Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Dear Practicing Attorneys:  Please Stop Giving Our Bar Students Inaccurate Advice. 

I still fondly remember the judge for whom I interned as a 3L.  Knowing that bar prep was coming up and sensing my anxiety, he asked me about my plan.  I told him that the bar prep company each day would provide lectures, outlines to read, some more outlines to read, and then finish things off with some outlines to read.  When I told him that the program started just after Memorial Day and ended the day before the exam, he was astonished.  His advice was to save myself all that money, take three weeks off from work, and study from July 4th until the exam.  He said that would be plenty.

Of all the advice my judge gave me, this was the one bit I did not take.  His guidance was well-intentioned, and I appreciated his attempts to calm me down.  But as the Type-A person that I am, I could not rest without feverishly checking off each scheduled study item.  His was advice I could not take.    

Twenty-something years later, students still receive that advice.  They insist:  “The partner at my firm said that she took just two weeks off for the exam and did just fine.”  The partner professed:  “You’re a smart kid.  You don’t need to do all that work.  Just watch the videos, read the outlines, and you’ll pass.”  Happy to internalize this message so as to mentally corroborate the partner’s flattering assessment, students’ confirmation biases drive them to adopt suboptimal learning behaviors. 

And then they fail the bar exam.

The practicing lawyers who give this advice sometimes believe that the bar exam world is a static place devoid of change.  However, recent substantial reforms severely limit the applicability of their experiences.  Below the fold, I describe those changes and how they require more careful advising. 

Continue reading

May 31, 2022 in Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 14, 2022

Love Letter

 

Heart

 

 

Dear ASP and Bar Prep colleagues:

I am writing this very quick post to send all the love to you today. I know that you are putting your own life on the back burner to help students prepare for the February bar. It is truly a labor of love to help students tackle an exam that does not always measure what it purports to assess.

If your students are not showing you the love today, then please hear it from me: You are seen, valued, appreciated, and instrumental-so thank you. And I know that in 3 short months, you will gear up to start this all over again with new students who will hopefully know how amazing you are.

(Liz Stillman)

February 14, 2022 in Bar Exams, Miscellany | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Academic and Bar Support Scholarship Spotlight

Recent SSRN posts on academic and bar support:

1. Catherine Martin Christopher,  Modern Diploma Privilege: A Path Rather Than a Gate (SSRN Post, October 5, 2021). 

From the abstract:

This article proposes a modern diploma privilege, a licensure framework that allows state licensure authorities to identify what competencies are expected of first-year attorneys, then partner with law schools to assess those competencies. Freed from the format and timing of a bar exam, schools can assess a broader range of competencies over longer time horizons. This will allow the development of law school curricula aimed at preparing students to assist clients rather than to pass the bar exam. The modern diploma privilege is structured as an ongoing partnership between licensure authorities and schools, which means that changes can be easily made to the list of desired competencies and/or the assessment methods. This in turn allows for a more nimble licensure mechanism that can quickly adapt to changes in the evolving market for legal services.

2.  Katharine Traylor Schaffzin, First-Generation Students in Law School: A Proven Success Model, 70 Arkansas L. Rev. 913 (2018).  

From the abstract:

This article addresses the ever-increasing population of first-generation college students and the academic challenges they face both in undergraduate school and in seeking to matriculate to law school. This demographic has been heavily studied at the undergraduate level, but very little data is available about the challenges and success of first-generation college students in law school. The article describes the best practices for the academic success of first-generation college students as researched and implemented by various colleges and universities. It also summarizes the findings of the only study done on the experiences of first-generation college graduates who matriculated to law school.

This research serves as the backdrop for the description of a unique program with proven success directed toward securing the academic achievement of first-generation college students in law school. The University of Memphis School of Law Tennessee Institute for Pre-Law (TIP) program is decades old and has been recording the successful outcomes of such students. This article analyzes data collected since 2012 on the academic outcomes of first-generation college graduates who participated in TIP to conclude that the program leads to successful results for these students in graduating law school and passing the bar exam. The article details the program itself and explains how a law school can implement the promising methods uncovered at the undergraduate level. It offers TIP to readers as a proven intervention and success model for law schools seeking to ensure the academic success of first-generation college graduates in law school.

Recent book:

Charles Calleros (New Mexico),  Law School Exams 3rd edition, VitalSource (2021).

From the publisher:  

Law School and Exams: Preparing and Writing to Win, Third Edition is the third edition of a popular book whose first edition Bryan Garner reviewed and judged to be “the best on the market.” It combines:

    1. Clear and comprehensive explanations of study and exam techniques
    2. Numerous illustrative samples that are truly instructive
    3. Twenty in-class exercises or take-home assignments on everything from case briefs to essay and multiple-choice exam questions.

Comprehensive and self-contained, the Third Edition is suitable for use as the textbook for a sophisticated Prelaw course, 1L Orientation, or a 1L Academic Success course. Alternatively, incoming freshmen can work through it independently over the summer to be optimally prepared for law school in the fall.

