Failing law schools and failing the bar exam

Who should read Pass the Bar Exam and why?

  • Law students!!  If you are in law school, this book is written for you and to you. It is an interactive guide. Think of it as talking with a mentor or supportive professor who is sharing advice, stories, worksheets, quizzes, and other planning tools to help you pass the bar exam. The best part is that these very same professional, life, and study skills will help far beyond bar prep. They will help you achieve most any goal you invest this kind of effort in. Knowing that the effort you put into bar passage will pay success dividends for decades to come should make the study process a much more rewarding one.  Read Pass the Bar Exam and get ready for a virtuous cycle of success, on the bar exam and beyond.
  • Families, friends, spouses, and partners of law students. Many of you are or will be confused and sometimes even offended by the behavior of your son, daughter, mom, dad, husband, wife, partner or friend. He or she seems inordinately stressed out, or has virtually disappeared. You can’t help but think, ‘How hard could law school be?’  And, ‘isn’t the bar just another test?’  This book will help you “get it.” As a key player in the support network of someone taking the bar exam, your help at this stage is critical. Learn what bar takers go through and how you can lend a hand and/or back off, as needed.
  • Law school deans, professors and administrators, particularly Academic Support (ASP) and Bar Support Faculty designing and teaching both for credit and extra-curricular bar success courses, in live and distance learning settings. For you, there is also a special Teacher’s Edition Guide, with lesson plans, syllabi, and an updated section on online bar support.  For law school deans, there is no more important, indeed existential, concern to your students than bar passage.  There are deep fears among today’s law students that the deck is stacked against them.  Urge all your students to read and discuss this book and they will begin to view the entire bar preparation process as one of empowerment rather than the needlessly difficult hazing ritual that many see it as.  (How bar takers see the process often determines how engaged they are in it, and in turn how success they are in the end.) Following the many chapters filled with concrete advice such as strategies for avoiding distractions and how to enlist the support of family and friends (and knowing the difference between supporters and saboteurs) will help your students to deal with the many “life” challenges that prevent today’s students from doing the work that needs to be done to pass the exam.  The books focus on both traditional and non-traditional law students will also provide immense support, validation, and assistance to your diversity students, part-time or returning students, and students who have extensive family or work obligations outside of law school.
  • Prospective law students. This book should help balance some of the negatives you may hear about legal education so that you see that despite the great challenges there are enormous rewards. A legal education remains the standard bearer in forming minds that are capable of solving the complex problems facing society today.  When people or businesses face problems, they turn to lawyers.  In addition to practicing law, lawyers run businesses and government, they are entrepreneurs and innovators, they are called in to resolve crises (to arbitrate, mediate, and get people back on track), and they engage in countless sorts of strategic planning efforts that help avoid costly problems to begin with. Hopefully the book helps you   decide to go to law school. If you do, the text and tips will help you succeed in school as much as on the bar exam. The book will help you start good habits from day one.
  • Experienced attorneys who work with new lawyers. This book will help you understand some of the concerns facing prospective law clerks and new associates. It may assist you in becoming a stronger mentor and more effectively integrate new lawyers into law practice. Today’s attorneys face generational divides. There are challenges for Baby Boomers managing new graduates from the millennial generation. There are also more second and third career law students which means as experienced lawyers you may find yourselves supervising newbies who are older than you. The legal world is also more diverse than ever. Tolerance and the ability to see things from different perspectives will be an increasingly critical asset.
  • Students from high school to graduate schools of all varieties who are working to achieve any academic goal.  Much of the stress and many of the challenges described here are not unique to law or the bar exam. As you read, just replace the words, “passing the bar exam” with whatever your goal is and you will find useful success strategies for academic goals such as
    • Doing well on final exams or midterms,
    • Getting a high score on the SAT, LSAT, MCAT, medical boards, or other standardized test, or
    • Completing most any professional training.

Congratulations. Get Ready for Graduation!

This morning, I saw one of my students with his cap and gown, and we were both beaming.  I am so excited for all of you who are graduating.  It’s a huge milestone. Congratulations to you if you will soon have earned your J.D.

But as you well know, graduating from law school is uniquely anti-climactic.  Maybe you get to toss your mortar board in the air, have a few drinks and a nice meal or two with family and friends.  Then what?   Another test!   Crazy, right?  You accomplished perhaps the biggest goal you have ever achieved and you hardly have time for congratulations.  Would be nice in a way if you could take the Bar first and then have the big party and festivities. But, for most people it doesn’t work that way.

So, acknowledge this graduation with your one or two days of celebrating.  Then, gear up again, this time in the highest gear you’ve ever been in for your July bar exam.  Trust me, the joy you will feel when you learn that you that you pass this bar exam will more than outweigh the delayed gratification of waiting to really and fully celebrate your graduation.

