The Spine-chilling Tale of The Bar Examiner

Darkness falls upon the land. Blood-curdling screams are heard in the distance. Is it a werewolf attack? The zombie apocalypse? No, something far more sinister…The Bar Exam.

On this Halloween, I want to tell you the spine-chilling tale of The Bar Examiner. A great many law school graduates have fallen victim to this blood-thirsty fiend. Some have survived to tell the tale, while others have disappeared from the legal profession, never to be seen again.

Does The Bar Examiner possess supernatural powers? If by supernatural, you mean having the power to destroy your dreams of becoming a licensed attorney, then I’m afraid the answer is “yes”. While The Bar Examiner cannot damn you straight to the fires of hell, it can send you to purgatory where you would exist in an agonizing state of limbo between law school and the practice of law.

Does this monster get its evil powers direct from Satan? Well, not exactly. The Bar Examiner derives its authority from your state’s Office of Bar Admissions. How does it exercise such evil powers over innocent law school graduates? By giving you a score that does not reflect your true knowledge and ability on the essays and MPT (Multistate Performance Test).

Just like vampires and werewolves can turn you into one of their kind with a single bite, the attorneys who grade your bar exam answers can transform you into one of their own with a single stroke of their red pen. But, before they will bestow their powers upon you, they must deem you worthy enough to join their ranks. Therefore, you must prove that you can think and express yourself like a member of the legal profession.

To succeed, you must do the following:

  1. Answer essay questions in the time allotted. Just like a vampire racing back to his coffin before the coming sunrise, time is not on your side when you are taking the bar exam. Therefore, you must practice writing essay and MPT answers under timed conditions to be sure that you will succeed in writing complete answers under the tremendous time pressures of the actual exam.
  2. What will it take to appease The Bar Examiner? A human sacrifice? Your first-born child? No. To satisfy this monster you must organize your answer in a way that is pleasing to the grader and makes his or her job easier by responding to the issues in a logical order. Use complete sentences and paragraphs that are responsive to the call of the question. Respond to all parts of the question and avoid angering the grader by raising issues that are not responsive to the call of the question.
  3. Like a silver bullet or a stake through the heart, The Bar Examiner does have a weakness: the IRAC method. If you use it effectively to identify key issues, cite relevant RULES of black-letter law, analyze facts, and reason to a lawyer-like conclusion then IRAC will be your silver bullet. Use it to craft an answer that leaves The Bar Examiner no choice but to give you a passing score.
  4. On Halloween, zombies roam the earth in search of human brains. Similarly, bar exam graders are seeking evidence that you have a brain (and know how to use it). Therefore, they are not simply looking for the “right” answer. Instead they want an essay that demonstrates your ability to engage in legal thought and analysis. The value of your answer is not based upon the conclusion reached, but rather your understanding of the facts, recognition of the issues, use of applicable principles of law, and the reasoning by which you arrive at your conclusion.

If you follow my advice, you just might live to tell the tale of the day you crossed paths with The Bar Examiner!

Happy Halloween!

How to fail the Bar Exam Essays in 6 easy steps

You may be asking: “Why wouldn’t a bar applicant do everything possible to AVOID failing the bar exam essays?”  When teaching bar review students, I often wonder why so many sabotage themselves.  When it comes to bar prep, too often we are our own worst enemies. So, if you want to fail the bar exam essays, here are six easy steps you can follow:

STEP 1: Do NOT write practice essays

The bar exam requires you to write essays on a variety of legal subjects. The best way to prepare is to get a hold of recent exams and write as many practice essays as you can under timed conditions. Then review your answers by comparing them with sample answers. However, when asked whether they wrote practice essays, students who failed the exam often answer “no” or “not many”. Instead they spent the bulk of their study time simply memorizing the law.

STEP 2: Be a passive learner

The bar exam does not simply test your knowledge of black-letter law (that would be too easy). What it really tests is your ability to apply the law to various fact patterns by responding to the call of the question in a lawyer-like fashion. You cannot learn this vital skill by simply memorizing and reviewing the law (what I call “passive” studying).