(Louis Schulze, FIU Law)

January 25, 2022 in Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exams, Publishing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 1, 2021

Pull the Goalie

*I am going to preface this by clearly admitting that I am not someone who regularly teaches bar prep and I know that what I am saying may come from a place of relative ignorance on many issues. I am sure I have missed some important nuances here-and for that, I apologize in advance.*

Recently, we got the news that my youngest child has passed all his required MCAS exams for high school graduation (MCAS is the Massachusetts Child Abuse System according to my kids, but really the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System). These are the standardized tests that students in public schools start taking in third grade and take until they pass the required high school level exams for graduation. The elementary grade exams do not have any impact on grades in classes or promotion between grades-they may indicate a need for other school-based interventions or testing, but that is it. I’ve never let any of my children even see the reports that are mailed to parents.

These yearly exams are meaningless…until they have ultimate, high stakes meaning. Students cannot (without jumping through some significant, fiery hoops)graduate from high school without passing the English, Math and Science exams. Some parents complain that “teaching to the test” ruins learning for their children-which is a valid point. Some parents worry about the achievement gap between various groups of children (mainly along racial and socio-economic lines) which is a complete and unavoidable truth. If a test cannot be administered fairly, what is it assessing at all? And why would we attach such significance to an instrument that is irremediable?

And so, we arrive at the current iteration of the Bar Exam. At times, it seems to test a student’s ability to take the exam more than assessing knowledge of the concepts, theories, and skills it purports to assess. The same criticisms that are true about the MCAS are relevant here. We should not teach to a test-we should be teaching for learning. The achievement gap has not been bridged despite being widely acknowledged. And yet, the Bar is the key that opens the gate to many careers in law. With COVID and remote bar exam issues (technical, physical, and psychological), can we really say that it is an accurate instrument of assessment for practice readiness?

Has it ever been?

My thought for this Monday morning is this: since we all know people (not students, but peers) who have passed the Bar and were not ready for primetime, and we all know people who did not pass but were born ready to practice law, then how is passing the Bar a guarantee of anything? Think about it: (just about) every person who has ever been disbarred must have passed the Bar. So why not just pull the goalie here? What are we protecting when not every shot to the goal goes in--even when no one is there? The fact that law school accreditation is in some part contingent on bar pass rate shows, at best, a lack of creativity in assessment. At worst, it shows that we do not really wish to welcome all the qualified potential members into the profession.  We can do better.

(Liz Stillman)

November 1, 2021 in Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Diversity Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 25, 2021

Gestalt

I was a social psychology major as an undergraduate and I remember studying the psychological theory of gestalt, which is defined as “something that is made of many parts and yet is somehow more than or different from the combination of its parts.”[1] Basically, if I had known about outlining back in those days, I would have written the rule as: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. As bar exam results trickle in from parts near and far, I think it worth revisiting this idea with both students and colleagues.

To students who have passed the bar, I would say, “Wonderful! Remember, there is more to you than this one credential. As an attorney, you will bring your whole self to the table and that will always be more than the sum of your parts.” To the students who have not passed the bar this time, I might say the same thing. I do not want to be dismissive of how meaningful this one credential is for them after a three (or four) year journey that has already been fraught with confidence crushing moments. I don’t want to toss out, “oh well, maybe next time” either because right now, I think these students may see “next time” as a craggy mountain to climb without any safety gear in truly inclement weather.  I also know that social media means that students will know about their classmates’ successes almost immediately and silence will be interpreted as failure. Literally. There really is no good answer other than “I’m sorry. How are you doing?”

I also worry about my colleagues who have poured every ounce of what they have into students to help them pass the bar (regardless of whether the students were willing vessels or not) and now have someone else’s success or failure be determinative of their worth. Is this how we value professionals?

When a football team loses a game, media outlets tend to blame everyone on the team-not just the quarterback or coaches, but the team as a whole: offense, defense, big guys, little guys. Even when one player makes an egregious error, the sportscasters tend to find additional reasons for the loss-even the weather or altitude can be roped in. When the team wins, the press is similarly wide in praise, as seen here by today’s Boston Globe after the Patriots won a home game yesterday, “[e]veryone went home happy Sunday. Mac Jones got his first 300-yard game and hit a 46-yard deep ball. Damien Harris rushed for 100 yards. Eleven players made a catch, and five different players got in the end zone. The defense created two interceptions…Smiles all around.”[2] And remember, these guys probably each get paid more than all the ASP folks at a regional conference combined.

So, when bar results are good, ASP folks are part of the overall winning team with smiles all around. But when bar results are not what we are hoping for, why do our ASP colleagues not get the same level of camaraderie? Why aren’t we always a team at that moment also? ASP folks, and particularly those who do bar exclusively, need to be given the grace of gestalt. So I say to you, regardless of the bar results at your school, you are more than the sum of your parts. As an ASP professional, you bring your whole self to the table and you are mighty.  

Judging someone’s competency or job security based on the performance of other people at a task that is not entirely knowable is something that is far above our pay grade.

