Sunday, February 23, 2020
This weekend is one of my favorite weekends of the year. The NALSA Moot Court competition occurred at UC Berkley. I love working with students in January and February to prepare for the competition. Watching students get more and more comfortable with their arguments and the constant questioning is a joy. The sense of fulfillment on student faces at the culmination of the event is fun to watch.
The final round this year illustrated a skill many bar students need to hone. I watched as the finals panel asked predictable questions. All the students answered those questions with ease. However, the finals participants illustrated the same ease with the not as predictable questions. A few questions were tangentially related to the problem, but the students probably had not heard them before. They still answered with principles they learned. All the students also used general principles of Federal Indian law when they didn’t have a specific answer related to the facts. The ease and comfort with all the areas demonstrated why those students were in the finals.
The ability to answer any question is critical to the bar exam. Most exams have predictable questions. Most students can answer the predictable questions. They have pre-written answers or a structure ready. However, the bar exam always includes questions or subparts of questions that are a little farther from the basic rules. The ability to answers those questions with ease will make a huge difference in an examinee’s score. General principles within the subject and well-reasoned arguments will score high points on the exam. The goal is to use the principles within the subject area you know to answer the question the examiner asked.
The bar exam is a couple days away. I hope all students see as many of the predictable questions as possible, but if something comes up you don’t know the specific rule for, channel your inner moot court competitor to score well on the exam. Good luck to everyone on the bar!
Monday, February 17, 2020
Bar takers, you have seven study days remaining to prepare, to take one last look at your bare bones outlines, to try to crack the code for recognizing recording statutes, and to improve your speed at performance testing. Adding to the angst of sitting for an exam that will determine entry into your chosen profession, is the foreboding fact that national bar passage rates have declined and not returned to prior years heights. News from bad to scary, logically, can lead to doubt and self-debasing thoughts like who am I to pass if as few as four of every 10 bar takers pass the bar in some states?
The negative thoughts creep in and resound even louder to those who entered law school against the odds. Those with LSAT scores below 150; those who juggled working to provide for a family by day, and the competitive rigors of law study by night; those who managed the anxiety of chronic illness and attendance requirements; those who faced implicit biases that created a presumption of lower competence and precluded their appointment to prestigious posts; those whose humble social or financial backgrounds placed them in a daily battle with imposter syndrome; those whose law schools don't rank elite; and those who’ve found a home in the bottom quartile of the law school class are left to silently question who am I to pass?
Let these words be the fight song for the academic underdog. You entered law school, wind at your front, and made it. You fed your family and persevered. You commuted two hours to and from school and made the 8:00 AM lectures. You tutored yourself. You feared failure, but kept going. You ignored the rankings, and focused on your exams. When things got hard, you got harder. So to those who still question, who are you to pass . . . ?
I ask the better question: who are you not to?
 The Louisiana Bar Examination is administered February 17 – 21, 2020, eight days before the administration of the Uniform Bar Exam and other state bar exams.
 Mark Hansen, Multistate Bar Exam Average Score Falls to 33-Year Low, A.B.A. J. (Mar. 31, 2016). See also Jeffrey Kinsler, Law Schools, Bar Passage, and Under and Over-Performing Expectations, 36 QUINNIPIAC L. REV. 183, 187 (“Between 2009 and 2013, nationwide firsttime bar passage rates remained in the high seventy percentile range with three years at 79%, one year (2013) at 78%, and one year (2012) at 77%. Those nationwide bar passage numbers slid from 78% in 2013 to 74% in 2014, 70% in 2015, and 69% in 2016.”).
 Joshua Crave, Bar Exam Pass Rate by State, LAWSCHOOLI (Jan. 29, 2019), https://lawschooli.com/bar-exam-pass-rate-by-state.
*adapted from BarCzar Blog originally published April 2018.
Monday, February 10, 2020
And you'll finally see the truth, that a hero lies in you. Mariah Carey and Walter Afanasieff
Every lawyer who has completed the journey that begins with law school and ends with a multi-day bar examination knows the anxiety, the overload, and the sheer exhaustion that is bar study. There is no shortage of horror stories involving the bar exam.1 Virtually every attorney has a bar-related cautionary tale. Some of these tales recount the angst of making up legal rules to answer an essay question about which they had no clue how to answer.2 Other tales may involve the heart-stopping panic brought on by “Barmageddon” when technology glitches prevented examinees from electronically submitting their essays.3 The bar exam is a grueling rite of passage that no attorney wants to revisit or repeat.
But not accounted for in the published bar pass lists and statewide bar statistics is a group of unsung heroes that contribute in meaningful ways to the attorney rosters of each state. This group is largely unnoticed, unnamed, or misnomered as law school academic support staff, professional development personnel or even student services providers. These gifted folks, whether or not named or recognized, essentially relive the nightmare that is bar prep two times per year, every year, without break or exception, and without earning any additional licensure.
So, here’s to the bar prep heroes who, despite already having at least one law license, restudy, listen anew to lectures, and peruse endless pages of commercial outlines in search of changes to a majority rule or a better way to explain testable material. Hat tip to my colleagues in the trenches who biannually endure the round-the-clock cries for help, the endless essay grading, and the ulcer generating impathic nervousness for the aspiring attorneys in whom we are emotionally invested.
As the end of February draws nigh, you will soon return to regular sleep patterns and be able to answer the 100+ unread messages in your inboxes. Yes, all will be back to normal . . . except for the two to three months filled with delightfully dreaded anxious anticipation of released results. You are the heroes on the other side of bar prep.
 Marsha Griggs, Building A Better Bar Exam, 7 Tex. A&M L. Rev. 1 (2019).
 Karen Sloan, Software Maker Settles Barmageddon Class Action for $21 Million, NAT’L L.J. (May 15, 2015, 12:26 AM), https://www.law.com/nationallawjournal/
Sunday, February 9, 2020
So how can we avoid having a student’s working memory become compromised? There are a lot of different methods for doing so.
Practice Really Does Make Perfect
If we want to get better at anything, we have to practice it. A lot. This isn’t a novel idea, most of us know this instinctually or through our experiences. Malcolm Gladwell makes a very compelling argument in his book Outliers that in order to become an expert in any field or task, you must put in approximately 10,000 hours of practice. For example, Tiger Woods needed 10,000 hours of practice before he became a top-flight golfer, and he had amassed that mount of practice at a fairly young age because he had been trained since the age of 2 to play golf. By the time The Beatles had any real success, they had played 1200 times over a period of a few years, playing up to 8 hours at a time.
Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom became one of the largest and most powerful law firms in the world because its founders practiced hostile takeover law for decades before hostile takeovers became common – and being a master in that area of law became insanely valuable. That amount of practice shouldn’t be required to avoid the choke on a law school exam, but practice is certainly going to help.
So what might a student do in order to be better on pressure-packed law school exams, or even the bar exam? Take lots of pressure packed exams of course! Faculty can’t replicate the pressure of a bar exam perfectly, but they can put the students under pressure as often as possible. For example, one thing we do is have students take lots of timed, in class, for-credit examinations throughout certain courses. Students are subjected to the pressure of doing well to pass their course, the pressure of performing with their classmates around, the pressure of the clock ticking, not to mention the simple pressure placed upon themselves to perform as best they can. This training can greatly improve results, and might actually change the physical wiring of student’s brains.