There is only so much you can learn from staring at an outline. Until you understand how a legal concept can be applied to a bar exam fact pattern, you have not truly mastered that concept for bar exam purposes.

Instead of passively reviewing the law, you must actually sit down and write practice essay answers under timed conditions. Then you must take the time to compare your answers with sample answers to discover what you missed and look for ways to improve. Your early efforts will usually be terrible. Do not get discouraged. This is part of the process and to be expected. It is the steady improvement that comes from learning from your mistakes that will carry to victory on the bar exam. Those who roll up their sleeves and engage in this process (what I call “active” studying) find that it yields fantastic results over time.

STEP 3: Do NOT use the IRAC method

Every law student has heard of IRAC (Issue, Rule, Application, Conclusion) but few know how to use it effectively. When used properly, the IRAC format demonstrates to the grader that you know what you are doing. Bar exam graders read hundreds of answers to the same question. After the first dozen or so, they have a pretty good idea of what they are looking for. If your answer does not conform to this template, you have just made the grader’s job more difficult. Any frustration that the grader feels in deciphering your answer will be reflected in your grade.

STEP 4: Do NOT answer the call of the question

Aside from not writing in IRAC form, the next most damaging thing you can do to sabotage your own essay grade is to not follow instructions. The bar examiners only want you to discuss certain issues in your essay answers. These issues are raised by the “call of the question”, that portion of the question that tells you what is required to answer it. If you fail to address the question asked or if your answer goes beyond the scope of the question to discuss unrelated issues, you will annoy the grader and sabotage your own score.

STEP 5: Do NOT organize your answer before you write it

Time management is a major factor in your essay writing success. One of the biggest mistakes that I see students make over and over on bar exam essays is to begin writing the moment they open their blue books. Instead, what they should be doing is using the first five or ten minutes of their allotted time on each essay to organize their thoughts and plan their answer. Most jurisdictions will provide scratch paper or at the very least permit you to make notes on the face of the question. Use this space to plan out your essay. No one will see these notes except you so do not worry what you write there. Simply get all of your ideas on paper in as few words as possible. Then number each idea in the order in which you plan to discuss it, leading with your most important issues first. Eliminate from your list any issues that do not fit the call of the question.  This simple process will prevent you from wasting precious time and space on issues that are not going to earn you many points.

STEP 6: Do NOT show the bar examiner what you know

Do not assume (because the person grading your essay is an attorney) that you do not need to explain the relevant points of law (because, after all, he or she already knows what “res ipsa loquitur” means). Remember, it is not the grader’s knowledge that is being tested here. It is yours. Therefore, you must act as if your reader knows very little about the issues tested and be sure to explain your answers fully. You cannot get credit for knowing something unless it actually appears in your answer.

If you choose to follow the numbered steps listed above, I have no doubt that you will achieve failure on the bar exam essays. But if you choose to follow my detailed advice instead, your chances of achieving a passing score on the bar exam essays will improve dramatically. Choose wisely!

Seven Hurdles To Bar Exam Success (and how to overcome them)

I am going to let you in on a little secret: The bar exam isn’t fair.

That’s right. Despite what you may have been led to believe, the bar exam is not a fair test of your ability to practice law. If it were, then you would expect that a higher percentage of graduates from accredited law schools would pass the bar exam each time. Instead the exam is designed to intentionally weed out a certain percentage of law school graduates and keep them out of the legal profession.

That does not mean that you cannot beat the system. However, in order to do so, you need to become aware of the specific reasons why the bar exam is not a fair test of your ability to practice law and the ways that you can avoid these traps:

Hurdle #1: There is never enough time to prepare.
The typical bar review course starts just after graduation and ends just a few weeks before the bar exam. For most students, this is all of the time that they have to prepare for the bar exam. Even if you did nothing else but study during these two months, you would still feel as though you did not have enough time to prepare. The truth is that no matter how long you study, you will always be left feeling like you could have done more. That’s because the amount of information you must master is more than anyone could possibly absorb in that short amount of time; which leads to our next hurdle . . .