(Liz Stillman)

 

[1] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/gestalt

[2] https://www.bostonglobe.com/2021/10/24/sports/who-cares-that-its-jets-patriots-needed-this-ego-boost/

October 25, 2021 in Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Encouragement & Inspiration, Professionalism | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 1, 2021

ASP Exciting Works in Progress

This weekend, I attended the Central States Law Schools Association Scholarship Conference and ASP was well-represented. each speaker gave a talk highlighting their current works and sought feedback from the audience of faculty members. Here is just a sampling of the ASP presentations:

Cassie Christopher, Texas Tech School of Law
A Modern Diploma Privilege: A Path Rather Than a Gate

Michele Cooley, IU McKinney School of Law
But I’m Paying for This!: Student Consumerism and Its Impact on
Academic and Bar Support

Danielle Kocal, Pace Law School
A Professor's Guide to Teaching Gen Z

Blake Klinkner, Washburn School of Law
Is Discovery Becoming More Proportional? A Quantitative Assessment of
Discovery Orders Following the 2015 Proportionality Amendment to
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26

Leila Lawlor, Georgia State College of Law
Comparative Analysis of Graduation and Retention Rates

Chris Payne-Tsoupros
Curricular Tracking as a Denial of the “Free Appropriate Public Education”
Guaranteed to Students with Disabilities under the IDEA

I was delighted to see so many ASPers presenting Works in Progress, and I cannot wait to read and cite your published works! 

(Marsha Griggs)

October 1, 2021 in Academic Support Spotlight, Bar Exams, Guest Column, Meetings, News, Publishing, Writing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

What to do with only 2 weeks left......

I write about this every bar exam administration, because I always get the same question -“What should I do with the remaining 13 days before the Bar Exam?” so I thought I’d share my advice with anyone else that may be wondering.

First, 13 days is more than you think. I promise.

Second, remember that the goal is NOT to memorize everything. It’s not possible. So, if you don’t feel like you know every last piece of law ever that can possibly be tested on the exam, you are not alone. It’s a normal feeling!

So, what CAN you do?

Practice. Between now and the 22nd or so, this is the last big push where you can practice. Make sure you’ve practice MBE sets in 100, and timed. Make sure you’ve written more than one essay at a time. Now might be the time two take 90 minutes and write 3 essays, or take 3 hours and write 2 MPTs! It’s one thing to write one essay in 30 minutes, it’s an entirely different thing to get through 6 at a time! It’s hard, it’s tiring, and it’s easy to lose focus. So, the only want to work on your stamina and timing is to practice. This upcoming weekend and week is the perfect time to get that in, and really make sure you are practicing in test like conditions, or as close as possible.

Start to work on memory and recall. Yes, there are things you just NEED to remember. This week, and until the day of the exam, take 5-10 minute chunks to work on memory. See this post for more on memory: https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/academic_support/2021/02/memorization-v-understanding.html

Finally the days leading up to the exam, the weekend before, take some time to relax. It sounds counterintuitive, but it’s important.

Here is a little timeline to help:

Four Days Before the Bar Exam

This should be your last day of “heavy lifting” activities. Complete a set of 50 timed MBE questions. Complete a set of three MEE questions, timed. Complete a full-length timed MPT. Do not pick and choose between these – do all of them. This is the last day you will do practice that improves your stamina and timing. Remember, you should be doing these things all week, but four days before the exam is your cut off point.

Three Days Before the Bar Exam

In terms of bar exam preparation, today you should complete 15 to 20 MBE questions, complete one timed MEE question, outline three to five additional MEE questions, and complete one full-length timed MPT. You are tapering off. This isn’t an exact science – the point is that you are practicing, so you will feel prepared, but you aren’t tiring yourself out.

This is also the day to do something relaxing for yourself – watch a movie, go on a run. Do something that is going to make you feel less stressed. You should also be sure to go to bed early and eat well. Yes, that sounds like “mothering” but it’s good advice. On the days of the exam you will NEED to be well rested and refreshed.

Two Days Before the Bar Exam

Rinse and repeat yesterday. Today you should complete 15 to 20 MBE questions, complete one timed MEE question, outline three to five additional MEE questions, and complete one full-length timed MPT.

Take some more time to do something relaxing for yourself to help relieve some of that bar exam stress. And again - you should be sure to go to bed early and eat well.

Also, when I say do something relaxing for yourself, that can be almost anything that makes you happy. The point is to get out of your head a bit, and give yourself a break. I realize it might seem like the worst time to take a break, but it’s not. Your brain needs to feel “fresh” on exam days. Think of it like running a marathon – you don’t run 26.2 miles, or even 13 miles, the day before the marathon. You’d be exhausted. The days leading up to the actual marathon you might run 1-5 miles and stretch, and relax, and eat pasta. This is your mental marathon, so treat your brain accordingly.

One Day Before the Bar Exam

Today you should lighten the mental lift even more. Review your flashcards and other memory devices. Outline three to five MEE questions. Do five MBE questions to keep your brain in the practice of thinking through MBE questions without overly taxing it.