Practice and experience can actually change the structure and function of people’s brains. London cabbies, who must navigate the city from memory all day, have enlarged hippocampus, the part of the brain that deals with navigation and recollection of driving routes. Individuals trained in juggling have increased brain mass in the areas of the brain that understand motion. Musicians, who must have superior control of both hands and be able to coordinate them in complex manners, have enlarged corpus callosum. The corpus callosum is the connection between the two halves of the brain that allows for the two halves to communicate with each other – an essential function for a musician who needs their hands to work together.
This makes sense when you think about our bodies’ ability to adapt to what we throw at them. I may not be able to go out and run a marathon tomorrow, but if I take the time to train my body to be able to do something like that, then it can be done. Likewise, practice under pressure can train our brains to manage pressure and stress much more efficiently. It can teach us to handle the pressure and allow our working memory to function at its highest level.
Practice has another terrific benefit for our working memories. Through practice, mental processes can be automated. Take for example a child learning how to tie their shoes. When the child is first learning this process, it requires most of their working memory to tie that shoelace – they have to focus on the process that was recently taught to them and make sure they are executing the steps properly. After lots of practice, however, the same child can carry on a conversation or perform some other mental task at the same time they tie their shoes. Why? Because they have automated the process of tying their shoes, thus freeing up their working memory for other tasks. Another way to look at it: the process for tying shoelaces has moved from the child’s working memory into procedural memory.
The same process can happen for students in law school. This is why we teach and drill our students on the proper use of IRAC throughout law school, for example. Through long periods of practice, the process of structuring an essay around an IRAC format can become automated. It becomes something the student doesn’t have to think about; they just do it as they have done a hundred times before. That frees up the student’s working memory to focus on handling their facts and doing good analysis.
Another example comes during bar exam preparation. We always teach our students to have rule statements memorized for as many different issues as possible. That way, when that particular issue shows up on the bar exam, the student has that rule statement in their procedural memory ready to go. They don’t have to think about it, they just write. Again, working memory is freed to focus on other things.
Practice is something that many of us already know is very effective in helping students achieve on exams. The rest of the suggested methods for dealing with difficult and stressful exams may not be as apparent to many.
Preparation and Confidence
A related concept to practice is preparation. The concepts are related, yet differ in important aspects. Practicing is when you actually do the task you are ultimately hoping to accomplish – for example, practice exams to get ready for the real exam. Preparation is different – this is the studying required to have the baseline knowledge required to perform well on the exam.
The need for preparation is obvious – if we need to prepare for an exam on ancient Greek history, we must study ancient Greek history, as well as write practice exams. But there is an added benefit to preparation, and it is confidence. When you know that you have thoroughly reviewed all required materials, you can answer questions about that material with more confidence. There are no surprises, and nothing rattles you because you have seen it all before – in both your preparation and your practice.
Famous trial attorney David Boies perfectly demonstrates how important preparation can be. He describes his preparation as such:
“When we showed up for the opening statement, I had read every single exhibit we had marked before we marked it. I had read every single deposition excerpt that we had marked for offering into evidence before we had marked it. I had read every single deposition line they had offered.” Such preparation required reading thousands of pages of documents, something most lawyers don’t do in preparation for trial because of the massive resources required to do so. “There are no surprises for me, but you can’t imagine how few people that’s true for” he says. “There is no way most lawyers do that.”
This preparation gives Boies a major advantage. He knows all of the material so well that he can remain focused on the story he wants to tell – not on reacting to what the other side might be saying. “When I get up there, I have the confidence of knowing what the total evidence record is, and I know how far I can push it and how far I can’t. I know what the limits are, and that’s the way you maintain your credibility.” And it is this credibility that wins him major cases, such as the antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft in the late 1990’s. “Most good lawyers lose credibility in a trial not because they intentionally mislead but because they make a statement that they believe is true at the time and it is not.”
Preparation can then clear your working memory to focus on the task at hand. In Boies’ case, he is never caught off-guard by anything during a trial, as happens to so many attorneys. He has seen everything before, and as he says “there are no surprises.” He can focus on his story, on his goals, and not get distracted.
For even more practical advice on this topic, see the Fall 2018 issue of the learning curve on ssrn. That issue includes additional information on overcoming negative stereotypes, journaling, and meditation to improve exam performance.
(Kevin Sherrill - Guest Blogger).
Sian Beilock, Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting it Right When You Have To, Free Press Publishing, 2010.
Paul Sullivan, Clutch: Excel Under Pressure, Portfolio/Penguin Publishing, 2010.
Larry Lage (June 26, 2008). Mediate makes the most of his brush with Tiger, The Seattle Times, Associated Press. Retrieved October 24, 2013.
Gerardo Ramirez and Sian Beilock, Writing About Testing Worries Boosts Exam Performance in the Classroom, Science Magazine, January 14, 2011 (Vol 331).
Daniel T. Willingham, Why Don’t Students Like School?, Jossey-BassPublishing, 2009.
S.J. Spencer and C.M. Steele and D.M. Quinn, “Stereotype threat and women’s math performance.” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 35 (1999).
Matt Scott, Olympics: Korean Double Medalist Expelled for Drug Use, The Guardian, Retrieved on October 25, 2013 from http://www.theguardian.com/sport/2008/aug/15/olympics2008.drugsinsport
Malcolm Gladwell, The Art of Failure, The New Yorker, August 21 & 28, 2000.
Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers.
Tuesday, January 28, 2020
It is an oddly resonant time of year.
This has been happening for the past week or so:
- A student comes to my office to talk. It's a 1L student, wrestling with a mix of shock and panic after receiving first-semester grades. They did not do as well as they had expected, and they are not sure what that means. Are they really smart enough for law school? Will they even make it through the first year? They are willing to work hard to improve, but they don't even know where to begin, and they are not sure that they will improve enough to make it. I explain that of course they need to take their grades seriously, and that they do have a good deal of progress to make, preferably as quickly as possible. However, I note, it is not unusual for students not to reach their fully potential right away, especially when transitioning into new types of tasks, and that they do have time to get themselves where they want to be, as long as they are diligent and thoughtful and make every effort to learn useful lessons from the disappointing evaluations they have received so far.
- Next, a recent graduate comes to my office to talk. It's someone preparing to take the bar exam in February, wrestling with a mix of shock and panic after receiving the results of their first simulated MBE exam. They did not do as well as they had expected, and they are not sure what that means. Are they really smart enough for the bar exam? Will they even pass? They are willing to work hard to improve, but they don't even know where to begin, and they are not sure that they will improve enough to make it. I explain that of course they need to take their score seriously, and that they do have a good deal of progress to make, preferably as quickly as possible. However, I note, it is not unusual for examinees not to reach their fully potential right away, especially when transitioning into new types of tasks, and that they do have time to get themselves where they want to be, as long as they are diligent and thoughtful and make every effort to learn useful lessons from the disappointing evaluations they have received so far.
- Next, another 1L student comes to my office to talk . . .