Hurdle #2: There is too much material to master thoroughly.
While you are required to master a wide range of legal knowledge for the bar exam, the truth is that you cannot possibly know everything. Fortunately, the percentage of correct answers needed to pass allows for a reasonable number of wrong answers. Your goal is not to completely master any of the bar exam subjects but rather to demonstrate a working knowledge about a broad range of issues. Rather than spending too much time preparing for issues that are unlikely to appear on the exam, your best strategy is focus your efforts on the issues most likely to appear, such as the big picture issues and the issues tested most frequently.

Hurdle #3: Issues are randomly tested – it’s the luck of the draw.
There is a randomness to the whole bar exam process, as the issues tested change from exam to exam. Since you cannot possibly know everything, you are hoping that the issues tested on your particular exam coincide with the things you know. If you make sure that you know at least a little bit about every issue in your bar review materials, then it is less likely that you will find yourself with nothing to say in response to a fact pattern. Therefore, instead of worrying about what you don’t know, show the graders what you do know and you may still come away with enough points to pass, which is what it’s all about.

Hurdle #4: Bar exam grading is subjective, not objective.
When I review essay answers with students after the bar exam, I am always surprised by the wide range of scores received. If graders were adhering to a strict set of guidelines, you would expect to see more consistent scoring. However, what I find in reality is that some bar exam graders appear to be sticklers for organization, spelling, punctuation, grammar, handwriting, etc. and deduct points for such stylistic errors, whereas others will not. Since the scores do not always reflect the knowledge the applicant has demonstrated, it is clear that there is a subjective element to the grading process. The best way to avoid losing points on an essay where you knew the law is to practice writing essay answers that are easy to understand and pleasing to the grader. Make sure that your writing style is not getting in the way of what you are trying to say.

Hurdle #5: Bar exam tests things you never learned in law school.
Even if you took all of the subjects tested on your bar exam, there would still be specific issues on the bar exam that you never learned about in law school. In recent years, the bar examiners have tested on issues that tend not to be covered in detail in a typical law school course. Chances are that you will encounter some unfamiliar issues on the bar exam. The good news is that your bar review course is going to be familiar with these trends and will cover these issues.

Hurdle #6: MPT takes longer than 90 minutes to complete.
The Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPT) is an open universe test where you are given not only the facts but also the correct law to apply. If you had unlimited time to complete the tasks, it would be too easy. Instead the bar examiners give you a strict time limit of 90 minutes per question in order to determine whether you can read, analyze, and write under pressure. Too many students fail to prepare for the MPT thinking that the skills they have acquired while clerking for a law firm or from legal writing classes in law school are the skills that will carry them through the MPT. While the bar examiners claim that the MPT tests your ability to practice law, the truth is that the MPT only tests one skill: your ability to take the MPT. The only way to improve your MPT performance is to simply practice, practice, practice. The more you practice the MPT under timed conditions, the better you will be at taking the MPT under the 90 minutes. It’s not simply about whether or not you can answer the MPT questions. Rather it is about whether you can complete them within the 90 minutes allotted.

Hurdle #7: There are no correct answers on the MBE
Unlike other multiple choice exams you have taken in the past, the multiple choice test on the bar exam does not ask you to merely identify the “correct” answer. Instead you are asked to select the “best” answer choice from among the four flawed answer choices provided. This requires a careful process of elimination in which you weigh each answer choice against the others to find the least wrong answer from among the four imperfect options presented to you. With practice you can learn how to eliminate the obviously wrong answer choices and increase the odds that you will choose the best answer.