You also want to make sure you have everything ready for tomorrow. What types of ID do you need? What are you allowed to bring in with you to the exam? Make sure to have all those items pulled together and ready to go. Make sure your laptop is fully charged. And as silly as it sounds, map out how you will get to the exam location (if you are going to a location). Do you need to worry about parking? Are you taking a train? Do not leave anything to chance. Most of you, but not all, are currently looking at virtual exams. So do you have a good space to take the exam? Do you know how you will log in? What the timing is? Etc?

Finally, relax. You’ve put in so many hours, weeks, months of preparation – you’ve got this. Take some time to relax and unwind before bed. Eat a simple meal that will sit well with your potentially uneasy stomach. Lastly, head to bed a bit earlier than usual to account for nerves keeping you awake.

Day One of the Bar Exam

Today is the day. Make sure you are on time for check in and have everything with you. Today is filled with the MPT and MEE. At the lunch break and after the day of testing ends, do not talk with others about the contents of the exam. Invariably, one of you will think you saw a subject the other did not spot – and you won’t know who was right or wrong until you get your final bar results, so there is no benefit to discussing such matters now. Doing so will only freak you out and add to your anxiety.

After the testing day is complete, eat dinner and mentally decompress. If you must, review a few flashcards – perhaps the ones you still struggle with and want just one more run at. But this is not the time to do any serious review or learning because your brain is tired from today and needs to rest up for tomorrow. What is there is there. Have confidence that your hard work will pay off tomorrow!

Day Two of the Bar Exam

It is almost over! Today you will tackle the MBE and then – be done! After the testing day is over, just like yesterday – do not talk about the exam! Instead, relax, take a nap, celebrate!

(Melissa Hale)

July 14, 2021 in Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

So You Failed The Bar.....

So You Failed the Bar?

Now what?

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.

I write this twice a year, every time results come out, because I think the message is that important. So let me repeat, this does NOT define you.

Having said that, it’s ok to take a few days to be upset. Do what you need to do. But then dust yourself off, and start looking towards the next 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 failed politician has lost a race. Every failed Olympian has lost a game or a match. That failure is a normal way to achieves success in the future. However, for that to be true, you have to learn from failure.

So how to learn from this?

Step 1: Request your essays back.  Many states allow you to request, or view, your essays.  There are often deadlines for this, so make sure you do it right away.

Once you have your essays, I want you to do a couple things. Review your answers. Now that you are removed from the day of writing, what do you notice? Then, if possible, compare them to the sample answers. See if you can pick out patterns. Don’t just focus on the conclusions, or the issues spotted. Did the sample answers use more facts? Or have a more in depth analysis? Be honest with yourself. Also, if you have a varied set of scores (one essay is a 1, while another is a 5) compare the 2. What is the difference? Don’t just shrug it off as you know one subject better. Pay attention to the writing in both.

In addition, here is a CALI lesson on assessing your own work. It may seem geared towards law students, but it can help you assess your essays: https://www.cali.org/lesson/18101

Assessing your essays is the really important first step. I have seen so many students that know the law, and know it well. But they don’t put enough explanation in their essays, and that costs them. So really take that time to be critical, and see what you need to work on.

Step 2: Analyze your score  How close or far away are you from passing? Did you do better on a certain subject? Is your written score considerably better than your MBE score? This is an excellent place to start. Some things to keep in mind:

  • If your essay score is higher than your MBE, it may be tempting to place most of your energy into MBE practice, and forget about essays. This will only result in your score “swapping.” So, while it is good to note that you might need more work on the MBE, don’t forget that you aren’t carrying the score with you so you still need to practice essays. The reverse is true if you did better on MBE than the essays.
  • Perhaps you did really well on the torts MBE, but your lowest score was civil procedure. Again, do not just focus on civil procedure, and forget other subjects. Your scores will just swap places, and not improve overall.
  • You might be only 2 points away from passing. Great! However, your score is still starting from scratch. Meaning, in one sense, you only need 2 more points, but that’s not how the bar works, obviously. You have to still work to get the points you already got AGAIN, and it is likely you forgot things, and are out of practice.

Step 3: Think about external things  Did something unrelated to the bar impact your studying? Perhaps a health issue, physical or mental? Perhaps a family emergency, or ongoing family issues?

Have you suffered from anxiety in general or related to exams? If you do, are you being treated for the anxiety?

These things can and will impact your studying. Not matter how much time and effort you put in, if you are not physically and mentally healthy, you won’t process the information correctly.

Not to mention, if there is something in your life that is distracting you, that will also impact how you process information.

And again, we were in a pandemic. This likely impacted your ability to study and focus. That’s ok, and that’s normal.

Step 4: Accommodations  If you were entitled to accommodations in law school, did you use them on the bar exam? If not, make sure you apply for them this time around. If you were denied accommodations, still try again. They likely need more recent testing, or paperwork.

