island, didn’t even announce a decision until June! Leaving students wondering if there would be a bar exam to sit for, and if not where might they take the bar?
In the midst of all of this some states were restricting seats, leaving students to wonder if they would even get to take the bar exam. And oh right, the fees paid were non refundable. Because hundreds of dollars is nothing to a student, right?
Now, added to all of this is the fact that it’s almost July, Covid-19 is still spreading, and in most states the cases are rising. But some states plan to go ahead with the July exam. With hundreds of people in a testing site. And no guarantee that they can provide for safe accommodations. In fact, multiple states have said that masks will not be allowed while testing, and some states are requiring test takers to sign waivers.
Yes, we all had to take the bar, yes, it’s hard for everyone. But we didn’t have to deal with this. We didn't have to wonder if we'd contract a potentially deadly virus. (On a side note, yes, the young people can die from Covid, and not everyone taking the bar exam is young. On top of that, let's not forget that many of our bar takers might be at high risk, despite age)
Students don’t know if they’ll have seats. Students don’t know if they’ll be safe. Students don’t know if they are risking their health and lives in order to be licensed. This is too much to put on the newest members or our profession.
Also, at least 3 states have announced that test takers must quarantine prior to taking the bar. While I appreciate this from a health and safety stand point, most bar takers can not afford to take stay in a hotel for 14 days. And, if they choose to not take the bar, they’re not getting a refund.
However, I think someone preparing for the bar, sums it up a bit better than I can. (I have linked instead of sharing every tweet)
This is a really great and informative thread, that gives us insight into what students are going through. I haven't put every tweet here, because it's long. But please go to the link to read all of it.
Students are worried about their health. They are worried about their livelihood.
There are so many attorneys out there with a “life was rough for me, so it should be for you too” attitude. They have literally told these students to suck it up and deal with it. But none of us, I promise, have had to deal with this. This is much more than the usual stress that bar students are under, and we need to recognize that.
I’m at a loss, personally. I can’t imagine the stress that this class is under. There is nothing I can do individually but advocate for this class and support them. And I think, at the very least, we should all be supportive and empathetic, and understand that what we are asking of these bar takers is simply too much.
Thursday, June 18, 2020
With some states moving to online bar exams, four (4) academic support educators have teamed up with the ABA Journal to share top-notch tips for expertly preparing for success on online bar exams. Here's the link to read the expert suggestions from Prof. Goldie Pritchard (Michigan State), ABA author Sara Berman (AccessLex Institute), Prof. Courtney Lee (University of the Pacific - McGeorge), and Prof. Joe Regalia (UNLV): https://www.abajournal.com/academic-support-experts-offer-advice/.
Monday, June 15, 2020
One year ago this month, I wrote my first post for the ASP blog. And while it seems like only yesterday that I began my quest to bombard readers with my weekly musings, I have decided to step aside to make room for other voices to be heard through this forum. Today will be my last post as a regular contributing editor, and I will use this opportunity to reflect on the wonderful learning and growth experience that the year has brought.
I’ve learned that:
Education and advocacy are not parallel paths, but rather an important intersection at which the most effective teachers are found. I left a high stakes commercial litigation practice for a role in academic support. I naively believed that an effective teacher had to be dispassionate and objective and more focused on pedagogy than on legal advocacy or controversial topics. However, I grew to realize that the very skills that made me an effective lawyer still guided me in the classroom to teach my students and to open their minds to new perspectives. My realization was affirmed when ASP whiz, Kirsha Trychta, reminded us that the courtroom and the law school classroom are not that different.
Anger can have a productive place in legal education and scholarship. I don’t have to conceal or suppress my passion to be effective as a scholar. I am angry on behalf of every summer (or fall) 2020 bar taker. I am bothered by states that are so tethered to tradition that they refuse to consider the obstacles and challenges of preparing for a bar exam during a pandemic. It troubles me to see law schools close the doors to their libraries and study spaces, and yet expect 2020 bar takers to perform without the benefit of quiet study space and access to internet and printing. I am flat out disgusted by the notion of forcing law students to assume the risk of death to take the bar exam. And I waive my finger to shame the states that have abandoned exam repeaters and that waited or are still waiting to announce changes to the exam dates and format after the bar study period has begun. These states have essentially moved the finish line mid-race, and our future lawyers deserve better. But thanks to the vocal efforts of others who have channeled their righteous anger into productive advocacy and scholarship, I’ve seen states like Indiana, Michigan, Nevada, Utah, and Washington emerge as progressive bar exam leaders in response to a crisis.
Silence is debilitating. Like so many others, I was taught to make myself smaller, to nod in agreement, and avoid topics that would make others uncomfortable. The untenured should be seen, not heard. I am the person that I am because of my collective experiences. Stifling my stories and my diverse perspective would be a disservice to my calling and to the next generation of lawyers who need to be met with a disheartening dose of racial reality. As soon as I showed the courage to speak up and step out of other people’s comfort zones, I found that I was not alone. My ASP colleagues, like Scott Johns, Louis Schulze, and Beth Kaimowitz and others, were right there speaking out too.
Glass ceilings become sunroofs once you break through them. In the last few years, I have seen more and more of my ASP colleagues earn tenure or assume tenure track roles. And while a job title or classification, will never measure one’s competence or value, our communal pushes for equity are visibly evident. ASP authors continue to make meaningful contributions to scholarship in pedagogy and beyond. Thank you to Renee Allen, Cassie Christopher, DeShun Harris, Raul Ruiz, and the many, many, many others who I can’t name but whose work I’ve read and admired. With varied voices, we are paving the way to enhanced recognition and status in the academy, and with mentorship and writing support we are forming the next wave of formidable ASP bloggers, scholars, textbook authors, and full professors.
June 15, 2020 in About This Blog, Academic Support Spotlight, Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exams, Current Affairs, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, News, Publishing, Weblogs, Writing | Permalink | Comments (0)
Sunday, June 14, 2020
The Black Lives Matter movement has swept the country and the legal profession. While our country confronts dual public health crises of racism and pandemic, our law school graduates are faced with an unknown future with the legal profession and the bar exam. As academic support professionals, we have a role to play in helping graduates pass the bar and participate in transforming the law so that Black lives matter.