It is the nature of our jobs that we sometimes find ourselves trying to convey multiple messages -- sometimes contradictory -- at the same time. In January, this messaging consists of finding the right balance of intensity and perspective, of patience and urgency, of recognizing the effects of circumstance and shouldering the burden of personal responsibility. It can be tough in part because the people we counsel can be so different -- words that barely allay the anxiety of one person might be enough to lull another person into a false sense of self-confidence. Better to calm our advisees down just enough for them to be able to hear and take in our more practical suggestions about focusing on step-by-step goals, specific tasks, and formative assessments, which provide them not only with routes to get to where they want to be, but also help them strengthen their abilities to more accurately judge their performance and progress.
For those preparing for the February bar, it might also be worthwhile reminding them that they may have had similar moments of uncertainty when they first entered law school. They figured out enough to get obtain their J.D.s. Why should they doubt that they have the capacity to figure out how to clear that final hurdle?
Sunday, January 26, 2020
I sat anxiously in the stands watching a nail-biter. Adrenaline pumping as the score narrowed to a one possession game, then the lead slipped away. I watched as the shots stopped dropping, and the defense became more porous than it had been all season. As the clock hit zero, the team lost. While I am describing a 4th grade basketball game, the dejection on the team's face was immediate. My son's team was undefeated and just lost to a team with a worse record. It wasn't the 2004 Pistons beating the Lakers, but the kids felt it. The coach talked to them for 5-10 minutes after the game. My son told me in the car that the theme of the talk was to learn from the mistakes. There are still enough regular season games left to have the best record, and there is a tournament at the end of the season. Their goals are still attainable.
Many alumni around the country felt defeated last week. The midterm simulated MBE happened for most February bar takers. The results were probably not what most students wanted. While the stakes are much higher, the theme is the same for February bar takers as it is for the 4th grade basketball team. The simulated test is a learning experience to determine where to improve. The goal of passing the bar is still achievable with the right amount of effort.
I encourage everyone to increase effort, but the effort must be efficient. Make sure to complete the required assignments in your course. I also encourage sitting down with your academic support professional to create a customized plan for the rest of bar prep. ASPers at your school can give advice on how to use an extra 10-20 minutes or where to maximize your effort. The exam is in 4 weeks, so efficiency will be critical.
The simulated test is deflating. Don't let it be demotivating. The test is a checkpoint on the journey to a license. Keep up the hard work for 4 more weeks.
Monday, January 20, 2020
Across the country this week, bar candidates will take a full-length practice exam. Your first simulated MBE scores may not be exactly what you expected. I took my first bar exam years ago, but I still remember the shock of my first practice test score. I could not believe my eyes. Never before had I seen a percentage so low. My practice test results triggered a fight or flight instinct in me. For others, this week's results may yield any one of a host of emotions: fear, devastation, sadness, indifference, or overconfidence. Bar passers must develop the coping mechanisms to rebuff these counterproductive, yet understandable, emotions.
The first step in your battle for resilience must be to reflect on your pre-bar journey. Approximately three years ago, you were wondering if you would get into your first-choice law school — or any law school for that matter. Once admitted, those first-year exams made you question your ability to make it through law school. Yet somehow by grace and sporadic unhealthy doses of caffeine, you are here with a law degree and one test that stands between you and the practice of law. What began as a quest both shaky and unsure, is now a dream realized. How you started is NOT how you will finish.
The second step is self-assessment. You may have learned that while you love e.g. Torts or Contracts, they do not reciprocate your sentiments. You may be equally shocked to discover that you excelled in a dreaded subject area, proving that you know the doctrine of equitable conversion and standards of review far better than you previously led yourself to believe. Analyze your practice exam results to identify your areas of strength and weakness.
The third step is to slow your roll. Before looking to new sets of practice questions, revisit questions that you have already answered and missed. Don't reread the answer explanations. Instead reread the question facts. It is highly likely that you may know the tested rule of law, but missed some key detail in the fact pattern or misread the call of the question. It is unwise to do more practice questions until you fully understand how to analyze and answer the ones you've already answered.
The fourth and final step is to execute a plan of attack. Once you come to terms with your weaknesses, develop an effective plan to combat them. The tools and assignments from your commercial bar review provider can only take you so far. If you need drastic improvement, consider reaching out to your law school academic and bar support team or a professional bar tutor. Sometimes the best bar therapy comes in the form of a volunteer bar coach or the supportive words of a recent bar passer.
Wednesday, January 15, 2020
It's that time of year, where you might start to feel overwhelmed by the amount of bar review tasks in front of you. First all, this is not at all unusual, and you are not alone.
Second, a brutally honest fact - statistics show that the more bar prep course a student completes, the higher their chances of passing. For every single percentage point of your commercial bar course that you complete, your chances of passing the bar also increase.
However, whilst it is true on a general level that you need to be working hard to cover as much of that course as possible, it is also worth remembering that you are not a statistic. Students are unique individuals, not numbers. Most importantly, whilst working hard, you need to ensure that you keep your health and sanity for the end of Feb.
So, all that being said, here are a few tips if you find yourself getting overwhelmed:
- One thing at a time.The best thing to do when feeling overwhelmed is to take one step at a time, and DO one thing at a time. Yes, it’s good to have a big picture idea of what you need to accomplish between now and the end of Feb, that’s what will keep you on target. But, on a day to day basis, you need to focus on what you can do in the next 5 minutes, the next hour, the afternoon. Make lists for yourself, or use the ones given to you by the commercial prep companies (which are usually online) and tick one thing off at a time, even if it’s a small thing.
- Prioritize active learning. Don’t get bogged down in reviewing outlines, making outlines, making flashcards, etc. Your priority should always be practice essays (especially if you will get feedback) and practice MBE questions, not to mention, practice MPT. As for the law, of course you need to know it, and remember it, but you will remember it better by writing about it, with a unique fact pattern, then you will simply by reading the law, or even putting it on a flashcard. Succeeding on the bar exam is a SKILL, so you need practice. You wouldn’t prepare for a hockey game simply by reading about hockey; you’d get on the ice and run skating drills, you’d have practice games. The bar isn’t really any different.
- Extra Questions. I often get questions about whether students should be doing MORE, or a good source of extra questions. The right answer to this is going to vary from student to student. I always think more questions are better, in general, and varying the types of questions you are doing can be beneficial. However, you don’t need to pile on extra books and questions for the sake of doing so. Focus on getting through your normal schedule first, if you get through that, and you are not completely exhausted, then consider extra sources of questions.
- Don’t pay attention to what everyone else is doing.Remember, you are not a statistic, and there is no cookie cutter bar student. Comparing notes with others on what works, or what doesn’t, is fine, but don’t judge yourself by how many hours someone else is in the library, or how many sample questions they are doing, or whether they’ve bought 10 extra books. This is like the first year of law school; everyone is different, and you might be working at a different pace, or in a different way, from someone else. That’s ok!
Remember you still have over 5 weeks left, this is not a sprint, it’s an endurance race. That means pacing yourself. Working hard, yes, but also remember that working smarter is more important than just working harder.
Good luck, you got this!
Tuesday, January 14, 2020
I had a minor enlightening encounter this week that I thought worth sharing. I was going over the responses to some previous bar exam essay questions that a former student had wanted to review with me. One of the first questions we went over had a moderately long fact pattern involving a will of uncertain validity, and then asked simply, "Who will inherit the decedent's property?" The student properly recognized that there were several issues that had to be addressed in order to answer that question, and identified and fairly discussed most (but not all) of them.