In just a few weeks, you will walk into Bar Review classes.  You will deal with yet again with ridiculously heavy outlines. (You thought carrying casebooks would kill you!)  You will spend two months review more than a dozen subjects.  But you will do it.  And, in about July you will feel so strong, so empowered.  Everything that may have seemed vague in law school will come clearly into focus. You will be ready to answer any question the examiners throw at you.

So, after finals, clear your calendars of everything that is not essential between now and the exam.  No more distractions, no more errands, parties, etc.  Eliminate or reduce obligations unless they are absolutely essential.  Read Pass the Bar for success on the exam.

And, one more thing.  As soon as possible, if you haven’t done it yet,  plan the most fun thing you can think of for August!

Practical tips to help your focus during finals

Some of you will soon face final exams.  How do you concentrate when not everyone around you is as serious as you are about doing well on exams?  It’s hard to motivate with the sunshine out, and especially if anyone around you seems to be playing or having fun while you’re “stuck” studying.  Remember, it’s only a couple of weeks.  (Well, if you happen to be studying for the bar exam right after finals, it’s a little bit longer stretch.  But, even the two months will fly.  Read Pass the Bar Exam for all the tips you need!)

Most important, try to see the “study glass” as half full.  You are not “stuck” studying; you get to study.  It’s an incredible gift to be able to sit quietly in a safe place and learn.  It sounds corny, but it’s really true.  You are on the path to help yourself to do well and to do good.

Here are some practical tips to help your focus during finals:

1. Pick a study spot. Maybe it’s the library, maybe it’s s a coffee shop, maybe it’s your home.  Wherever it is,  make sure it’s a place you can concentrate where people will not bug you.

 Try studying in a different spot once or twice to see if you are more productive in a different setting.  (For example, some people study in the library but spend more time socializing with friends than studying.  It may be that an office, a home, a public library, or even library in another school at your university may be where you need to hide during finals.)

2. Let your friends and family know you are in finals mode, and tell them when to expect you will be free.  Say “No” to all plans, social invitations, and even to family obligations unless absolutely necessary during the couple of weeks before exams.

If you are a working student with a job outside of school, see if there is any way to take some time off before exams.

 If you have young children or aging parents, plan well ahead of time, think about whether it is possible to arrange for someone reliable to provide the care you usually give, at least to free up some time for you to study.

Saying “No” ahead of time to social invitations frees you up to decide if you feel like you have time to socialize.  If you have put in a good day or evening and want to drop by that party you were invited to, go ahead.  But only after your work is completed.

If after studying you just want to go to sleep, let yourself.  Brain work takes much more energy than most of us realize.  A good friend of mine who was appointed to the bench told me she had never been more tired than in her first months on that job.  There was nothing physically demanding, but she was certain that she was using more brain power than she ever had before.

3. Plan something special to look forward to after finals  –either by yourself or, if you have family or a special someone who will miss you during this intense study time, plan something fun for them to look forward to doing with you after finals are done.

4. Take a social media break, and, don’t answer texts or phone calls while you are studying. Pick a set time (a short break time) in the evenings after studying is over for the day to read messages.

        Again, good luck on finals!  And best wishes for a great summer after exams.

Slow and Steady wins the Race when prepping for July Bar Exam!

Taking the July Bar Exam?  Feeling like you are way behind on your bar review schedule?  Have the sense that you’ll “never learn it all” ?  You are not alone!   I have been hearing from dozens of students in your same boat.  Here are some tips to stay on course:

  1. Don’t spend (waste) time berating yourself; problem solve and focus on improvement.
  2. Don’t worry about what you did not learn in law school; learn what you need to know now!
  3. Assess where you are spending your time.  Track each hour of each day.  If you are “wasting” time on social media or chit chat or worry, fill that time in with productive efforts.
  4. Put off all that is not essential until August.  (Do minimal laundry, dishes or other chores; tell all friends and family you will see them in August.; take time off from work; etc.)
  5.  Take care of absolutely essential non-study activities (such as paying bills, taking showers, etc.) when you are too tired to study effectively.
  6. Productive time when you are in high gear studying for the bar exam is time a) learning and memorizing law (listening to bar review lectures, reading outlines, making flashcards, etc.), b) taking practice tests and studying model answers to see how to improve, and c) exercising, sleeping well, drinking lots of water, and eating healthy foods.
  7. Don’t feel guilty taking time “off” to exercise, eat well, and sleep.  All of those will make your brain more efficient.
  8. Take practice tests of every variety that will be tested on your bar exam: MBEs, Essays, PTs, any other portion.  Test taking will improve your stamina, concentration, and test taking skills. It is also often easier to learn law in the context of hypos (taking practice tests) than in the abstract (simply reading outlines).
  9. Critically review answers to practice tests to a) learn law you don’t know and b) assess your timing and strategies for each part of the test (how much time reading and outlining versus writing on essays; are you reading the call of the question first on MBEs, etc.).
  10. Remember, studying for the bar exam is not “punishment.”  You earned the right to take the exam.  And, a summer of serious study will help you go in to the exam in July feeling empowered to answer any sort of question the examiners throw at you.