Many graduates are too distraught to face the bar exam, and we know they need hours of focused study and rule memorization to pass. We also know that very few of the rules they will be memorizing are designed to dismantle racism. In fact, many of the rules tested on the bar exam entered through the common law at a time when Black people had “no rights which the white man was bound to respect”. Dred Scott v Sanford, 60 US 393, 407 (1857).
To pass the bar exam, law school graduates need to understand that the law does not have a race-neutral history. When Black graduates, and graduates from low-income and non-white communities, try to answer bar exam questions based on their own values and experience, they often get the answers wrong. When they are taught to see the questions, not from their own point of view, but from the point of view of those who wrote the rules, they often do better.
We should help our students memorize rules for the bar exam, but we also need to help them understand the origins of these rules in enabling institutional racism. Many of the bar exam questions are focused on issues related to large corporations, exchanges between merchants, and the interests of wealthy clients. With a legal history of racially restrictive covenants and segregation, Black people currently have less than ten percent of the wealth of whites. Few questions on the bar exam relate to police brutality, racial profiling, civil rights, low-income tenants, poverty law, employment law, consumer protection, or racial discrimination.
To make Black lives matter in the legal profession, we need to actively work to change the law school experience and the bar exam. Changing the content and the character of the bar exam is one step on this path. We must help our courts and bar examiners to become more responsive to the legal needs of Black communities.
When confronted with disparate pass rates for Black law school graduates, bar examiners often respond that the exam is race-neutral. In employment discrimination law under the Civil Rights Act, if a policy has a disparate impact, it must be justified as a business necessity. However, this standard has not been applied to the bar exam. The National Conference of Bar Examiners’ own studies indicate great disparities between what the bar exam tests and the skills lawyers need. These disparities often disadvantage Black law graduates and serve as a barrier to access to the legal profession. Rather than justifying these inequalities, we should find ways to eliminate them.
At this time, we must help our law graduates pass the bar exam as it is now. In order to pass this year’s bar exam, they should understand that the rules of law do not have a race-neutral history. In the future, we must also work together to create a path to the legal profession where Black lives matter.
(Guest Blogger - Beth Kaimowitz)
Wednesday, June 3, 2020
Dear Bar Takers,
I’d like to talk to you about breaks. I see you. You are overwhelmed, you are stressed. Some of you don’t even know if you have a seat. Let me stress – I see you.
In addition, I’d like to acknowledge that there are a million things making it hard to focus right now. I’ve been struggling to focus, and I’m not studying for an exam. The non bar exam world is causing a great deal of anxiety, anger, sadness, and fear. For some, more than others. It’s understandable to have those emotions, and not feel like you can 100% focus on the exam in front of you, especially if you aren’t even certain when you’ll take it. That’s all valid.
So, I want to talk about breaks, and why they are important. Taking frequent breaks helps improve your memory and focus, and helps reduce stress. Basically, research tells us that your brain can only focus for so long. It doesn’t matter how studious or determined you are, the human brain will not stay focused for 8 hours straight. In fact, if you aren’t taking practice exams to work on your stamina, I suggest taking a short break every hour or so. This is not my advice, this is advice from the neuroscientists.
Specifically, if we don’t take breaks, our brain gets fatigued. Once an hour, if not more, stand up and stretch. Or go for a brief walk. Switch your focus. All of these things help you improve memory and focus.
Also, taking breaks for mental health is ok. In fact, it’s encouraged. If you are getting frustrated with a topic of a question, take a break. Walk away and grab lunch. Take a walk outside. Just take a break from the frustration. If you push through, and continue to attempt to study while frustrated, your brain is not processing the information. It’s also ok to plan for entire mental health days. Your brain might need a longer break, and that’s ok too. If you are struggling to focus, maybe current events or family worries are weighing on your mind, step away. Do something for yourself and come back to studying later.
Finally, taking breaks for your physical health is ok and encouraged as well. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had students get sick, maybe a bad cold for example, and they refuse to take a break. Not only are they not letting their body heal, which is not ideal for the long run, but your brain isn’t as focused as it could be, nor is it properly processing information. It’s far better to take a few days off, fully heal from the cold or other illness, and then dive back in feeling better.
So, in summary, while it is important to get in enough study hours – which are, let’s be honest, many – you owe it to yourself to take care of yourself. This includes breaks, and taking time for yourself. It’s also ok to be human, and give yourself permission to have unfocused days.
In addition, reminding yourself of your motivation is going to help improve your memory and learning. Write a litter to yourself, or a post it to put on your laptop. Why did you go to law school? Why do you want to take the bar exam? Yes, I know, you want to take the bar exam so you’re licensed. But why do you want to be licensed. Keeping your goals and motivation in sight, literally, will help you focus and learn.
I’d also like to stress the importance of a different kind of break. We learn best by doing different things. So, don’t just focus on video lectures. Or do an entire day of MBE questions. (Unless you are taking a practice test.) Mix it up. Spend 30 minutes writing an essay, and then review it. But then, do 15 MBE questions. Then watch parts of a video. The more you jump from one item to another, the better your brain is working, and the less likely you are to suffer from fatigue and lack of focus. The same goes for the subjects. Many students think they should spend a day, or even a week, on only one subject. But you actually stretch your brain, so to speak, by doing a mix of subjects.
Finally, despite my profession as bar professor type person, I can assure you that the bar exam is not the most important thing in the world. It really isn’t. Yes, you need to pass it to be licensed. And I want you to be licensed! But it doesn’t define you as a person, and if you fail, or have to take time off, that won’t even define you as an attorney. So, what I’m saying is that if this is not the right time for you to take the bar exam, that’s ok. There is no shame in that. You need to do what works best for you, and if that means delaying the exam because you are afraid for your health, you are focused on other things, too anxious or unfocused right now, or any number of reasons, the exam will still be there in 2021.