Another question had been written in such a way that it clearly indicated that there were three specific issues to discuss: at the end of the page-long fact pattern, three separate questions were asked, in separate sentences, formatted into three separate enumerated paragraphs, as in*:
- Do you really want to hurt me?
- How can you mend a broken heart?
- Should I stay or should I go?
*Questions selected for illustration only. Not actual bar exam questions.
The student had done a fair job of answering these questions, creating a separate header for each one that incorporated the language of the question and then earnestly examining each question presented. A rule or two was misstated, some relevant facts were overlooked, but essentially the student had properly identified the relevant issues and had done some creditable analysis for each one.
A few questions later, we were looking at another question that seemed to wrap up in a similar way, with three enumerated statements. In this case, however, the question explained that one of the parties in the question had filed suit against another, and that the complaint had three allegations**:
- You think love is to pray, but I'm sorry I don't pray that way.
- You don't have to prove to me that you're beautiful to strangers; I've got lovin' eyes of my own.
- Now that I've surrendered so tenderly, you now want to leave, oooo you want to leave me.
**Valid only in jurisdictions that permit bar examination responses to be produced via karaoke.
After listing these allegations, the question asked, "Is the plaintiff likely to succeed on these issues? Explain."
As with the previous enumerated question, the student took cues from the formatting in the text to format the answer, again creating a separate header incorporating the language of each issue and then examining each issue separately. In doing so, however, the student implicitly assumed that the assertions made by the plaintiff were as sound and valid as the questions asked by the constructor of the question. In other words, the student took the precedent statements in the plaintiff's assertions -- "You think love is to pray", "I've got lovin' eyes of my own", and "I've surrendered so tenderly" -- as givens that could be employed to prove the asserted conclusions, rather than as unproven premises that needed to be demonstrated or disproved with reference to specific facts and legal rules. Thus, the analysis in this question was abbreviated and circular: "Because the plaintiff has lovin' eyes of his own, defendant does not have to prove that she is beautiful to strangers."
I pointed out to the student that, ordinarily, a decision maker would not simply take the plaintiff's assertions at face value, but would likely seek proof by citing facts and legal standards. The student acknowledged that it had not appeared, in the heat of the exam, that the implications of the two questions were very different -- the first providing three issues for analysis, and the second requiring the examinee to determine the real issues themselves. The student had not had any trouble recognizing this need to figure out the relevant issues in the first question, so it wasn't an inability to dig deeper that had prevented her from doing so in the last question. Instead, we agreed, it had been a reflexive reaction to the form of the question -- "1,2,3 means take those words as your givens". Making this explicit seemed to prepare the student to avoid doing the same thing in the future.
Just a neat little example of how the shortcuts we take, or make for ourselves, can sometimes take us places we don't want to go.
Monday, January 13, 2020
The Uniform Bar Examination (“UBE”) has juggernauted from an idea to the primary gateway for entry into the practice of law. To the resounding support of law graduates and law schools, a supermajority of states has abandoned individual state law exams for a uniform exam written by a private entity. The UBE is the exam of the future and I anticipate that at least three more states will have adopted the UBE by year end. The UBE remedies many voiced complaints about varying degrees of exam quality and exam difficulty across states. Perhaps the most touted feature of the UBE is score portability.
UBE takers may "port" or transfer their scores into other UBE states, thus, relieving examinees from the arduous chore of having to sit anew for a bar exam. However, the promise of score portability is allusive at best. Transfer procedures vary by state. The fees to transfer one’s UBE score may be as high as $1700, possibly more than the cost of taking the bar exam in the transferring state. For a majority of students who exit law school burdened with student loan debt, these transfer costs will make the promise of portability unrealizable.
According to attorney and bar prep professional Ashley Heidemann, “the UBE is not as portable as law students are led to believe.” Heidemann feels that the promise of portability is highly deceptive to law students who believe that a widespread uniform exam means that once licensed, UBE attorneys will be able to transfer into other states at any time. “The biggest misconception students have,” says Heidemann, “is that UBE scores can be transferred to a different UBE jurisdiction at any time. In reality, UBE scores are only good for generally two to five years, meaning one cannot transfer a score from one state to a different UBE state after their specified time period is over.”
Even staunch supporters of the UBE seem to think that the UBE has not yet reached its greatest potential. UNLV Professor Joan Howarth advocates for a uniform cut score, citing that a six point score differential could effectively exclude hundreds of bar takers from the practice of law. Melissa Hale, Director of Academic Success and Bar Programs at Loyola University Chicago School of Law says, “I’d love to see a more uniform process [regarding admission and transfer policies].” Hale, who sees the UBE as an improvement over predecessor exams and self-identifies as pro-UBE, wants to make sure that students understand the score transfer process and that it is “not without hurdles.”
As more and more states adopt the UBE, academic support professionals will need to stay in the know and keep students informed about the true costs and limitations of score portability. That is — until or unless a uniform cut score becomes a reality. Stay tuned, we may be closer than we think!
 Marsha Griggs, Building a Better Bar Exam, 7 Tex. A&M L. Rev 1 (2019).
 Interview with Ashley Heidemann, President, JD ADVISING LLC (Mar. 25, 2019).
 Joan W. Howarth, The Case for a Uniform Cut Score, 42 J. LEGAL PROF. 69, 72 (2017).
Saturday, December 14, 2019
Jack Frost is nipping at the door, at least in some places. Mall parking lots are packed. The line to see Santa is 100 people long before he even arrives. Christmas lights shine throughout the skies. The holiday season is here, which also means it is February bar prep time.
The February bar exam is a unique test to prepare for. Our students only have 9 weeks between the last final exam and the bar exam, but summer takers have 10 weeks. The shorter time combined with the holidays makes the exam harder to prepare for. My experience is the key piece to successful bar prep is completing the vast majority of the assigned work. BARBRI recommends at least 400 hours of studying. Kaplan, Themis, and other bar prep companies are similar. I usually recommend approximately 500 hours. Examinees who start prep slowly won't get to those numbers. Below are a few tips to get off to a great start and complete enough work to be ready for the bar exam.
- Make a schedule. Spend time writing down how many hours you have available each day and how many hours you will study. Add all of the hours up. Make sure you can get above at least 400. If not, rework your schedule.
- Setup a meeting with your Academic Support Professional. Bring your schedule and talk about the schedule in that meeting. Bar prep requires both class wide and individual instruction. The class wide instruction will be your bar prep course. Most of the companies have programs that adjust to your performance, but your unique circumstances could change what you should do. The best person to help with that is at your law school. Hopefully, you worked with your ASP person throughout your tenure at law school and can talk about your circumstances.
- Start studying before Christmas. I know many people want to travel or take time off after finals. I tell summer takers that bar prep starts the Tuesday after graduation (1 day off for our Sunday graduation). Winter takers should have the same philosophy and start before the holidays.
- Take time off for Christmas, but limit the time off. Everyone needs time off during bar prep. Take a couple days for Christmas, then get back to studying. Family and friends will complain about not seeing you for many years. They will also say the holidays are meant for family. I understand, but you should be selfish with time from now until the end of February. The exam date is set, and you only have so many hours between now and then. Use the hours wisely.