Step 5: Think about your Study Habits.  The most important thing you can do is practice. Many bar students get caught up in trying to memorize every sing law, or master every subject. While this is admirable, and takes quite a bit of time and effort, it's not a surefire way to find success.  This is because mastering the bar is a SKILL. You need to practice. When I work with repeat takers, I often find that they knew the law, and they studied hard, but didn’t practice enough essays or enough timed MBE.

This matters for a few reasons. One is timing. You can know all the law in the world, but if you can’t write an essay in 30 minutes, you will struggle to get the scores you need. Similarly, doing 100 MBE questions in 3 hours is not easy, even if you DO know the law. You need to practice the timing, and practice for the stamina.

Secondly, the skill being tested on the bar is applying the law to the unique set of facts. Yes, you need to know the law to do this, but knowing the law is not enough. You need to practice the application. The application is typically where you will get most points. 

This means that writing essays, fully out, not just passively reading sample answers or issue spotting, is key. It has to be a priority in studying.

In fact, all of your studying should be active. Don’t focus on rewriting, or reviewing, outline after outline. Again, yes, you need to know the law, but you are also more likely to remember the law if you apply it – in MBE questions, writing essays, and so forth.

Step 6: Change it Up.  Different study habits work for different people. If you studied at home and found that you were easily distracted, find a space at the library or nearby coffee shop to study. If you did go the library/school/coffee shop every day, maybe try studying at home.

Finally, if you can, reach out to your school's bar prep person!

And good luck!

(Melissa Hale)

April 21, 2021 in Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Lessons From Surgeons for the Last Two Weeks of Prep until the Feb 2021 Bar Exam

Wow; do I ever get distracted...with emails...incoming snapchats....Facebook posts....and just the overall buzz of the omnipresent internet.  There is so much NOISE that takes up so much of my TIME that I seem to get so LITTLE done.  That's particularly true for me in preparing for big exams because, to be honest, I am a big-time procrastinator...with a CAPITAL P!

In fact, I was just fretting about how much I had to do (which, of course, is related to my procrastination issues) when I came across an article by Lucette Lugando describing how surgeons stay focused during organ transplants.

Hum...That's what I need.  To Focus. To Stay on Task.  To Just Get Something Meaningful Done Today!   http://www.wsj.com/articles/how-surgeons-stay-focused-for-hours-1479310052  

So, here are a few thoughts that I gleaned from Lugando's article that might be especially handy for law graduates preparing for the Feb 2021 bar exam (and for people like me who live to procrastinate):

First, put away my cellphone.  Turn it off.  Hide it.  Ditch it.

As detailed in Lugando's article, "Transplant surgeons, whose work includes stitching minuscule blood vessels together, minimize their distractions. No one checks cellphones in the operating room during surgery."  

No one checks their phones?  Really?  Are you kidding?  Of course not, at least not during surgery.  And, bar exam preparation requires us to do surgery, so to speak, on our study tools and on loads of practice exams.  

Thus, as I create study tools or as I learn by taking practice exams, I can help myself mightily by placing my focus on my work at hand... rather than the cellphone that is so often in my hand...by removing the "cellphone temptation" out of my grasp.  Who knows?  It might even lower my anxiety to stop looking at it constantly.

Second, sharpen my field of vision to just the essentials (working on my study tools, practicing lots of exam questions, and looping the lessons learned from my practice problems back into my study tools) by creating an environment that is free of my own personal distractions...so that I focus on learning rather than the noise that is so often around me.

As Lugando points out, "The surgeons often wear loupes mounted on eye glasses to magnify their work, which limits their field of vision to a few inches."  

In other words, with respect to bar exam preparation, maybe I need to limit my field of vision to the "few" essentials, namely, creating study tools, testing my study tools out through practice exams, and then editing my study tools to incorporate what I learned about problem-solving through the practice exams.  

There's a saying, apparently by Winston Churchill, that says: "You will never reach your destination if you stop and throw stones at every dog that barks."  Or, as Bruce Lee put it, "The successful warrior is the average [person] with a laser-like focus."

So, instead of having the cellphone bark at you constantly, you might just try out what surgeons do...and turn your focus into a laser by getting rid of distractions during the final two weeks of bar prep as you create your study tools and practice lots and lots of bar exam problems.  

In the process, you'll become, to paraphrase Bruce Lee, a bar exam champion.  (Scott Johns).

February 11, 2021 in Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Encouragement & Inspiration | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Academic and Bar Support Scholarship Spotlight

New Scholarship:

Sarah Schendel, Listen! Amplifying the Experiences of Black Law School Graduates in 2020, __ Nebraska L. Rev. __ (forthcoming 2021).

