For anyone interested, I thought I’d mention a couple things I’ve learned from experience.
1. Studying for the Bar
Granted, I studied for the bar a couple years ago. But still, I think the way I studied for it worked out pretty well, and might help some of you. First, I was working for a law firm at the time and packing up for my move to China, so I had WAY limited time to study. I started by watching all of the Barbri videos and making a detailed outline (like 56 pages for one class, no lie). Which got me a great outline, but I didn’t really learn anything. I’m actually part visual part kinesthetic learner, so just hearing someone talk about it does absolutely NOTHING for me. So I changed my approach about 6-7 weeks before the exam. I started with the legal SPARKCHARTS. They are awesome, amazing, and all things good. They contained all the basics of what I needed to know, a great foundation. So I spent about a week learning them by heart for all the subjects on the test – MBE or Essay (I think there were 2 that it didn’t include — UCC and Commercial Papers). Once I understood the basics, I followed up with Emanuel’s books. I started with the brief outline at the beginning, filling in the gaps in my foundation. Again I spent about 3 weeks making sure those were well memorized. I just went over them, and over them. For the next 2 weeks, I studied the more in-depth reviews. Adding the odd exceptions in here and there where I needed them. If I were you, I’d probably try to spend more than 4 weeks on exceptions if that’s where you get stuck a lot. I just didn’t have time. I spent about 2 days reviewing the Barbri outlines. By this point, I actually knew most of the stuff in those outlines, but there were a few things Emanuel and Sparcharts hadn’t covered, so I’m glad I did the review. Finally, the last few days before the exam, I just did questions. Questions from Emanuel, Questions from the Barbri books. I did questions over and over and over. When I took the exam, my essays were my lower score (UCC and Commercial Papers showed up, so that sucked). But I still passed!
2. I didn’t do any practice essays. Once I figured out the MPT it was a piece of cake. That was actually really easy for me. I didn’t have to know about the law – I just had to write a good essay. For that, I would read the question – write down all the laws. Then I would re-read the question and add all the facts under each law. Then I spent a little time (10 min. or so) writing an Introduction and Conclusion. Last I spent a little time making sure my law and facts actually formed complete sentences in a logical pattern. This gave me the intro, each law was a paragraph, and a conclusion. For the other essays, I figured I knew how to do a good essay. I always get top scores on essay writing in general, and as long as I knew the law I knew I could do the essay. This turned out to be true for me. I know a lot of people who aren’t as good at writing or who go blank on essays who need to write the essays. I’d say that’s up to your study style.
3. For Civil Procedure, I found that making an outline wasn’t helpful since I’m so visual / kinesthetic. So I took out giant poster-boards and used colored markers to make charts. I showed with different colors all the “If yes x” and “If no y” and made a map. It really helped me to see how things were connected and the flow of thought.
4. I’ve since become a law professor and found some other ways that helped me learn the law. The first is to make powerpoints for each subject. Pretend you are teaching students who cannot speak the language and have no background. Then create a powerpoint slide for each rule. It forces you to simply and make the connections more easily. Breaks everything down. Then allows you to re-organize the flow of the slides into something logical pattern that works for you. The second thing I find helpful is making up your own questions. Instead of just answering questions from other people, as you learn a rule and/or exception try creating your own multiple choice question on it with a fact pattern. You’ll find it’s more difficult, but it also gets you thinking how the Bar Testers think. I’ve found going back and reviewing the Barbri books and stuff that some of the questions I create for my students are basically the same as those they ask. But because I created it, I remember it better.
5. Don’t forget there are plenty of jobs you can do even without the bar exam. I know some people who fail it once, are quick to pass it the second time. But a lot of people struggle with test anxiety or other problems that keep them from getting over that hump. A lot of us simply cannot afford to keep taking it. Or maybe you figure out that anything this difficult or boring (after studying it forever, it gets boring) isn’t something you really want to do. There are lots of other options available. Some of my friends have gone on to become Court Clerks, Paralegals, School Librarians, University Department Heads, Government Teachers, Social Sciences Teacher, Legal English Teachers, and more. You can teach legal studies to undergraduates and the like. Others went back to school, got an alternative masters, and did something else. Or they became CPAs or Auditors or Business professionals. You can become a writer – did you know many of the crime shows are written by ex-criminal law lawyers? It’s because they can see the story and how it developed. I passed the bar exam, but knew really quickly that it wasn’t where I wanted my life to go. I went to law school to study Cultural Heritage Law. I had NO interest in being a family lawyer (tried that, got a corrupt / chauvinistic judge), criminal lawyer (tried that, got abused, called all hours of the night, and was never paid by the clients), guardian ad litem (tried that, saw more corrupt cops and judges and got depressed being around all the abusive families). You see a pattern? Let’s just say it wasn’t my cup of tea. That’s why I’m now a law and business professor in Asia. I teach international students and I love it! I use what I learned in school and work hard, but I get good pay and fine vacations. The students are a lot more fun to work with, and I get to travel around. I’m not telling you not to try to take the bar again, just know that you have options if you decide it isn’t what you want to do. Even if you passed, but aren’t looking forward to the normal line of work.
As my students say, “Fighting!”