- Take New Year's Eve night and New Year's Day off, but get back to studying the next day.
February bar prep is difficult because the timing is shorter. No one should tell you to not take time off. The critical component to success is getting back to studying. When striving for something (exercise, weight loss, changing habits, etc.), far too many people have a day off and never get back on track. Treat each day as a new opportunity to be ready for the bar.
Friday, December 13, 2019
Basketball player "...Duncan Robinson was open and didn't shoot." So reads an article about the "Most Improbable Player in the NBA." The Wall Street Journal, Dec. 13, 2019, p. A14.
In response to Duncan's decision, "...[H]is coach immediately called timeout. 'That's selfish.... You're being selfish if you don't shoot.'" Id.
For our February 2020 takers, bar prep begins for many next week. But, as we approach bar studies, if you're at all like me, I'm much more comfortable being on the sidelines, not taking shots so to speak, watching others talk through hypothetical scenarios and work through practice problems.
That's because I often don't feel like I'm ready to take shots because I don't feel like I know enough to play the game.
Instead, I try to learn to "play basketball" by reading about basketball and by watching others play basketball...a sure recipe to fail at basketball.
Let me put it concretely. With respect to bar prep, I'm much more comfortable listening and watching professors from the sidelines as I observe them work through bar exam problems and scenarios.
However, take it from Duncan (who went from high school to a small time college basketball program to a big time basketball program to a minor league professional basketball team to now a multimillion dollar contract with a big time professional basketball team). Id. What was the key to Duncan's success? As Duncan indicates, "I was having a tough time figuring out what was a good shot--and I quickly realized that everything was a good shot...I needed to literally shoot everything. [my emphasis]" Id.
For those of you beginning to prepare for the winter bar exam, take Duncan's advice. Take every shot at learning. Know this: That every problem that you work through, every time you close your lecture book and then force your mind to recall things that you have learned, every time you take action based on the bar review lectures that you are hearing, you are becoming a better "shooter", getting closer to your goal in passing your bar exam.
So, be of good courage as you boldly study for your bar exam. After all, you're not going to be tested about what you saw from the sidelines. Instead, you're tested on your ability to play the game, to score points, to solve bar exam problems. Consequently, take every shot you can, everyday throughout this winter, as you prepare for success on your bar exam this upcoming February 2020. Oh, and by the way, Duncan missed lots of shots on the way to success. But, he kept at it. You too, keep at it, because as it's in the midst of our missed shots that we learn how to perform better!
Wednesday, December 11, 2019
It is that time of year again! If you are taking the bar exam in February, you have either started studying, or you are thinking about a study plan. However, the holidays are also fast approaching, and for most people, that’s a busy time of year. It’s easy to feel pulled in multiple directions, whether it be from end of the year work related items (if you are working while studying), or family obligations, or just the excitement of the season making it hard to focus on mundane things like contract and property law.
First of all, breaks are okay. If you have already started studying, it is okay to take time to see your family, or even celebrate New Year’s Eve! You are not obligated to be in the library 24/7 from now until the end of February. Also, breaks are good for your mental health, and will help you get through the next couple months. While you shouldn’t take multiple days off, or entire weeks, spending time with loved ones is not something you should feel guilty about.
Even without the holidays, taking time to decompress is good for you for multiple reasons.
- Mental Health: Overall, spending time with loved ones, or participating in self care, is generally good for our mental health. It can help us reduce stress, and provide much needed support. Both of these things ultimately aid in test taking. While good stress can offer adrenaline, which can be important during a long exam like the bar, too much stress can shut us down, and impact our focus. In addition, things like anxiety can lead to poor decision making, either during studying or the actual exam. So, taking time to care for yourself, in whatever form that takes, is necessary for success on the bar exam.
- Learning and Memorizing: Taking breaks actually helps in the learning process. First, mindfulness, or meditation, on a regular basis improves test scores and helps with memory and retention. While this study was done with the GRE, there is no reason it can’t work with the bar exam. Also, breaks, or resting, can actually help you retain information. Your brain needs time to process what it has just learned.
Finally, if you are feeling overwhelmed, or feeling like you are “behind”, focus on the small tasks you can accomplish. Students often get caught up in thinking they have to set aside huge blocks to study, but that’s not true. You can do an MBE question, and review it, in 5 minutes. You can take a multiple choice question, and turn it into a small essay (take the answer choices off, and write out the answer using IRAC) in 5-10 minutes. You can review elements of a law in 5 minutes. And in fact, doing those things in small chunks will help with things like memorization.
Mostly, don’t feel guilty for taking time to be with family and friends, especially during this holiday season. Getting through law school, or studying for the bar exam, is all about balance.
Happy Holidays, and Happy Semester’s End!
Wednesday, November 27, 2019
First and foremost, this does not define you. Trust me, we have all heard stories of prominent lawyers, judges, and politicians that have failed the bar, sometimes multiple times. I could make you a list of all of the successful lawyers that were unsuccessful on the bar exam their first time. But I won’t, because failing the bar does not define them. If you try to make a list, you won’t find “failed the bar” on Wikipedia pages, or official biographies, or resumes. It’s not because it’s some secret shame, but because no one cares. In 5-10 years, no one will care how many times it took you to pass the bar. In fact, they won’t care in 6 months or a year. It seems like a defining moment right now, but it isn’t. Your defining moments come from the way you treat clients, the way you treat colleagues, and what you choose to do with your license once you have it. And, most importantly, how you learn from your mistakes.
So, take a few days to be upset, it’s ok. But then dust yourself off and start looking towards the February bar. Also, remember that failure is not the opposite of success, it’s a part of success. Every successful lawyer has failed – on the bar, at trial, in a negotiation, not getting a job. Every successful politician has lost a race. Every Olympian has lost a game or a match. Those failures are a normal way to achieves success in the future. However, for that to be true, you have to learn from failure.
So, in looking towards February, learn from your mistakes. First and foremost, if you are in a jurisdiction that allows it, request your essays. Different jurisdictions will have different procedures, but most will allow you to at least look at your essays, and some will send them to you. View them with a critical eye towards what you can improve upon. If you’re allowed to keep them, and not just view them at the bar headquarters, rewrite them. Use your notes to rewrite them. Focus on areas of improvement.
Secondly, many of you have Academic Support professors at your school. If you’re not sure, ask alumni relations if there is someone at your school that handles bar exam issues. Many of my repeat takers are hesitant to reach out to me because of their alumni status, worrying that it’s no longer my job to help them. I can tell you with certainty, it is my job to help them, and I care about them and want them to do well. None of us stop caring about our students just because you have graduated, or taken one bar exam. So, reach out to them, and see if they can help you review your essays, or score sheet, and come up with a plan. Some schools have resources specifically for repeat takers, so there is a strong chance they want you to reach out.
Finally, look back at the how you studied for the bar. Be honest, as this reflection is just for you, but assess a few things:
- How much of your commercial bar prep course (Themis, BarBri, etc) did you complete?
- If you completed less than 80% of the course, why?
- Did anything happen in your personal life that interfered with your studying?
- If you used accommodations during law school for exams, did you use them on the bar? If not, is it because you were denied accommodations, or because you didn’t apply?
- How many practice essays and multiple choice did you do?
- Did you learn from the practice multiple choice?