No matter what you choose, good luck! I look forward to seeing you as a colleague soon.
Sunday, May 31, 2020
COVID-19 continues to cause problems throughout the US. I don't want to minimize others' struggles, but the effect on the bar exam is still yet to be determined. Some states' postponement until September should help social distancing to keep students safe, but will it decrease MBE scores for July takers?
The MBE is scaled based on anchor questions. Anchor questions are questions that are used across multiple tests. The NCBE won't state how many anchor questions are on the 200 question test, even when directly asked at their conference for law schools. My best estimate is between 50 and 60 questions are anchor questions. Anchor questions help produce scaled MBE scores. Scaling attempts to ensure a score in one year is equivalent to the same score in other years. A basic explanation of scaling is the NCBE compares the scores of current takers as a whole on the anchor questions to previous years. They then conclude whether the group of takers is stronger or weaker than previous years. The MBE is then graded as a whole considering how the takers as a whole did on the full exam compared to previous years. The process determines the difficulty of the test and produces the scale.
The scaling process makes assumptions about the candidate pool based on scores on the anchor questions. With numerous bar exams postponed to September, the question becomes whether the different candidate pool will change the assumption about the quality of takers.
I think the clear answer is yes, scores will be effected, and the scores will be lower. 9 out of the top 11 and 21 of the top 31 US News Ranked Law Schools are located in states postponing the bar exam. I will acknowledge that US News Rankings are a poor way to rate schools. However, the reliance on the LSAT has relevance here. The NCBE states the LSAT correlates to MBE scores (they gave the precise relationship at the aforementioned conference for law schools). If students with the highest LSAT scores are not taking the exam until September, the July takers will appear to be weaker than previous years. Even if those same postponing states include students with low scores (ie - California with non-ABA school takers), the pool itself will not have the outlier high MBE scores. The risk is significant that scores will be effected merely by the applicant pool.
The NCBE may correct for this phenomenon. They could wait until after the September exam to score the test. They could have information that those states would not affect the general average of the pool. However, the NCBE is so opaque that we have no idea what they plan to do to correct for the potential problem. They could have supported any number of alternatives to the bar exam and MBE this summer. They chose to stand by the current bar exam in a pandemic when even the most basic understanding of scaling raises serious concerns about scores on the July exam. I would call on examinees to demand answers, but I witnessed numerous student groups around the country be completely ignored by state bars. Now is the time for Supreme Courts to begin understanding the mechanics of the bar and demand more from the NCBE. As of now, I truly believe some July takers will be unsuccessful solely based on NCBE practices and not competency to practice law.
Thursday, May 28, 2020
That might be an overreach. But not by much. I only witnessed - at the most - 3 different flowers along the nearby hiking trail. Another hiker, who I met along the way, exploded with joy that she had spotted 44 different flowers along the same identical path, many of which were rarely seen during the short Colorado spring season. Same path; different eyes.
That experience left me wondering what else I am missing in this journey of life. Much, I suspect. Especially in these times with much of my face hidden behind a bandana. You see, I had a different purpose in mind on the hiking trail. And that resulted in a different pace and a much different outcome.
My fellow hiker's words hit home with respect to bar prep. Much of the colloquial wisdom is to practice testing yourself, constantly, as you prepare for your bar exam. Watch the clock, and my oh my, certainly don't take a timeout to research a bit of law when you are stumped. But, if in your bar prep you are driven by working the clock, you'll miss much. And what you miss is the opportunity to learn to improve critical reading and problem-solving skills because developing those skills takes lots of time and concentration - just like my fellow hiker spotting 44 flowers in beautiful bloom along the trail.
Let me share a secret. Rare is it that people run out of time on the bar exam. Oh it happens. But it's not because they didn't practice with the clock. Rather, it's often because the gambled with proven strategies to tackle their bar exams. They grabbed hold of the essays and then spent precious time looking for their favorites. Or, they hit the multiple-choice bubbling along the way while leaving many answer choices blank, with a long list of questions that they'd like to come back to, in the event that they have more time left at the end. On the bar exam, you don't have time to look at questions twice (or even more). Rather, just solve them one-at-a-time as they appear in the materials.
I know, you're saying, "Well, how am I going to get faster if I don't practice with the clock?" I'm not saying never practice with the clock, but the time to do so is much later, mostly only with mock bar exams, and mostly only in the last two weeks or so. In my experience, if you work on getting faster, you'll be super-fast but also often super-wrong because you haven't worked on seeing the patterns and observing the commas, the phrases, and the many nuances that are the heart of doing well on the bar exams.
Let me make it concrete. I have never seen a person fail the bar exam because they didn't know enough law or weren't really speedy enough. Rather, when people do not pass the bar exam, they tend to write about issues that weren't asked by the problems. That's because they worked mostly for speed through as many problems with goal of constantly testing themselves. "Am I passing yet? Is that good enough? I've got to get up that trail, so to speak, as fast as possible."
Instead, let go of the clock. Spend time in the midst of the problems. Question the questions. Puzzle over them. Ponder and probe the language, the phraseology, the paragraph breaks, and the format of the questions. In short, for the first six weeks of bar prep, practicing problems to learn with just an occasional check-in mock bar exam to see how you are doing. That way you'll be sure to see what's hidden in plain sight. And, that's the key to doing well on the bar exam. To locate and expose, what one of my recent students brilliantly called the "undertones" of the problems...that are really in plain sight...if only we take the time to learn to see.
(Scott Johns - University of Denver).
Wednesday, May 20, 2020
The AALS Section on Academic Support is pleased to announce a 2020 “Final Fridays” Summer Webinar Series. The webinars will be held on the final Friday of May, June, and July. The first webinar—to be held on Friday, May 29—is titled “Supporting Bar Exam Takers.” On June 26 we will discuss “Supporting Each Other and Ourselves.” Then, on July 31, we will turn our attention to “Supporting our New and Returning Students this Fall.”