From the abstract:

Law students graduating in 2020 faced a number of unusual challenges. However, perhaps no students faced more emotional, psychological, logistical, and financial challenges than Black law school graduates in 2020. In addition to changes in the administration of the bar exam (including the use of technology that struggled to recognize Black faces) and delays in the administration of the exam that led to anxiety and increased financial instability, Black communities were concurrently being disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic led to increased care-taking responsibilities for many, concerns over the health of family members, and a lack of quiet and reliable space to study. Black law school graduates already struggling to juggle these challenges were also confronted with a rise in anti-Black police brutality, and the racist words and actions of politicians. As a result of this unprecedented series of stressors, many Black law graduates struggled to focus on studying for the bar, with some choosing to delay or abandon sitting for the bar altogether. Many expressed anger, disappointment, and betrayal at the profession they have worked so hard to enter. This Article summarizes the survey responses of over 120 Black law students who graduated in 2020 and were asked how the COVID pandemic and increased anti-Black violence impacted their health, education, and career aspirations. It seems likely that the impact of 2020 on the presence and wellbeing of Black lawyers in the legal profession will be felt for years to come. As professors, deans, lawyers, and policymakers reexamine the function of the bar exam and confront inequalities in legal education, we need to listen to these graduates’ experiences.

Foundational ASP Scholarship:  

Paula Lustbader, From Dreams to Reality: The Emerging Role of Law School Academic Support Programs, 31 U.S.F. L. Rev. 839 (1997)

From the abstract:

Reviews the history, rationale, development, and different program structures of Law School Academic Support Programs; briefly summarizes learning theory and explains how ASP can implement those theories to teach academic skills; and suggests that notwithstanding the significance of helping students develop solid academic skills, probably the most important work that ASP professionals do is to provide the non-academic support by making the human connection to students and believing in them.

 

(Louis N. Schulze, Jr., FIU Law)

February 2, 2021 in Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Current Affairs, Diversity Issues, Writing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

So You Failed The Bar.....

I write this, or some variation of it, a few times a year. And I do so because I feel passionately that it needs to be heard. Many of you are getting Bar Exam Results right now, and if the news is good, great! Congrats! However, for some of you, the news is less than idea. That's ok too. Read on!

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.  In fact, you likely have bosses, professors, or have met judges or elected officials that have failed the bar, and you might not even know! That's 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.

So, take a few days to be upset, it’s ok. Also, remind yourself that you are in a pandemic! And for most of you, the goal posts around the exam kept changing. There was so much extra stress involved in this last Bar Exam, and to be honest, so much extra stress in life. Sure, you might be sitting here thinking that you don't want to make excuses, and that's admirable. But, this isn't an excuse, it's reality. You were likely studying for, or taking the exam, in less than ideal circumstances. So, given that, cut yourself some slack.

Then, remember that you don't owe anyone an explanation. No one. Yes, you have a duty to be honest. If you currently have a law related job, or are in the hiring process, yes, you have to tell your employer or future employer. And you can't pretend to be licensed when you are not. But beyond that, you don't have to explain this to well meaning family or friends, or anyone else. However, you also want to trust me when I say that more people will understand than you think, and very few people will judge. 

So finally,  dust yourself off, and start looking towards the next 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 failed politician has lost a race. Every failed Olympian has lost a game or a match. That failure is a normal way to achieves success in the future. However, for that to be true, you have to learn from failure.  So, what can you do?

FIRST: Look at your score (if your state gives you the breakdown) and request back your essays (if you can). It's going to be hard, you likely don't want to look back. But you can learn so much from those scores and the essays!

Once you have your essays, I want you to do a couple things. Review your answers. Now that you are removed from the day of writing, what do you notice? If possible, compare them to the sample answers. See if you can pick out patterns. Don’t just focus on the conclusions, or the issues spotted. Did the sample answers use more facts? Or have a more in depth analysis? Be honest with yourself. Also, if you have a varied set of scores (one essay is a 1, while another is a 5) compare the 2. What is the difference? Don’t just shrug it off as you know one subject better. Pay attention to the writing in both.

THEN: Look at your score. How close or far away are you from passing? Did you do better on a certain subject? Is your written score considerably better than your MBE score? This is an excellent place to start. Some things to keep in mind:

  • If your essay score is higher than your MBE, it may be tempting to place most of your energy into MBE practice, and forget about essays. This will only result in your score “swapping.” So, while it is good to note that you might need more work on the MBE, don’t forget that you aren’t carrying the score wit you so you still need to practice essays. The reverse is true if you did better on MBE than the essays.
  • Perhaps you did really well on the torts MBE, but your lowest score was civil procedure. Again, do not just focus on civil procedure, and forget other subjects. Your scores will just swap places, and not improve overall.
  • You might be only 2 points away from passing. Great! However, your score is still starting from scratch. Meaning, in one sense, you only need 2 more points, but that’s not how the bar works, obviously. You have to still work to get the points you already got AGAIN, and it is likely you forgot things, and are out of practice.

NEXT: Think about external factors, ya know, like a pandemic!

Did something unrelated to the bar impact your studying? Perhaps a health issue, physical or mental? Perhaps a family emergency, or ongoing family issues? Did you have a good place to study? Or time? Much of this might have been beyond your control, and it might feel like you are searching for excuses, but really,  you are analyzing the situation so you can create a plan moving forward. 

Have you suffered from anxiety in general or related to exams? If you do, are you being treated for the anxiety?

These things can and will impact your studying. Not matter how much time and effort you put in, if you are not physically and mentally healthy, you won’t process the information correctly.