- Did you spend hours in the library, or at a desk, but were continually distracted by facebook/twitter/snapchat, or something else?
- Did you take care of yourself physically and mentally? Did you get enough sleep?
- Did you take study breaks to let your brain process?
These are just some examples of ways to assess yourself. The point is to take a good look at that you did well, and what you can improve upon. Don’t assume that because you failed, you just need to put in more hours, or you didn’t know the material. Frequently when I counsel repeat takers they didn’t do enough practice questions, or life got in the way, or they studied so hard that they got burnt out and were not well physically or mentally.
Once you’ve really assessed, figure out your February plan. What can you do differently? You might only need to tweak a few small things to succeed. And once you do, no one will care or remember how many times it took you to succeed.
Finally, if you are dreading attending a Thanksgiving meal with potential questions about the bar, show them this blog post!
Tuesday, November 19, 2019
Sometimes students think they are painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel ceiling, when they are really inventing the light bulb.
Michelangelo famously worked from 1508 to 1512 to decorate the ceiling of the Chapel with biblical scenes comprising more than 300 figures. Contrary to popular belief, he did not do the work lying on his back; the scaffolding he designed and put in place left him room to stand. Try this right now: for one minute, stand up, look up at the ceiling above you, and hold your hand high over your head, grasping a pen, or a paintbrush if you have one handy. Now imagine doing that for four years, and creating an historical masterpiece. Amazing. If I had painted the Sistine Chapel ceiling under those conditions, it would have ended up taped to my parents’ refrigerator for a month, then discreetly recycled.
Still, the process did have one advantage: every evening, while Michelangelo was washing the paint off his brushes, he could look up and see a few more square feet of masterpiece. If his boss, Pope Julius II, swung by just to see how things were going, he would notice some prophet or angel that hadn’t been there the week before, and say something like, “Good work, Micky. I like the wrath there – very Old Testament. Keep it up.”
In contrast we have Thomas Edison and his invention of the light bulb. To be fair, it wasn't just the light bulb that made his electrical system so successful. He had a much broader vision, encompassing power generation and transmission facilities as well, so that once he had created a working light bulb, he had also designed an entire system capable of lighting it practically in every citizen’s home. But still, success did depend on finding that reliable, long-lasting bulb, and to do this, Edison tested thousands of different materials – varieties of animal hair, plant fiber, metal wire, etc. – to find a filament that would work.
But Edison’s work was not incremental the way Michelangelo’s work was. Over time, his experiments did provide some clues that guided him to the material (carbonized bamboo) that eventually worked, so his progress was not entirely random. Still, it was unpredictable. Edison could go through periods in which he’d test 100 filaments and not one of them would work any better than what he’d had at the start. While Michelangelo could work for a month and at least complete 2% of a ceiling -- and 100% of, say, Adam and Eve -- a month of work for Edison would not leave him with 2% of a working light bulb. He had no light bulb, until the day he found the right material; then he had the light bulb.
A lot of what our students do is Michelangelo work. They do a chunk of reading, or memorize a set of rules, or practice a certain writing format, and it may take them a while to reach their ultimate goal, but at least they can see measurable progress along the way: this many pages covered, or that many rules learned by heart, or some incrementally improved conformity with a norm. It can still be a grind, especially with a heavy workload and weighty syllabus, but at least the students can be sure of improvement and can project a likely date of completion.
It’s inevitable, though, that some of our students' work will be Edison work. They put in the time and the effort, but there’s not necessarily any obvious correlation to results. They could be working on a legal research project, looking for a needle and ending each day with a notebook full of hay. Or they might be practicing some skill that, for them, seems to resist improvement, at least until a certain critical mass of practice has been reached. (Performance on multiple-choice tests, for example, can sometimes plateau for weeks for soem students.) If the students don't realize that they are not doing Michelangelo work here -- if they are expecting incremental success and not seeing it -- then they can grow discouraged and self-doubtful, and may even abandon the effort, believing it is not doing any good.
It is crucial. before that happens, to explain to students (and to remind them, sometimes frequently) that there are two kinds of progress in work, and to get them to focus not on results but on well-directed effort. Help them to recognize, as Edison did, that some jobs simply require effort that won’t be directly rewarded, but that “every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.” As long as students are actually doing the right work -- and for that, too, they may need your guidance -- then, even if they are not seeing daily results, they are doing something useful -- ruling out fruitless lines of inquiry, or gradually building context and understanding to reach the critical mass needed. In the moment, such progress may not feel as satisfying as a tangible result, but with support, they can keep going, even in the face of doubt. And once they have completed the task successfully, they can look back and realize not just how the effort they made led to the result, but also that they are capable of making similar efforts -- and hopefully with a little more faith -- in the future.
Tuesday, October 22, 2019
Today's Washington Post has a fascinating and disturbing article about the company HireVue and its signature product, an artificial intelligence hiring system through which employers can set up automated "interviews" with prospective employees. The system "uses candidates’ computer or cellphone cameras to analyze their facial movements, word choice and speaking voice before ranking them against other applicants based on an automatically generated 'employability' score." Based on these scores, HireVue's clients -- which include large organizations like Unilever and Goldman Sachs -- can choose which candidates they would like to bring in for actual human interaction.
The growing reliance of employers on HireVue and its competitors suggests several issues of interest to law students. Can we expect that someday soon, they too will be forced to welcome their new computer overlords by developing another set of skills -- namely, the art of using just the right expressions and intonations to appeal to the interviewing algorithm? How do we even know what appeals to that algorithm, and whether the appealing features actually bear any relationship to job performance, if HireVue releases no information about what it is measuring, what it assigns value to, or, indeed, even what a candidate did wrong? (The mystery and validity issues echo some complaints about the UBE, but at least bar examinees are told their scores.) Like it or not, this Pandora's boxing ring is now open, and it's only a matter of time until young attorneys are sent in to altercate.
To get some perspective on the rigor of the HireVue system, the Post reporter spoke to researchers in applicable fields, including Luke Stark, an AI researcher who was
The charisma of numbers is something I feel I run up against over and over again. And I say this as a person who values data and statistics! I believe it is difficult to make consistently effective decisions or to take wise action without obtaining and evaluating relevant numerical information. And, true, in a field in which our success is largely measured numerically (GPAs, retention rates, bar passage rates), numbers can possess either star power or infamy.
But, notwithstanding their dazzle and clout, numbers should only be powerful if they are attached to something meaningful. If they are being misused or misunderstood, that can mean mistaking the sizzle for the steak. Figures can be seductive when they seem rounded, or extravagant, or provocative, or revealing. It's easy to jump on the conspicuously appealing numbers -- the highest GPA, the apparently significant pattern in MBE scores, the increase in median starting salaries -- just as it's easy to be attracted to the confident, well-spoken cutie who walks into the party. But the GPA might be based on a disproportionate number of generously graded courses; the MBE pattern might be statistically insignificant; the median salary increase might represent slippage, not advancement, if similar schools are seeing an even larger increase. Causes, reliability, and context all matter.
The danger of the charisma of numbers is that sometimes, even when a person is only looking at the surface, they don't feel like they are being shallow, because numbers are supposed to be scientific and rational. We need to remember, and teach our students and colleagues, that, even with the most alluring numbers, you should really spend some time with them first, get to know their flaws and idiosyncrasies, before you commit to them.