Registration is free and open to all. The webinars will also be available for on-demand viewing later, via the members-only section of the AALS Section on Academic Support webpage. The benefit of participating live is the ability to ask questions of our panelists and to engage in the breakout sessions.
On Friday, May 29 at 1:00 EST, panelists Antonia Miceli (Saint Louis), Britany Raposa (Roger Williams), and Joni Wiredu (American) will provide suggestions on how ASP’ers can support both July and September studiers simultaneously this summer. Kirsha Trychta (West Virginia) will moderate. In addition to multiple exam dates, the pandemic has created several other unique and novel challenges for bar takers this year. Following the 60-minute panel presentation, attendees will have the option to participate in one of three breakout sessions:
- Social distancing measures during the bar exam, including mandatory quarantines
- Limited seating and priority seating concerns
- Limited licensure and diploma privilege options
Each breakout session will be a roundtable discussion engaging all session attendees. To attend the May panel presentation and/or breakout sessions, follow the Zoom invitations below Additional invitations for June and July will be sent later.
The AALS Section on Academic Support Executive Board
Chair Jamie A. Kleppetsch, DePaul University College of Law
Chair-Elect Melissa Hale, Loyola University Chicago School of Law
Secretary Kirsha Weyandt Trychta, West Virginia University College of Law
Treasurer Joe Buffington, Albany Law School
Committee Member Afton R. Cavanaugh, St. Mary's University of San Antonio School of Law
Committee Member Maryann Herman, Duquesne University School of Law
Committee Member Zoe E. Niesel, St. Mary's University of San Antonio School of Law
Committee Member Herbert N. Ramy, Suffolk University Law School
AALS Webinar Series Zoom Invitations
“Supporting Bar Exam Takers on Multiple Timelines”
May 29, 2020
1:00 – 3:00 p.m. EST
Join Panel Presentation
Meeting ID: 928 8533 0059
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Join Breakout A: Social Distancing Measures
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Join Breakout B: Limited Seating and Priority Seating
Meeting ID: 985 7952 4155
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Join Breakout C: Limited Licensure
Meeting ID: 910 4928 6166
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Tuesday, May 19, 2020
In a normal year, my students would all have begun their bar preparation yesterday, coasting on their post-graduation-ceremony momentum right into a seat in front of the first of many lecturers. But in New York, and more than a third of all U.S. jurisdictions (in which -- again, in a normal year -- more than half of all July examinees would be sitting for the exam), the date of the bar examination has been postponed for six weeks or more, leaving bar students in those jurisdictions with the gift they hate most of all: uncertainty.
What is to be done with all this extra time? Bar preparation companies cannot agree: some are simply administering their typical ten-week program, just starting it six weeks later than usual, while others have reworked their program schedule, starting it earlier and drawing it out over a longer period, but with shorter study days. Employers, many contending with their own virus-induced crises, have added variables to the new graduates' calculations, some allowing their new employees to start early and then take time off, others expecting hirees to adhere to their original early-August start dates, and still others unnervingly withdrawing their employment offers indefinitely. Even we bar support specialists can only make well-educated guesses about how to make use of six extra weeks. We have no data, no direct experience of how a delay like this will affect individual students or the testing cohort as a whole. How much more study can a student put in without burning out? Should the extra time be spread across all aspects of bar study, or should certain skills or subjects receive more attention? Will MBE scores increase overall for those who take the test in September? Decrease? Will the bell curve spread out? Will this hurt or help examinees?
Sensibly, 43 more days of prep time should be seen as a boon. In a normal year for bar study, isn't time the most precious resource of all? In my discussions with students, I have suggested they think of this extra time the way they might think of an unexpected financial windfall. You don't have to spend it all in one place. You might devote a large chunk of it to bar study -- that is, after all, the primary focus of the summer -- but how you specifically budget it depends on your own circumstances. An examinee facing financial pressures might choose to work for a few weeks, then begin studying a few weeks early. Someone eager to get started studying might begin this week, but set aside a week or two, at strategically placed spots on the calendar, to put study aside, connect with family and friends, or do whatever else helps them refill their gas tank. It's important not to let the time slip by unnoticed -- it would be bad to turn off the TV one night near the end of June and realize you had not done any bar study -- and that's why it's important to budget the time and actually create a schedule. And that, for some, is what seems to turn this temporal windfall into a vexation. In order to budget, you have to make choices.
No one wants their bar prep period to feel like playing endless rounds of "The Lady or the Tiger?" At every step: choose the right path, and you will be rewarded with contented knowledge and testing skills; choose the wrong path, and you will be mauled by a ravenous UBE with MPT fangs and MBE claws. In a normal year, examinees only have to be certain that the regimented bar study course they have chosen, which has worked for thousands of examinees before them, will continue to reliably work for them. This summer, though, because so much is unregimented, some examinees are anxious about being uncertain about so much more. Am I studying enough? Am I studying too much? Am I studying too early? Am I studying the right things, in the right way, for the right amount of time?
Two propositions can help people in such a tizzy of uncertainty. First, assure them that they are not feeling this uncertainty because of some character flaw that prevents them from making definitive choices. They are not losing their heads while all about them are keeping theirs. This is an inherently uncertain situation -- we can't even be assured the exam will actually be administered in September! -- and so there is no single "correct" choice. The best they can do is what they've been training to do for the past three years: exercise good judgment based on competent authority and relevant facts. As long as they are not just guessing, as long as they are talking to us and their mentors and their instructors and applying what they learn to what they already know about themselves and the task before them, they can at least make a good choice.
Second, help them subdue the perception that they are overwhelmed by uncertainty by reminding them of what is certain. The content and structure of the bar examination remains the same (well, except in Indiana), as do generally those of the reputable bar courses designed to prepare examinees for the test. They still have their law degrees, and the skill, intelligence, and diligence that helped them earn those degrees. They have a community of classmates, instructors, and mentors who they can rely on to share perspective and feedback on the decisions they do make. They have a certain task, they have certain abilities, and they have certain resources. In the face of uncertainty, those are best certainties to have.