While many worthy bar applicants have had promising legal careers cut short by the bar exam, the good news is that the percentage of students who will pass on their first try is greater than the percentage who will not. So while the bar exam may not be a fair test of your ability to practice law, the ability to pass the bar exam is something you are certainly capable of mastering.

The Multistate Bar Exam Is Just Like Dating


Both the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE) and the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE) differ from multiple-choice exams you have taken in the past. Unlike the traditional multiple-choice exam where you simply pick the right answer, the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) has devised a different kind of multiple-choice, called a “best answer choice” exam. That means you can expect to see each question followed by four imperfect answer choices. Your job is to pick the “best” choice from among those presented.

With Valentine’s Day upon us, it got me thinking that the multiple-choice portion of the bar exam is a lot like dating. When you enter the dating world, you start off with an idealized vision of your perfect mate. But you quickly discover that such a person does not exist (with the exception of my own wife, of course – Happy Valentine’s Day Honey!). So instead of looking for the “right” person, you begin to look for the “least wrong” person for you. Over time, you figure out how to quickly eliminate obvious wrong choices from consideration. Eventually you settle for the one that most closely resembles what you were looking for, without falling for bad choices disguised as good ones.

How will you know when you found the right one? In dating, you may never know if there is someone better around the corner. Fortunately, on the bar exam, you are limited to only four possible choices and you must choose one. Since this is a process of elimination, once you have eliminated the bad choices you can safely choose the remaining option with confidence and live happily ever after (which is more than I can promise in my dating analogy).

To help guide you in your decision-making process, here are some situations to watch out for as you begin your search for the perfect mate and/or bar exam answer choice:

1) Watch out for choices that are wrong for you. In dating, the qualities that make a person right for someone else, may not be the same qualities you are looking for. Similarly, an MBE answer choice may contain a correct statement of the law, but it may not be law that is applicable to your fact pattern. So make sure that the reasoning behind the answer choice is responsive to the call of the question. A choice can only be correct if it matches what you are looking for.

2) Watch out for choices that are not as they appear. If you are dating someone and you start to notice inconsistencies between the way they describe themselves and what you observe, that person may be overstating or misrepresenting the qualities that attracted you to them. Similarly, if an MBE answer choice has obvious flaws such as misstatements of the law or facts, you can be sure that it is not the choice for you.

3) Don’t assume facts. For instance, if someone drives a nice car, don’t assume that they are wealthy. That car may be the only thing they own, or maybe it’s not even theirs (maybe they borrowed it from their mother). Similarly, on the bar exam, do not assume facts that are not there. The facts that you need in order to answer the question are going to be given to you. So you must rely on those facts alone. Any choice that requires you to assume facts not given, is probably an attempt to deceive you into making a bad choice.

4) Don’t let yourself get seduced. On the bar exam, as in dating, you must consider your choices carefully. There are concepts that seem as though they ought to apply to a wide range of fact patterns, but they actually have no application to the fact situation in question. For instance, in Constitutional Law questions, the Privileges and Immunities Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment sounds as if it should make a variety of laws unconstitutional. However, that is not the case, which is why it is an attractive, yet often wrong, MBE answer choice.

5) Don’t base your choice on the wrong reasons. Sometimes you can find yourself presented with a viable choice but find that you are choosing it for the wrong reasons. For instance, if you meet someone who drives a nice car, has a steady income, and makes a good impression on your mother, you might continue to date that person even after you realize that you are not compatible with one another. Similarly, on the MBE, you might be presented with an answer choice that states a correct response to the call of the question, but that bases that response on faulty or incomplete reasoning. While you may be drawn to such an answer choice, it may not be the best choice available to you. Be sure to compare it to other potential answer choices. Remember that there are plenty of fish in the sea.

I hope that the above advice will help you in your search for love AND the correct answer to every MBE question you encounter. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Time management is the key to bar exam success

You may think that the bar exam is a test of your legal knowledge and ability. In reality, bar exam success is often the result of a disciplined approach to time-management. In fact, if I had to bet on who would be more likely to pass the bar, a student with a high IQ or a student with a solid study plan and the discipline to follow it, my money is on the latter. The good news is that your approach to bar review time-management (unlike your IQ) is something that is within your ability to control.