Tuesday, October 1, 2019
July 2019 bar exam results are not due to be released in New York for a few more weeks, but already here in Buffalo we have glad tidings, for one of our students took the Florida bar exam and has learned that she has passed. What a thrill! One that will soon be experienced by many others across the land.
Is there anything else that prompts the same surreal combination of pride and relief? In an instant, a person’s very definition changes. They go from not possessing a certain authority to possessing it (at least after other formalities are met). Is it any wonder that the storied Jonathan Harker, wandering alone in a foreign land and distracted by the strangeness of it all, forgot for a moment his own momentous achievement?:
What sort of place had I come to, and among what kind of people? What sort of grim adventure was it on which I had embarked? Was this a customary incident in the life of a solicitor’s clerk sent out to explain the purchase of a London estate to a foreigner? Solicitor’s clerk! Mina would not like that. Solicitor—for just before leaving London I got word that my examination was successful; and I am now a full-blown solicitor!
Harker’s momentary pleasure at the memory of his bar passage is soon dampened, however, by the cold foreboding of the great estate he stands before – and no wonder, for only a few minutes later he meets the master of that castle, who greets him with the words, “Welcome to my house! Enter freely and of your own will! . . . I am Dracula. . .”
Whatever horrors Harker had to face next, at least he had made it past the doubt and anxiety that many people feel while waiting for their bar results to be revealed. Consider the unfortunate Mitch McDeere, the latest Harvard Law graduate to be hired by the high-end Memphis law firm of Bendini, Lambert and Locke. One autumn afternoon, Mitch is called unexpectedly into an urgent meeting:
Lambert, Avery, and what appeared to be most of the partners sat around the conference table. All of the associates were present, standing behind the partners. . . . The room was quiet, almost solemn. There were no smiles. . .
“Sit down, Mitch,” Mr. Lambert said gravely. “We have something to discuss with you.” . . . He frowned sincerely, as if this would be painful. “We’ve just received a call from Nashville, Mitch, and we wanted to talk with you about it.”
Poor Mitch immediately guesses what this is all about:
The bar exam. The bar exam. The bar exam. History had been made. An associate of the great Bendini firm had finally flunked the bar exam. . . . He wanted to speak, to explain that he deserved just one more chance, that the exam would be given again in six months and he would ace it, that he would not embarrass them again. A thick pain hit below the belt.
“Yes, sir,” he said humbly, in defeat.
Lambert moved in for the kill. “We aren’t supposed to know these things, but the folks in Nashville told us that you made the highest score on the bar exam. Congratulations, Counselor.”
The room exploded with laughter and cheers.
Surprise! Not what Mitch was expecting. Unfortunately, Mitch’s satisfaction is nearly as short-lived as was Harker’s, for less than two pages later, in John Grisham’s The Firm, Mitch McDeere meets an FBI agent who explains that the Bendini firm is mostly a front for the criminal activities of the Chicago Mob, and that attorneys who try to leave the firm always end up dead.
Dracula and The Firm were both sensationally popular novels, which suggests that there is something highly resonant about the notion of passing the ultimate test of professional ability, only to be led directly into a world of evil and mortal danger. I suspect some people enjoy the irony – He’s supposed to be so smart, but he wasn’t smart enough to avoid the King of the Undead or the Capo di Tutti Capi – and other people appreciate the moral question – Does mere intellectual knowledge even matter when a person is faced with a threat to his life and soul?
But law graduates might see yet another layer to these tales: After all this hard work to pass the bar, over three crushing years in law school and ten blistering weeks of bar preparation, is my “success” just going to take the form of an indenture to forces that seek only to exhaust my vitality to feed their own appetites? True, most attorneys do not end up working for vampires or gangsters, but even a wholesome job for a decent employer can feel like purgatory to someone whose interests and aptitudes lie elsewhere. When our students are no longer our students, when they have taken and passed the bar and are out there gainfully employed, is that the end of their stories?
There might be a brief frisson in thinking so. Isn’t that why people read suspense stories? But if there are two last messages we can leave our students with, they are that passing the bar is both an ending and a beginning, and that the skills they’ve learned in meeting that particular challenge will be skills they can use in meeting future challenges as well. If they can pass the bar exam, they can overcome anything – a misfit job, a toxic employer, even a threat to their lives and souls.
And Jonathan Harker and Mitch McDeere are evidence of this, because they each survive their ordeals. In both Dracula and The Firm, the heroes triumph by relying on three core competences – the same three competencies we emphasize in preparing our own students to pass the bar and to perform well in practice: knowledge of the law, application of sound personal judgment, and reliance on a network of support. Harker escapes from Dracula's castle by finding an unconventional route to freedom and judging that the risks of flight are smaller than those of remaining in place. Once he makes it back to England, he uses his legal skills to locate Dracula's hidden lairs, documented in a tangle of deeds and conveyances, and then he teams up with a band of friends to track down and eliminate the fiend and his minions. McDeere has the good sense to realize that neither the firm nor the FBI has his safety or best interests at heart, and, turning to a small group of family members of those previously hurt by the mob's activities, devises his own plan to use the legal tools he has learned to escape from the gangsters while passing along the evidence needed to bring down the Bendini firm. Sure, this is all fiction and fantasy, but fiction is often popular because it provides another way of telling a truth.
To everyone who finds out in the next few weeks that they have passed the bar examination: Congratulations, and may the rest of your life be just as successful. Know that you have the ability to make it so.
Monday, September 30, 2019
Titles are granted, positions are given, but it’s respect that earns you credibility. - Lolly Daskal
This is the second in a series of weekly blog posts addressing the basics of effective teaching. Last week, I addressed the importance of knowing your audience, whether from the podium of a classroom or on a larger stage. It is equally important to establish your credibility in the classroom in a manner that fosters learning and builds student rapport.
A teacher is viewed as the subject matter expert in the classroom, whether the audience is a class of third-graders, or third-year law students battling Secured Transactions. But, deference to one’s subject matter expertise can be extinguished with the speed of a hand raise. How we answer questions, or if we answer them at all, matters. Authority is not credibility. While authority may be bestowed or presumed, credibility is earned - one interaction after another. True expertise is evidenced by our ability to field and answer questions, and it can be wholly undermined by our failure or refusal to do the same.
Recent experiences have, for me, sounded the call for a return to the basics of quality teaching. To ensure that our students are well-prepared to pass state bar exams, academic support professors try to develop and maintain subject matter expertise in legal licensure exams. Yet, to my great shock and frustration, the well-reasoned questions of scholars soldiering in the trenches of bar prep have been dismissed and derided by those at the helm of bar examination. When questioned about exam scaling and essay equating, I’ve heard psychometric experts say you’ll just have to trust us. Which begs my point: expertise without earned credibility hobbles the vital relationship between those who have information and those with whom the information needs to be shared.
In legal analysis and bar essay writing, we tell students to use the facts. We teach them to not assume that the grader knows the facts. Effective teachers and presenters, likewise, do not assume that the audience has the facts. Under no circumstance will good teachers be dismissive of student questions. Strong teachers are not afraid to be questioned about the factual basis for their research and conclusions. In fact, they welcome a circumstance for intellectual challenge; they are fulfilled by the opportunity to teach, explain, and enlighten.