Thursday, May 14, 2020
It's in the moments of fiery crises that heroism is revealed.
I think of our students, heroes everyone of them, finding within the resiliency and creativity to successfully adapt to online learning. I think of the academic support community and law school faculty and staff, springing into action, resolutely empowering novel ways to encourage vibrant learning despite the difficulties. I think of the many workers - across all walks of life - giving of themselves, in the front lines all of them.
It's in these hard spots of life, the difficulties and trials, in which our true beings are revealed, unmasked so to speak.
But there's more unmasking to be done. And quickly too. That's because many of our students have just finished their law school studies and are ready to graduate. Ready to move onto the next step. Ready to serve and contribute to the world.
Yet many states are postponing bar exams with no certainty that latter dates will be any better - health-wise - for holding in-person bar exams.
However that's not the situation that's just been decided by the Indiana Supreme Court. Indiana is moving forward this July 2020 with a one-day online bar exam. And it looks like Nevada might be joining the movement to an online exam too. And one state, Utah, has taken an even bolder approach in implementing an emergency diploma privilege. https://www.law.com/2020/05/08/in-a-first-indiana-will-hold-one-day-online-bar-exam-in-july/?slreturn=20200414232636; https://www.nvbar.org/nevada-supreme-court-seeks-comments-by-may-14-re-modification-to-july-bar-exam/
Nevertheless, back in April in a white paper, the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) brushed aside the possibility of online exams or diploma privilege, arguing that online exams were unworkable and that the diploma privilege was not beneficial to the public good. http://www.ncbex.org/pdfviewer/?file=%2Fdmsdocument%2F239.
When I applied to law school (and for the bar exam), there were no online applications. It just couldn't be done. But oh how times change, if only we are willing, courageous, and creative. Now, I doubt one can apply for law school save through an online application. The same goes, I suspect, for most bar exam applications. It's all online now. Except for the bar exam itself.
The only thing that limits us to the present is us.
It's not too late for New York, or California, or any other jurisdiction to implement a one-day online bar exam this July.
But that takes removing the masks that so often keep us living in the present, forever failing to see the future. And, to be honest, living in the present, when the present of the past no longer exists due to COVID-19, is not really living in the present. It's living behind the mask of the past.
The next step is for you - state supreme courts and jurists. We would like join with you, and local and state bar associations and practitioners, to move forward thus summer, whether that's with an online bar exam or with diploma privilege. The choice is yours. (Scott Johns).
Wednesday, May 13, 2020
Hello everyone, I was asked to share the letter below with you all. it's from AASE, regarding Standard 316. A pdf copy will also be on the AASE website soon.
Re: Association of Academic Support Educators Position on ABA Standard 316
Respected Members of the Council:
On behalf of the Association of Academic Support Educators (“AASE”), we are writing to join
the Society for American Law Teachers (“SALT”) in requesting that the Council suspend
enforcement of ABA Standard 316 (concerning ultimate bar passage). AASE is a non-profit
organization made up of nearly 300 academic support professionals from more than 180 law
schools in the United States and Canada. Our mission is to foster and promote the professional
development of our members and to encourage research-based teaching methods so our
members can help law students reach their full potential—including graduating, passing the bar
exam, and practicing law.
For the reasons stated below, we believe the Council should suspend temporarily the
enforcement of ABA Standard 316. ABA Standard 316 requires “at least 75 percent of a law
school’s graduates in a calendar year who sat for a bar examination must have passed a bar
examination administered within two years of their date of graduation.” As a graduate’s bar
passage from any state applies towards that school’s ultimate bar passage rate, Standard 316
presumes and relies upon stable, predictable, and regular administrations of the bar exam in all
jurisdictions. And it presumes, at the very least, that law graduates will have prepared for the
bar exam under stable, predictable, and normal study conditions. Due to the advent of the
COVID-19 global health crisis, these presumptions could be no further from reality.
The COVID-19 pandemic has thoroughly disrupted and destabilized the established semiannual
administration of the bar exam throughout the United States. Many, if not most,
jurisdictions already have conceded that regular administration of the July 2020 exam is no
longer possible and have delayed administration of the exam. Moreover, given the uncertainties
surrounding recovery from this health crisis, normal administration of the September 2020
(rescheduled), February 2021, and even the July 2021 exams may be equally unlikely.
In addition to the cancellation or rescheduling of 2020 exam administrations, some states also
have adopted rules that will prioritize who may and may not take the exam, using geographic
location of the candidate’s law school or their state of residency. A few states allow examinees
to select one of two available dates, other states will divide their bar applicants into two
disparate settings spaced five weeks apart. These first-come first-served rules, or lottery-style
selection processes, adds to the growing uncertainty and anxiety that has become associated
with July 2020 bar exam. In addition to the anxiety this creates, the timelines also may present
financial hardship to many recent law graduates, making it even more difficult for at-risk
graduates to pass the bar exam. The Council should take into account that the constantlyshifting
bar exam landscape—this force majeure—will make it difficult for students to prepare
and perform as effectively as they otherwise might. So much of a graduate’s bar exam
performance is out of their control. The same is true for law schools.
AASE’s members, who have dedicated themselves to assist law students and recent law school
graduates in preparing for the bar exam, likewise are struggling to advise students in light of the
mounting uncertainty. We cannot advise students when to begin bar preparations because
neither we nor our students knows decisively whether they will sit for an exam in July or
September. We cannot advise our students how to prepare for the bar exam because some states
will offer the exam in a shortened or online format that we have not seen. Some states have
advised only that the exam will be held in September online but have not provided any
guidance on what that exam will entail. Due to the lottery-style bar rules, many graduates may
not even know where they are taking the exam. And most concerning, we cannot advise our
students as to what they can do to mitigate the risk of being exposed to the coronavirus during
an in-person exam administration.
In light of these concerns, the most reasonable approach is for the Council to suspend Standard
316 to account for this unprecedented situation that adversely impacts every planned 2020 bar
taker as well as the faculty members and academic support professionals who support them.