Not to mention, if there is something in your life that is distracting you, that will also impact how you process information, which will impact your score.

REVIEW: Your study habits!

The most important thing you can do is practice. Many bar students get caught up in trying to memorize every sing law, or master every subject. While this is admirable, and takes quite a bit of time and effort. However, mastering the bar is a SKILL. You need to practice. When I work with repeat takers, I often find that they knew the law, and they studied hard, but didn’t practice enough essays or enough timed MBE.

This matters for a few reasons. One is timing. You can know all the law in the world, but if you can’t write an essay in 30 minutes, you will struggle to get the scores you need. Similarly, doing 100 MBE questions in 3 hours is not easy, even if you DO know the law. You need to practice the timing, and practice for the stamina.

Secondly, the skill being tested on the bar is applying the law to the unique set of facts. Yes, you need to know the law to do this, but knowing the law is not enough. You need to practice the application.

This means that writing essays, fully out, not just passively reading sample answers or issue spotting, is key. It has to be a priority in studying.

In fact, all of your studying should be active. Don’t focus on rewriting, or reviewing, outline after outline. Again, yes, you need to know the law, but you are also more likely to remember the law if you apply it – in MBE questions, writing essays, and so forth.

FINALLY: Meet with your Academic Success Professor, if you have one. We are here to help, I promise! I always hope that if my students aren't successful, they will come see me right away. We want you to! And we want to help you go through those essays and that score report, and create a game plan. Trust us, it's what we do! Maybe you don't know why one of your essays was given a 1, while another was a 5. We are trained to help you! We can help you with all of the above!

LAST: Change it up. Your Academic Success Professor can likely help you identify ways to change the way you studied, or identify different resources you might use. 

Also, don't forget about non standard testing accommodations. I've had students fail the bar because they use non standard testing accommodations all through law school, and then decide not to apply for those same accommodations on the Bar Exam! That's just silly. You are entitled to them. Yes, the application process can be frustrating, but at least try.

Finally, if you don't have an Academic Success Professor to help you out, here are some resources that I give to my students:

CALI lessons! Which are free, always a bonus!

  • CALI Lessons on improving multiple choice:

https://www.cali.org/lesson/18100

https://www.cali.org/lesson/18024

Other Resources, sadly not free, but some can be helpful. If you do have an Academic Success Professor, they might have discount codes, or other ways to help you get the below resources. 

https://lawtutors.net/

Or

https://www.jdadvising.com/

Above all else, don't give up! I'll say it again, this does NOT define you, not as a person, not as a future lawyer. This is one small hiccup on your road to a fantastic career. And it's frustrating yes, but you WILL get past it!

(Melissa Hale)

December 2, 2020 in Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Cut Scores Impact Racial Diversity of Profession without Protecting Public

The UBE is spreading through the country faster than any legal education reform in recent memory.  A few short years ago, multiple people with information on Oklahoma's decision making thought the UBE would never happen in Texas, and following their lead, Oklahoma would also be one of the last states to adopt it.  Oklahoma disavowed scaling just a few years ago, and then, Texas followed the UBE lemmings.  Once Texas joined the crowd, the Oklahoma Supreme Court created a committee to study adopting the UBE.  One major question for the committee was whether the UBE, through scaling, would impact diversity.  The court also wanted to know if certain cut scores would impact diversity.  At that time, no one had a great answer.  No study looked at both the bar's impact on diversity along with cut score implications.  For Oklahoma, any information was even more irrelevant because Oklahoma was one of only a few states not scaling essay scores to the MBE.  The court proceeded to adopt the UBE without much information on that issue.

At that moment, there was a complete lack of information on critical topics.  Thanks to AccessLex and a team of researchers, we now have a quality study on cut scores' impact on diversity.  AccessLex offers grants for research on legal education issues.  You can read numerous interesting articles on their grant page.  The most recent article on California bar exam cut score is especially interesting.

The article Examining the California Cut Score:  An Empirical Analysis of Minimum Competency, Public Protection, Disparate Impact, and National Standards considers the impact of California's cut sore on diversity while also asking whether cut scores really protect the public from incompetent or unethical lawyers.  The analysis is very interesting.  I encourage everyone to ready the study.  We are in a unique period for bar exam reform and UBE expansion.  We should definitely ask whether the bar accomplishes its intended goal of protecting the public, especially if the impact functionally prohibits diversity of the profession.

(Steven Foster)

 

October 18, 2020 in Bar Exams, Diversity Issues, Publishing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Lawyers and Essential Work - An ABA Article of Encouragement from ASP Professional Sara Berman

Just off the press, and not a minute too late, is an ABA article by author Sara Berman with advice for the most recent law school graduates, whether having already taken a bar exam or preparing to take the bar exam this month. https://abaforlawstudents.com/2020/09/01/preparing-for-the-bar-exam-and-practice-during-a-pandemic/

Here's a few tidbits from the article:  

(1) As lawyers (or soon-to-be lawyers), you are an essential worker because democracy and the pursuit of justice depends on the sacrifices, the integrity, and your legal skills.