When it comes to the bar exam, the sheer volume of material you must learn in a relatively short amount of time can leave even the most diligent student feeling anxious and overwhelmed. The best antidote to feeling this way is to develop a long-range study plan. Think of it as your own personal syllabus.

What if your bar review course already gives you a syllabus to follow? That is a great starting point, but don’t assume that this one-size-fits-all approach is going to fit your situation. Better to use their suggested study plan as a template for creating your own. No single organizational approach is going to work for everyone so the key is to find what works for you.

Regardless of how you organize your day, you will want to keep these time-management principles in mind:

Designate a study space. If you go to the library, find a quiet area. Some libraries let you reserve private study rooms. If you study at home, create a study space that is consistent, organized and inviting. Avoid a cluttered area with a lot of distractions. It does not have to be anything fancy. A dining room table works just fine for this purpose.

Schedule your time. Set aside consistent blocks of time each day for uninterrupted study. Turn off cell phones, e-mails, instant messaging, etc. Do not allow any distractions during these times.

Plan your time. Make use of a daily planner or study calendar. Before you begin studying, create a detailed overview of what you intend to accomplish in each hour. This makes it easier to track your progress and identify when you have fallen behind.

Get yourself into exam mode. If you are not a morning person, do your practice testing early in the day to train your mind to be alert during exam hours. Go to sleep early so that your body clock is on “bar exam time.” Remember if you are used to studying until 2:00 AM and waking up at noon every day, it will be difficult to function when the real bar exam kicks off at 9:00 AM.

Start on time. If your study plan calls for you to begin studying at 8:00 AM that means you must be at your study place and ready to study by 8:00 AM. Wake up far enough in advance to allow time for breakfast, reading the paper, exercise, and getting to your study location.

Organize in advance. If you spend a lot of time getting yourself organized in the morning before you begin studying, eliminate this time-wasting activity by organizing your study materials in advance. A good way to do this is to put together a bar review study bag (or box). Keep everything you might need to study in this bag and take it with you when you go to your study place. Examples of things to include in your bar review bag: bar review books, note cards, pens and pencils, pencil sharpener, ear plugs, etc.

Don’t procrastinate. You must be ruthless in eliminating distractions and time-wasting activities from your day. If you feel a sudden urge to clean out your sock drawer, it is probably because you are putting off studying.

Schedule breaks throughout your day. Knowing when to stop studying is as important as knowing when to start. Make sure you schedule breaks for meals and occasional downtime to avoid burnout. If you are too tired and hungry to focus, then your study time becomes counter-productive.

Get help as needed. If you are having difficulty getting your study plan in order, seek advice from experts. If you are taking a bar review course, ask for assistance in creating and implementing your study plan. Don’t be shy about asking for help. After all, you are paying these people a lot of money. You are entitled to their assistance.

Strong organizational and time-management skills provide a solid foundation for passing the bar exam. Use your study time effectively and I would be willing to bet on your bar exam success.

The MPT – What does it really test?

The Multistate Performance Test (MPT) is the most misunderstood part of the bar exam. However I do not blame students for failing to appreciate what the MPT is all about. They are only relying upon what they are told.

According to the National Conference of Bar Examiners’ MPT Information Booklet, “The MPT is designed to test an applicant’s ability to use fundamental lawyering skills in a realistic situation. Each test evaluates an applicant’s ability to complete a task that a beginning lawyer should be able to accomplish.” So, the bar examiners would have you believe that the MPT simulates a typical day in the life of a newly hired legal associate.