As law professors we are shepherding the next generation into the legal profession. Just as we would never silence the earnest question of a student in our class, we must speak persistence to power and not allow our own questions to go unanswered. When laws, policies, Restatements, changes to testing protocols, and impediments to educational access are proposed, we must take audience with those empowered to enact change. We must seek clarity and reason, because we cannot effectively teach that which we do not ourselves understand.
Thursday, September 26, 2019
Common wisdom often suggests more is better...at least when it comes to passing the bar exam. But, just like more medicine is not always better for one's body (and even poisonous when taking too much), perhaps undertaking more bar-tested subjects as a law student is not associated with increasing bar passage results, at least for those most at-risk of not passing the bar exam. And, perhaps avoiding experiential learning courses is not necessary for students most at-risk of not passing the bar exam. Indeed, the latest forthcoming empirical research is all about exploring common conceptions about the relationships among experiential learning, taking bar-tested electives, and bar exam outcomes.
To evaluate these questions, we turn to two empiricist law professors - Robert Kuehn at Washington University and David Moss at Wayne State University - who have just released "must-read" research analyzing often-expressed narratives about the impacts of experiential learning and bar-tested elective courses on bar exam outcomes. Robert Kuehn and David Moss, A Study of the Relationship Between Law School Coursework and Bar Exam Outcomes, 68 J. Legal Educ. (2019) (forthcoming).
First, the authors evaluate the hypothesis that law students should refrain from taking too many experiential learning courses (such as clinics, field placements/internships, and simulation courses), most likely based on the belief that experiential learning crowds out doctrinal learning.
Second, the researchers evaluate the hypothesis that law students should take more bar-tested subjects rather than fewer to boost ones' promise of bar exam success, particularly for those most at-risk of not passing bar exams.
Their research is robust, using regression analysis to evaluate such variables as LSAT scores, UGPA, first-year LGPA, graduating LGPA, experiential learning courses (clinics, field placements/internships, and simulation courses), and bar-tested elective subjects [regression analysis allows researchers to control or take into account the influence of other variables in order to observe whether experiential learning credits and/or bar-tested course work are associated with improved bar exam outcomes].
As indicated in their republished table below, their research spans an impressive 10 year time span, examining first-time bar exam results, for 3891 law school graduates from Washington University and Wayne State University.
Given the depth and breadth of the professors' research, their findings provide food-for-thought for these two questions, at least based on their law school populations, as to whether law students most-at risk of bar failure based on LGPA should take fewer experiential learning courses and/or more bar-tested elective subjects.
As an initial observation, with respect to LSAT scores, both law schools observed relatively consistent LSAT means throughout the course of the ten-year period despite a general downward trend in bar passage rates beginning in or around 2013 and 2014. Consequently, at least based on their law school populations, bar exam declines appear to be unrelated to LSAT admission decisions since LSAT scores remained relatively flat throughout the ten-year research period.
With respect to experiential learning courses, the authors observe that both law schools have seen astounding increases in the number of experiential credits hours that their students are taking over the ten year period, which is not surprising given the American Bar Association's 2014 requirement mandating increased experiential learning requirements in order for law schools to satisfy more recent accreditation standards.
Nevertheless, despite the occasional claim suggesting that law students are taking too many experiential courses, which might compromise bar exam results, the researchers found that there was no statistical association between increases in experiential learning credits hours and bar exam performance (to include those students most at-risk of bar exam failure). Thus, the authors suggest that law schools should not counsel students to avoid experiential learning opportunities.
With respect to bar-tested elective subjects, the authors observed that both law schools have found that more recent bar takers are taking fewer bar-tested subjects than in the past. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the researchers found a modest correlation between taking bar-tested subjects and bar exam outcomes but only for those students with LGPA's that placed them most at-risk of bar exam failure.
However, critically, the authors observed that that was an apparent sweet spot in the number of bar-tested subjects taken by at-risk students such that there was no statistical benefit in at-risk students taking more than the approximate average number of bar-tested subjects at each school (just four electives out of fourteen bar-tested subjects for Washington University students and just seven electives out of nineteen bar-tested subjects for Wayne State students).
In other words, in my reading of their research based on their populations of bar exam takers, law schools might counsel at-risk students to take a handful or so of bar-tested subjects but also advise them that they need not take the entire panoply of bar-tested elective subjects (as more than the average has no empirical benefit of improving bar exam outcomes). And, we should not at all fear encouraging at-risk students from actively participating in experiential learning courses, whether in the form of clinics, internships, and/or simulation courses.
In short, there's much room for curricular exploration by at-risk students without compromising their bar exam outcomes...and that's good news worth thinking about as we meet with our students about their curriculum choices.
Monday, September 23, 2019
The most important knowledge teachers need to do good work is a knowledge of how students are experiencing learning and perceiving their teacher’s actions. ~ Steven Brookfield
I love innovative pedagogy. Tools like mind maps, retrieval practice, spaced repetition, and self-directed leaning strategies have been game changers in higher education. I am always looking for ways to enhance and improve my teaching. But innovation is an enhancement to, and not a replacement for, the most basic tenets of quality classroom teaching. In this series of weekly blog posts, I will address teaching basics that are the telltale traits of effective teachers.
- Know your audience
We cannot afford to make assumptions about the knowledge or background of the students in our classes. Recently, I attended a conference planned for academic support and bar prep professionals. The first few hours of the conference were devoted almost entirely to explaining basic components of the bar exam. I concluded that the presenters either underestimated the skill and experience of the audience or failed to tailor a previously used presentation for the present audience. My perception of audience reaction to the content and delivery was a combination of polite appreciation, genuine curiosity, and suppressed rage. As audience participants, we have both the luxury and opportunity to make critical assessments of the projected and realized learning outcomes. But a seat on the other side of the podium also yields an enlightened perspective on effective learning strategies.
Rather than disconnect myself entirely from the redundancy of the content presented, I used the time to introspectively examine whether I had made the same mistakes. To my deep chagrin, I had. Insert hand raise emoji. I teach an early bar prep course, enrollment in which is restricted to students in their final year of law school. Because I cannot cover all the bar exam subjects in the time allotted for class, I select a few subjects. Routinely included in my course coverage are Property, Torts, Evidence, and Criminal Law. Although I intentionally include required courses, and stray away from electives that not all students will have taken, I failed to thoroughly research my audience this semester. In so doing, I did not discover, until after class had begun, that two students in my class had not yet completed the required course in Evidence.
One student was concurrently enrolled in Evidence and my course, the other had decided to wait until next semester to complete their requirements. I gut-wrenched at the thought of their polite, yet passive, frustration with me as I assigned practice questions testing hearsay - a topic with which they had no prior exposure. Of course, there are many law schools who do not require coursework in Evidence, and a corresponding number of students who learn/study the evidentiary rules for the first time during bar prep. Pedagogically, however, had I taken the time (actually a lot of time) to review the transcripts of the students enrolled in my class, I could have scheduled assignments that equally serve and challenge them all. Even though time consuming, doing my homework on my audience is just as important as being well studied in the subject matter that I teach. Suddenly my frustration with another’s seeming underestimation of my knowledge base was supplanted with embarrassment by my own overestimation of my students’.