(2) You've got a inspirational story to share with employers, having successfully navigated the transition to socially-distant learning, with both the completion of your law school studies and preparation for your bar exam.  What you've gone through will make you a better attorney in the long-run, so liberally share the lessons you've learned with prospective employers and attorneys and judges.

(3) Stay flexible as you march forward in your pursuit of your legal career, remembering in your heart of hearts that all of your  hard work has been more than a worthwhile pursuit because you will soon be joining the bar as a critical "guardian of democracy."  Id.  

Let me say that we - in the ASP community - are all so proud of you, admiring your flexibility and adaptability, your commitment to the pursuit of justice, and the inner strength and resolve that you have demonstrated in these unprecedented times.  Personally, we have much to learn from you.  So, please don't ever shy away from letting your voice be heard and your heart inspire us to be the community of practitioners that our world so desperately needs and deserves.  (Scott Johns).

 

 

October 1, 2020 in Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exams, Encouragement & Inspiration, Professionalism | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Making the Most in the Midst of the Many Bar Exam Postponements

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.

 

August 20, 2020 in Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Life versus Licensure...

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:  

"Slowly depleting."  

"No income."  

"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.

July 2, 2020 in Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exams, Encouragement & Inspiration | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 15, 2020

What I've Learned

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.

(Marsha Griggs)

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)

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Hey Bar Students, Take A Break!

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.

June 3, 2020 in Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Unmasked

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=20200414232636https://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).

May 14, 2020 in Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exams, Encouragement & Inspiration | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, May 11, 2020

Bar Exams CAN Be Administered Online

In response to the mounting uncertainty about the administration of the July 2020 bar exam, Indiana has moved its exam online.

By order of the Indiana Supreme Court published May 7, 2020, Indiana will offer a one-day online exam in late July. According to law.com “that makes Indiana the first jurisdiction to commit to an online July exam, and the first to say it is creating its own version of the licensing test.” Indiana was one of the last states to adopt the Multistate Bar Exam, and had, for years, given a purely “state-made” exam. Today, the Indiana exam includes multistate content and state specific essays, so the bar examiners likely have an arsenal of potential test content. Other states, like California and Massachusetts, have made nods towards an online exam, but have not publicly defined what their exam would look like or when it would be administered. Both California and Massachusetts have postponed their July exam until September.

Indiana may soon have company. The Chief Justice of the Nevada Supreme Court filed a petition recommending a temporary modification of its July 2020 bar exam to an online format. The petition is based on a recommendation from the Nevada Board of Law Examiners (BLE). The Nevada BLE proposed to administer a two-day, fully online, exam consisting of eight essays and one Nevada performance test. The Nevada proposal excludes multiple-choice questions. If accepted, Nevada will join California and Pennsylvania in administering its own performance test. The Nevada proposal is open for public comment. Anyone wishing to support (or oppose) the proposal should email the Clerk of the Nevada Supreme Court. Like Indiana, Nevada uses both multistate content and administers a state law essay exam. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has added new layers of stress to the already hectic workloads of the academic support community. ASPers are affected by the pandemic in ways that our doctrinal colleagues are not. Traditionally, we are the ones from whom students seek counsel and clarity about the bar exam and how to prepare for it. Our ability to respond to those questions has been upended by proposed delays and the looming threat that a face-to-face exam cannot be administered in either July or September. All we know now is that we really don't know what will happen or how our students should best prepare. Added to the worry about whether there can be a bar exam at all, is how our students will fare on the exam and what our pass rates will look like.

The Society of American Law Teachers (SALT) called for suspension of ABA Standard 316 mandating that law schools maintain a 75% bar passage rate to remain in compliance. We can reasonably anticipate that bar pass rates will be lower in 2020 than in recent prior years. Students are under extreme stress dealing with pandemic related adjustments, fear of contracting the virus, and fear of spreading it to loved ones. Summer bar takers lack of access to law schools, public libraries, and quiet coffee shops for bar study, because they are not open to the public. Some may be battling illness themselves. Moreover, the administration of three separate exams with comparative and wholistic grading will also likely skew the exam outcomes and lead to a higher number of bar failures than would have occurred had all candidates taken the exam in the same administration. The Bar Advocacy Committee supports the SALT position and will present a letter to the Executive Board of the Association of Academic Support Educators (AASE) for signature, delivery, and public posting. 

In the past, New York has been the state to follow, in terms of bar exam policy and development. Not so, anymore, as the limited seating debacle has cast a cloud of embarrassment and incompetence over the empire state. Who knew that we would see such progressive and compassionate bar policy leadership coming from Utah, Indiana, and now, hopefully, Nevada! It just goes to show that good ideas aren’t tied to population or politics—good ideas stem from compassionate effective leadership. And there is still room for more leaders with regard to the July 2020 exam.

(Marsha Griggs)

May 11, 2020 in Advice, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Miscellany | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

A Fun Look at Bar Exam History

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!

(Melissa Hale)

May 6, 2020 in Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exams, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)