Let’s be honest. How often do you think a first year law associate at a firm is approached by his or her boss and handed a memo asking the associate to draft a document he or she has never before drafted, which must be completed in only 90 minutes? Furthermore, the attorney has never heard of or met the client and must rely solely upon the factual information contained in a small file. Plus the attorney cannot do any legal research but must instead rely solely upon the legal sources contained in another folder, all of which are totally unfamiliar to the attorney. Oh, and did I mention that the attorney will be punished if he or she uses any prior legal knowledge in the preparation of this document?

Unfortunately, too many bar applicants buy into this fiction that the MPT simulates your ability to practice law. If that were true, then bar applicants who clerked for law firms during law school or who practiced law in other jurisdictions would have no trouble scoring high on the MPT with little or no outside preparation. However, my experience as a bar review instructor has shown me otherwise.

The truth is that the MPT really only tests one thing . . . your ability to take an MPT. The sooner you recognize this fact, the sooner you can devise an effective game plan for conquering the MPT.

Unfortunately, many students decide that they do not need to prepare for the MPT because they believe that they already possess the skills that the bar examiners claim to be testing. These students are shocked to find that their legal writing skills do not translate to success on the MPT. This is mainly due to the fact that the MPT is an artificial exercise.  In real life, you usually have more than 90 minutes to familiarize yourself with a case and to research the relevant facts and law. You can also take more time to draft the document and revise it as necessary.

If the bar examiners gave unlimited time to complete each MPT, most students would eventually figure out what to do. Unfortunately, your time on the MPT is limited. It turns out that 90 minutes is never enough time to do justice to these MPT questions. However, since that is all the time that you or anyone else ever gets on an MPT question, you must learn to complete a passable answer in that amount of time. This is a skill that must be practiced.

In your practice sessions, try to break down the MPT exercise into a series of tasks and then try to get a sense of your timing for each task. In other words, how long does it take you to read and understand the task memo? How long does it take to extract the relevant facts from the file? How long does it take you to figure out the relevant legal principles in the library? How long does it take you to organize and outline your answer? How long does it take you to draft your answer? If you find that you are exceeding the 90 minute time limit on your practice MPTs, then figure out which part of the process is slowing you down and work on ways to speed that up. As you do more practice MPTs, you should be able to improve your speed in each area as you develop a better appreciation for what you need to do. You will be able to more quickly complete each of the above tasks without any reduction in the quality of your answers.

Spend no more than the allotted time (90 minutes) doing a practice MPT question. When you are done, be sure to allocate at least as much time for reviewing your MPT answer as you spent doing the MPT question (another 90 minutes). Therefore, you should allocate a total of three hours to a practice MPT question to allow enough time to complete the answer and review it.

Make your mistakes on the practice tests not on the real exam. Your first few attempts at taking an MPT will probably not go well.  Do not get discouraged. If you take each opportunity to practice and improve you will find that not only will you be able to complete each question in less time but your answer will more closely resemble what the Drafters’ Point Sheet (the answer key provided by the National Conference of Bar Examiners) describes as the ideal answer.

So heed my MPT advice and pretty soon you could be a real law firm associate working on a real legal assignment. Hopefully, your real boss gives you more than 90 minutes to complete it!

How to talk to your loved ones about the bar exam

Before you begin the arduous process of preparing for the bar exam, there is a conversation that you will want to have with your loved ones regarding what to anticipate in the coming weeks and months. While you attended law school your family and friends became accustomed to seeing you spend long hours in the library. The bar exam takes that commitment to the next level. Therefore, to avoid any misunderstandings or hurt feelings, you will want to be sure that everyone is on the same page about what to expect.

Problems in your personal life can pose a significant risk to your chances of passing the bar exam. Therefore, it is critical that you get your loved ones to understand what preparing for the bar exam will entail. As early as possible, inform your significant others about the amount of time and effort that will be required of you to pass the bar exam, why passing the bar exam is important to you and your career and the amount of stress that you will be under during the process. Explain what you will need from them in term of support and understanding. Be sure to emphasize that it is only temporary. After the bar exam, life will return to normal and you can once again be counted on to be there for them.