While we respect the Council’s desire to ensure that law schools are in fact producing graduates
capable of passing a bar exam, it is unreasonable to impose the same standard for bar passage in
an environment completely unlike any seen in our lifetimes.
We endorse SALT’s position that law graduates will have faced unprecedented challenges in
the months leading up to the exam and that, in this climate, overall bar passage rates will bear
little relation to the quality of the graduates or their respective law schools. Instead, bar passage
rates will reflect the impact that COVID-19 disruptions had on the bar takers individually and in
the aggregate. For example, while the impact will be widespread, it is likely to be more acute
for particular geographic regions hit hardest by the virus, including California, Illinois,
Massachusetts, New York, and Washington, states with disproportionately high numbers of law
schools and prospective bar takers. In addition, early data seem to show that the virus has a
greater impact on people of color. Law schools with higher percentages of graduates
disproportionately affected for whatever reason would be unfairly measured by Standard 316
without a suspension of the rule.
We also find compelling SALT’s proposition that temporary suspension of Standard 316 is
consistent with the determination made by many law school faculties throughout the country
that adjusted their traditional grading rules this Spring 2020 due to the pandemic. (As you
know, many law schools moved to pass/fail grades or significantly more lenient grading
As academic support educators, we take seriously the calling to produce law school graduates
capable of passing a bar exam. It is core to our professional mission. As lawyers, parents,
grandparents, grandchildren, and global citizens we also recognize the serious threat that, under
the current circumstances, bar passage scores for 2020 will not measure accurately the quality
of bar takers or their academic institutions.
For these reasons, we call upon the Council to suspend enforcement of Standard 316 through
the 2022 reporting period.
Submitted on behalf of the Association of Academic Support Educators by
Antonia Miceli Marsha Griggs
President Bar Advocacy Chair
DeShun Harris, President-Elect
Russell McClain, Past President
Marla Dickerson, Vice President of Diversity
Jeff Minneti, Treasurer
Twinette Johnson, Treasurer-Elect
Danielle Kocal, Secretary
Joni Wiredu, Host School Representative
Zoe Niesel, Host School Representative-Elect
cc: William E. Adams, Managing Director
Sunday, May 10, 2020
First, I want to Congratulate all law students for finishing this semester. I know some still have finals this week, but you all endured a complete change in educational environment. You worked hard through the disruption, and your resiliency will pay off preparing for the bar exam and the practice of law. I pray that you all stayed healthy and safe.
For 3Ls, you are moving from difficult end of the semester to even more difficult bar prep. Many of you will be worried and overwhelmed. Those feelings are understandable in a normal year. Some of you must wait to take the exam, while others will still take it at the end of July. The feelings and planning will cause some people to overlook the small details. I want to reiterate a common piece of advice that may be even more important this year. Practice tests should simulate exam conditions.
The advice seems obvious, but this year is different. I tell students to set a timer or put a clock on the wall similar to the bar exam. The numbers counting down cause adrenaline spikes, and I want students to feel that while practicing. This year, the exam may have other precautions. Some states will social distance with people spread far apart. That will be hard to simulate with schools closed, so if you can, have loved ones, kids, or people within the house sit 8 feet away. They can be unintentionally fidgety for the duration of the test. Make them take a silly test of their own. Some states may require masks during the exam. You don't want the first time taking a test with a mask on to be the day of the bar exam. Some masks are comfortable for the grocery store, but remember, you will be wearing the mask for 8-10 hours 2 days in a row. The elastic band mask may not be comfortable for that long. You may want a mask that ties or one of the plastic S hooks for masks. I suggest wearing one while answering practice questions. At first, you will be annoyed. After a while, it won't bother you. This is similar to don't practice until you get it right, practice until you can't get it wrong. Keep wearing the mask until you don't really know it is there.
This has been difficult. I hope all of your conditions permit quality studying for the bar. Good luck to all bar takers in both July and September.
Thursday, May 7, 2020
I once had a teacher tell me to never read good books. Never ever. And why not?
Because if I spent my time reading good books (or doing good things), then I wouldn't have time left to read the really great books (or do the really great things of life).
That's a lesson that has never left my side.
In bar prep, I'm convinced that too many are trying to do too much, and, in the process of doing good tasks, they aren't doing the great things that are really important for success on the bar exam. Let me be frank. You don't have time in bar prep to do good things. But, you have plenty of time to do the really great things, the things that produce fruitful learning.
With that in mind, here's a few tips:
- Do less reading and more pondering the law, how it works or doesn't, and what it means to you as a person.
- Do less note-taking and more puzzling through problems to learn the law.
- Do less testing and more practicing, feeling free to work problems over slowly, reading them out loud if you'd like, as you develop confidence and competence in your own voice as an expert problem-solver.
That's just a few suggestions.
But, rather than hear it from me, a teacher, I thought I'd share the wisdom of a recent successful bar-taker in that person's own words. After all, they say that a picture is worth a thousand words (but the wise words from the heart & mind of a recent bar taker -- who wants to share with YOU what she/he learned through re-taking the bar exam -- is worth a priceless fortune).
Advice for First-Time Bar Takers:
- Practice way more than you think! If you are wondering whether you should watch a lecture or do a practice question, do the practice question.
- Let go of memorizing everything. It is impossible. Learn what your weak areas are and spend more time with those subjects.
- You will feel like you know nothing until approximately the last week of bar prep. Somehow, magically, it does come together. I promise.
- Do all the bar prep practice tests.
- Think really hard about who you want to study with. This is not the time to do something different from how you handled law school.
- Come up with a plan and stick to it. The bar prep calendar is really helpful for this. Decide how many practice questions you want to do everyday and do it. But if you are starting to burn out, be OK with taking breaks. It's a marathon!
Advice for Fresh Start Re-Takers:
- First, I am so sorry that you have been dealt this card. There is no question that it hurts. Take care of yourself and do things that make you happy.
- As you begin planning your next round of bar prep, make sure to work with the law school to identify the weak aspects of your exam answers. This will help define ways you can “work smarter” instead of “work harder.”
- Also work with the law school to identify new ways to study. It might be changing up your study tool or how you review your answers. For me, studying ALONE the second round vastly improved my scores. I think studying alone boosted my confidence because it required me to look up answers to my own mistakes. I also stopped comparing myself to friends.
- Ditch the bar prep lectures. Use that time to practice WAY MORE MBE and MEE practice questions. I probably tripled the amount of practice questions I did during my second round of bar prep.
- Log your progress. I was way more intentional about compiling lists of rules I kept missing on MBE questions. This helped me to keep track of weak areas so I could spend more time learning the law in specific subjects.
- Spend timing thinking about any testing anxiety you might have. Adding mindfulness meditations to my study plan helped a ton!
That brings me back to the start of this little essay. How do you know what are the really great books to read (or the great things to do)? That's were wisdom comes in. Reach out to a person you trust, on your faculty or staff or from a colleague or mentor who knows you as a person from head to toe. The advice that I've shared in this blog is from such a person, who, although he/she doesn't know you, knows you, because she/he has cared enough to share with you the lessons learned through the process. So, you have a friend who is rooting for you (and that includes me too!).
Wednesday, May 6, 2020
The Bar Exam is in the front of everyone's mind right now. When will it happen? Should we change the exam? Does the exam actually measure competence as lawyers? Should we be using diploma privilege instead?
All of these are excellent questions, and handled in much more serious papers, usually by our very own Marsha Griggs!
However, I wanted to take a bit of a fun look at the history of the Bar Exam. I have been reading Robert M. Jarvis' An Anecdotal History of the Bar Exam (9 Geo. J. Legal Ethics 359 (1996)) and wanted to share some highlights.
- Massachusetts became the first state to offer a written exam in 1855. Prior to this, states would issue oral exams, often with a Judge in the district that the lawyer wished to be admitted, or with a lawyer already admitted to that bar. Massachusetts began the written portion for those that couldn't take the oral portion, but in 1876 Suffolk County (the county that Boston, MA sits in) began requiring lawyers to pass a written examination in order to be licensed. In 1877 New York introduced a written exam in addition to the oral exam.
- The oral exam seems like it was less stressful and rigorous than what applicants go through today. Huey P Long – former Gov of LA - passed his oral examination easily. When asked by George Terriberry, an admiralty practitioner, what he knew about admiralty, Long replied” Nothing." When further asked about how he would handle an admiralty matter, long answered “I’d associate Mr. Terriberry with me and divide the fee with him.” Long passed.
- Abraham Lincoln was a bar examiner, and judged to be a very lenient one. According to Len Y. Smith, in Abraham Lincoln as a Bar Examiner, B. Examiner, Aug. 1982 (An article I'm currently trying to find), Jonathan Birch of Bloomington relays his experience with Lincoln. Lincoln essentially asked him "how long have you been studying?" with Birch responding "Almost two years." According to Birch, Lincoln's response was "By this time, it seems to me," he laughed, "you ought to be able to determine whether you have the kind of stuff out of which a good lawyer can be made." Then Lincoln asked for a definition of a contract, and then sat on the edge of the bed and began to entertain Birch with stories. Then, took him to the clerk, and gave the clerk a note saying "My dear Judge:- The bearer of this is a young man who thinks he can be a lawyer. Examine him if you want to. I have done so and am satisfied. He's a good deal smarter than he looks to be. Yours, Lincoln." I am certain almost all of my students would pass either of these oral exams. I have also heard that Lincoln once examined an applicant from his bath tub. I love this story, but have yet to be able to find a reliable source, so take that with a grain of salt.
- Before you think that all oral examinations were easy, and most were just a mere formality, they were not easy for everyone. Clara Foltz, the first woman admitted to the CA bar, was administered a 3 hour oral exam. In addition, this "mere formality" was usually a way to find out the applicant was likable, or meshed well with the current bar. You can imagine how this created inequity at the bar.
7 states allow you to “read” the law – California, Maine, New York, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wyoming – this means aspiring lawyers study to be a lawyer and take the bar without attending law school. This is what Kim Kardashian is currently aspiring to do. I can tell you, it isn't easy!
It used to be that 32 states allowed for diploma privilege. Currently only WI allows this. It was abolished in CA in 1917, and most recently, Mississippi in 1981, Montana and South Daktoa in 1983, and West Virginia in 1988.
New Hampshire was the first state to use a permanent board of law examiners. This occurred in 1872
KY and VA used to have strict dress codes of business attire. While they still have dress codes, they are not as strict as they once were, which required women to wear skirts and nylons.
In 1985 Laura Beth Lamb, a lawyer with the securities and exchange commission, dressed up like her husband, Morgan Lamb, to take the California Bar Exam for him. She was 7 months pregnant, and diabetic, and passed the bar with the 9th highest score on the exam. However, when she was found out she was disbarred, so please don’t try this one. (Also, on a sad note, she claimed he forced her to sit for him after he failed the bar, and threatened and abused her.)
In July 1985 hundreds of bar exams from the New York State bar disappeared without an explanation.
Prior to the 1980s, it was more common for states to use geographical exclusions to limit bar admissions, but a series of cases in 1980 struck down suck exclusions.
I hope this gives you a bit of a fun break from the craziness that is the current bar exam!
Tuesday, May 5, 2020
One thing that most of us probably don't full appreciate until we miss it is degree to which we rely on predictability. When things are going well, it is often largely because so many things are doing just what we expect them to do, without us having to think about it. When every paycheck is direct deposited, when every mocha latte tastes just like you like it, when your spouse kisses you every morning and your favorite TV show is on every evening, it's all part of one grand comfortable life. It is not simply or even primarily the easy and convenience that makes it comfortable. It's the reassurance that comes with knowing that, and understanding how, cause leads to effect. Things happen because we make them happen, or if not, at least we expected them to happen, and all that generates confidence and a sense of efficacy.