Sometimes non-lawyers are unaware of the challenges posed by the bar exam and may question the need for constant study in the weeks and months leading up to the exam. In such cases, it may be helpful to show your bar review materials to your significant others and describe all of the topics you will need to learn. You can also share your state’s bar passage rates with them and explain that having a law school degree does not translate to automatic passage of the bar exam. Explain that many smart people fail the bar exam due to lack of preparation.

While it is always helpful to put together a detailed study calendar for the months leading up to the bar exam, this may also prove useful to show your family how much you intend to study and the times that you have already set aside for bar preparation. Hopefully your schedule will allow for some family time on the weekends to spend with your loved ones. Even if this time that you set aside for family is less than what you usually spend with them, it will at least show them that you are thinking about them and have carved out a few hours in your week that are just for them. I also recommend that you schedule some time after you complete the bar exam for a vacation or other fun family activities. If you cannot afford a vacation, just promising to take your kids to the local zoo or a local amusement park after the bar exam gives them something to look forward to during the times when you are busy studying.

During the bar exam, your family and friends will notice that you are not only absent more often but when you are around, you may seem more stressed out than usual. This is to be expected and they should understand that if you are a little bit grouchier than usual it has nothing to do with them and not to take it personally. Consider apologizing in advance for any insensitive behavior you may exhibit. Having said all this, do not use the bar exam as an excuse to be a jerk to your loved ones. Just because you are stressed out, do not take it out on those around you.

To maximize your study time during bar review, it is essential that you minimize demands on your time by screening your phone calls and other distractions. To avoid hurt feelings, it may be helpful to change the outgoing message on your voice mail to explain that you are studying for the bar exam and that phone messages may not be returned right away if at all. You can have a family member screen messages for you by directing callers to contact your spouse or significant other in the event of an emergency and then authorize only that person to contact you if the situation warrants it. You will find that most people will solve their own problems if they know that you are unavailable to help them.

You can do the same thing with your e-mails. Simply turn off the e-mail program on your computer and do not check your inbox more than once a day. You can set your e-mail program to send a return message back to senders with a feature known as an auto-responder. You can create a standard response message that explains that you are studying for the bar exam and will not be checking your e-mails as often. Again, you can provide an alternate person for them to contact if their situation requires your immediate attention. Let that trusted individual decide whether or not the message requires your immediate attention and screen your messages accordingly. You will find that 99% of the messages that come through are neither urgent nor important enough to require an immediate response. For those that are, you can deal with them without being distracted every time a trivial matter comes through.

The strategies outlined above will help you prepare the important people in your life for the rigors of bar exam preparation. If you dread having this conversation with your loved ones, you may be pleasantly surprised to find out how supportive they can be. While they may not like the fact that you are not around as much, they will certainly understand that it is only temporary and that your commitment to passing the bar exam will further your legal career. Therefore, reduce the potential for distractions during the bar exam by managing the expectations of those who depend on you. This will enable you achieve the maximum amount of study time with minimal guilt.

Why you must take a full-service bar review course

In these difficult economic times, many students have been tempted to forego the traditional bar review course in order to save some money. I want to caution against doing so. You may protest that after three or more years in law school you are tapped out financially. However, you must consider a full-service bar review course to be part of the total cost of your legal education. After all that you have invested in your legal education this is no time to cut corners.

There is no substitute for a full-service bar review course (full disclosure: I am Director of a bar review program). Due to the vast amount of material you must learn in a very short time, you need to have the material organized in a way that allows for efficient studying. Do not think that you can learn it all on your own.

You may ask: How would a student prepare for the bar exam without taking a full-service bar review course? One way is to borrow materials from a friend who has taken a full-service course. While this may seem like a great way to reap the benefits of a bar review course without paying for it, this approach simply does not work for most people. That’s because a bar review course consists of more than just books.

You must consider what you would be missing out on by not taking the course yourself. Here are just a few of the things you would be missing:

  1. Classroom lectures. Being able to attend daily classroom sessions provides a structure for your study plan and sets a pace that keeps you from falling behind. It also gives you the opportunity to ask questions during live lectures.
  2. Ability to ask questions and get answers from experts. With all of the subjects you are expected to master for the bar exam, it is inevitable that you will have questions along the way. Where will you find experts on each of these subject areas if you do not take a bar review course?
  3. Individualized feedback on graded practice tests. While your workbooks may contain sample answers, there is no substitute for the individualized feedback provided by an experienced bar review grader. Without objective feedback from others, you may not even realize that you are consistently making the same mistakes and will be doomed to repeat those mistakes on the actual bar exam.
  4. Test-taking advice. Bar review courses provide valuable test-taking advice that could greatly improve your chances of success, such as advice on which issues are most testable. They will also answer your questions about the exam and help you create a personalized study plan. This is advice you cannot get from reading someone else’s old outlines.
  5. Updates and recent changes in the law. Using old materials virtually guarantees that you will miss out on recent changes to the law. Taking a bar review course gives you the confidence that your outlines and materials are up-to-date and in conformity with the currently tested information.

While it is tempting to try to save money on a bar review course, remember that the actual cost of taking the bar exam may ultimately include the cost of re-taking the bar exam…and that’s no savings. When you add in potential lost earnings, additional filing fees, hotel and travel expenses during the week of the exam, the additional expense of re-taking the exam can easily exceed the savings you hoped you would realize by not taking a bar review course in the first place.

Essay Advice: Write like a lawyer

Many bar applicants lose sight of the fact that the bar examiners are testing your ability to communicate in a lawyer-like fashion.

Perhaps your law school professors were forgiving of your stylistic errors as long as they understood your arguments. If so, bear in mind that in many states the essays will be graded not by law professors, but rather by practitioners (lawyers and judges). When these attorney-graders read your essay, they are asking themselves only one thing: Is this someone I would want to deal with on a legal matter? If your essay answer is filed with sloppy language, sloppy reasoning and sloppy conclusions, they will conclude that you are not.

Ask any attorney practicing today and they will tell you that there is already a surplus of bad lawyers in the profession. Therefore, if you fail to communicate your answer in a lawyer-like fashion, you may remind the graders of all the terrible lawyers they are already dealing with on a day-to-day basis and they are going to want to weed you out now lest they end up sitting across from you someday on a legal matter and have to decipher your incomprehensible pleadings and correspondence.

On your bar exam essays, always write in full sentences and pay attention to spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Be sure that your answers are responsive to the questions asked and are based upon logical arguments. Make use of the IRAC method and always reason your way to a lawyer-like conclusion.

Do not forget that the bar exam is all about proving to the bar examiners that you are worthy of being granted admission to their profession.

Best time to sit for the bar exam

When is the best time to sit for the bar exam? For most people the answer is the same: immediately after graduating from law school.

The reasons for this are clear:

  1. Academic readiness. You are at your peak in terms of academic performance when you are fresh out of school. You have honed your study habits and you are accustomed to taking law school exams.
  2. Retention of substantive law. Your memory of your law school subjects is freshest right out of school. You will certainly forget most of the substantive law that you learned over time. Therefore, the longer you wait after graduation to sit for the bar, the more information you will need to re-learn.

Do not think that if you put off the bar exam to give yourself more time to study, that you will have any advantage over those who jump right in to bar review after graduation. I have heard this rationale before. It strikes me as nothing more than procrastination.

If you must postpone for financial, medical, or other unavoidable reasons, that is one thing. You should not try to study for the bar exam when you are under stress or unable to give it your all.

However, if there is nothing holding you back from taking the bar exam after graduation from law school, then do not look for excuses to put it off. If you think you need extra time to prepare, then look into getting your bar review materials early and begin your preliminary bar prep during your final semester of law school.