Suddenly we enter an alternative universe in which supermarkets run out of the most basic, boring staples, like flour; in which basic medical precautions like hand washing might be useless because you were unknowingly infected two weeks ago; in which jobs and income just disappear for even the most conscientious employees; in which graduating with a degree, even with honors, from a decent law school may not even be enough to permit you to take a bar examination, let alone begin earning a living. All of these are aggravating, and some have potentially dire consequences. But taken as a whole, their greatest effect on us may be that they are contradicting our assumptions about how the world reliably runs.
Trust is like a vitamin. When we haven't got a minimum daily requirement -- when there are too many things in our lives that we can't rely on -- it's like a psychic scurvy. Instead of bruising easily and losing our teeth, we panic easily and lose our self-confidence. The cortisol levels in our bloodstreams shoot up, because in an unpredictable world we always have to be prepared to fight or flee. We can't concentrate, we are easily rattled, we might even suffer illness because of it. It's hard. We need to be able to rely on some things to perform well.
This is one of the reasons that humans invented lawyers in the first place. We needed more people we could trust to rely on. We needed people who could develop frameworks of predictable rules so that we would not feel that conflicts were resolved arbitrarily. Lawyers are a testament to the human craving for reliability.
And in order to make lawyers that clients can rely on, we need to teach students to rely on themselves, on their own capabilities and judgment. And this does not happen overnight. First we teach them that they can rely on others -- on their professors to teach them how the law works and on mentors to show them the ropes -- then that they can rely on systems, like legislatures and administrative bodies, and then ultimately on themselves. You know these rules and how to apply them. You understand how to navigate bureaucracy, at least enough to find your way through any new one you encounter. You know how to come up with solutions, how to suggest them to other interested parties, how to negotiate a compromise. You're a cause that has effect, because you are a lawyer.
Even with everything going well in law school, though -- and it may not be, at least not for every student, given the range of burdens that they are shouldering -- when the rest of the world is telling you that you can't eat in your favorite restaurant, that the only available toilet paper is the Want Ads section of your local paper, and it may be more than a year before you can begin working, it can be really easy to spend all your time on edge, trembling at the unclear implications of every announcement from the school or your state bar examiners. And when it is easy to be that anxious, it is usually hard to study, focus, work efficiently, and present yourself to the world as a new lawyer.
So, lately, I've been thinking of how Academic Support professionals are kind of like psychic vitamin supplements. In a world in which everybody feels that so many things are less reliable now, we are telling our students, "Look, you can trust us. We'll explain the right answer; we'll send you feedback on your writing; we will find and share information you might not be able to access yourselves. But we will also teach you that you can trust yourselves. You're learning the rules you need to learn. You're developing the writing and analytical and persuasive skills you need as tools to cause the effects you want. You're going to develop the judgment that makes a good counselor, and some day other people will come to rely on you."
All of that messaging is what we do on a good day. Lately, I feel like I have had to up my game to extra strength multivitamin levels. Making myself available for conferences more frequently; responding to emails super-promptly, before students can feel ignored; finding additional resources for students in increasingly dire straits because of the current crisis. Maybe this is really the core of what Academic Support does best at times like these: by actions that show our students that they can rely on us, we help them see they can rely on their professors, on the law, on the system, so that they can better learn to rely on themselves.
Monday, May 4, 2020
Imbroglio: A complicated situation; a sequence of events so absurd, complicated, and uncommon as to be unbelievable.
Merriam-Webster might as well add a footnote to the July 2020 bar exam administration as an example of the term “imbroglio.” No other term can accurately describe the debacle that surrounds the upcoming bar exam. Blog, essays, and the exasperated cries of bar candidates—summed up in one word. One word with an applicability of meaning that has become self-evident.
A complicated situation – Our nation has become embattled by a contagion that shows no sign of relenting. Across the country, stay at home orders are in place to mitigate the spread of the deadly coronavirus. In states with large numbers of bar takers, there is no safe way to administer the bar exam in the traditional format. Yet, bar examiners and the American Bar Association insist on a bar exam as screening tool for entry into the practice of law.
A sequence of events so absurd – Some states postponed the July exam. Some states canceled it altogether. Some states propose to offer a bar exam in early September; others in late September; others have postponed the exam “indefinitely.” No matter what the states propose, the National Conference of Bar Examiners (“NCBE”) will let us know on May 5, 2020 whether there will be any multistate or uniform exams released in July. States that have adopted the Uniform Bar Exam (“UBE”) are powerless to administer any exam in July if the NCBE won’t provide the questions, because UBE states don’t write their own bar exams anymore.
Complicated – Epidemiologists tell us that the virus comes in waves. Even with proposed and announced dates for the bar exam, COVID-19 may make it impossible or unwise to administer it in the late summer or early fall. But bar takers cannot afford to wait until there is certainty to begin studying. Many will begin bar study this month, for an exam that may or may not take place. They will study in places that are not libraries or law schools, because those places are closed.
Uncommon – COVID-19 presents an unprecedented situation that will impact the flow of new attorneys into the profession at a time when there will be an increased need for legal services. Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures, like emergency diploma privilege. Utah adopted a sensible emergency diploma privilege, but the ABA and the NCBE discourage other states from following suit.
Unbelievable – Just when we thought things could not possibly get any worse, the New York Board of Law Examiners announced that it may not have enough room to allow bar applicants from out of state law schools to sit for the exam that it hopes to administer on September 30 – October 1. In that same announcement, and with hold-my-beer momentum, the New York bar officials strongly encouraged candidates “to consider sitting for the UBE in other jurisdictions.” That this advice was given without regard for the COVID precautions of other states, and at a time when very few other states were still accepting applications, defies comprehension.
I won’t ask, “what could happen next?”
 ABA STANDING COMMITEEE ON BAR ACTIVITIES AND SERVICES LAW STUDENT DIVISION RESOLUTION [sic] (04/07/020) “the Resolution does not . . . modify or limit the historic and longstanding policy of the ABA supporting the use of a bar examination as an important criterion for admission to the bar.”