For more Bar Exam Success Strategies, check out Pass the Bar: A Practical Guide to Achieving Academic & Professional Goals

The Power of Peers: Network with those who are a year or two ahead of you.

In school, it can be most helpful to talk with –and network with– those who are just a year or two ahead of you in school. For juniors or seniors in college, and for 2L and 3L law students, talking to recent graduates can give you a leg up on what to expect, and how best to prepare for success. If someone survived freshman year successfully, they may have great advice for you who are now in your first year.

Why?  There’s a good chance, you are not the first person to struggle with whatever challenges you are currently facing.  And, a peer who is just a slight bit ahead of you may seem more credible than a professor who may have been where you are decades prior.  (I happen to believe that with age comes wisdom and thus seeking advice from those who are much older can be tremendously valuable.  But I do understand that many of my students find recent graduates particularly credible.)

I sponsor an Alumni Speaker Series in a number of my classes, hosting recent graduates to come back and share their bar exam and professional challenges, and wisdom.  Their stories help current students see what troubles may be lurking and provides advice on how to avoid the pitfalls and potholes in the road just ahead.

Recent graduates empower current students to believe that they too can navigate the rough waters and prevail.

If your have formal opportunities to meet and network with recent graduates seize them.  Ask questions!  Make your own plans based on what you hear worked and did not work for others.  Do adjust the advice of others to fit your own needs.  (“One size does not fit all” in life, law, or college.)  But, do listen.  Why repeat mistakes that just spending a few minutes hearing someone else might help you avoid?

If there are no formal opportunities, go on your own and seek out recent graduates or students in classes ahead of you.  Ask your ASP faculty or your favorite professor or Dean for the names of recent graduates they would recommend you talk with.  Ask a former leader of an organization you belong to, to sit and share his/her experiences.  Talk with someone who has just started working in a field that interests you.

And, be sure to send a Thank You after meeting with someone.  You will be surprised at how your networking opportunities expand your current successes and your potential for success in the future!

IRAC or IRPC?

WHAT IS IRAC?   An acronym for Issue, Rule, Analysis, Conclusion.

HOW IS IRAC USED?  IRAC is a template for logical writing, most helpful on law exams, specifically on bar exams. But the IRAC terminology often confuses people, particularly the word “analysis.”  A better term for many may be IRPC: Issue, Rule, Proof, Conclusion.

Some people hear the word “analysis” and think of the complex and varied wrinkles in legal theories and reasoning; they picture lengthy, detailed exchanges in law school classes, breaking apart and trying to understand case law.  Others hear “analysis” and think of a layered literary analysis in a college English class, reflecting on the meaning, style, and value of a novel or poem.

As you will see below, a more useful mental picture for effective bar writing may require a flashback to geometry in middle school (or “junior high”) and the simple logic in a basic “proof,” rather than thinking of college or law school.  Why?  The term “analysis,” for many, conveys a more complex and often longer written discussion than is required for most passing bar answers. However, the word “analysis” may well represent what law professors expect on law school midterms and finals. Many law professors wish to see students weave relevant cases into their discussion, analogizing and/or distinguishing the facts in the exam to facts from cases and/or hypotheticals studied throughout the term to reason to thoughtful conclusions. Your professor may also expect a rich policy discussion in your law school exam answers, possibly noting relevant implications the issues you are discussing might have on third parties, society at large, past precedent, or future evolution of the applicable law. Bar writing is often much simpler, and heavily dependent on straightforward logic.

Let’s look at the following example as an albeit over-simplified but useful analogy to bar writing style, what I call and will explain below as “IRPC.”

       An IRPC example in math

Picture a triangle, then read the passage below:

  • What sort of figure does the shape above represent? ISSUE
  • Three sided figures with sides coming together in three corners are generally known as “triangles.” An equilateral triangle is a three-sided figure where all three sides are equal in length and all corners have the same degree angle. RULE
  • Here, side A measures x inches, side B measures x inches, and side C measures x The three sides are touching and meet respectively in three corners. And, each angle measures y degrees. PROOF (or “analysis”)
  • Therefore the figure represented above is an equilateral triangle. CONCLUSION

This logic may sound more mathematical than legal but it is highly instructive for bar writing. Let’s consider another IRPC example, this one using an everyday driving scenario, and you will see the same sort of logic but in a situation that more closely resembles a law-type fact pattern. Note here we will also add a policy consideration to our logical writing (“IRPPC”). Policy concerns, while not essential in bar writing, can be helpful in improving your score. As long as you have written about all the discussable issues, using the basic components of an IRPC correctly for each, and you finish answering the entire question, adding policy considerations may indicate a further mastery of the application of the rule of law that a grader may appreciate.

The defendant and his passenger, Witness X, both testified that the defendant’s car was in the left turn lane, the green arrow was blinking and it was 3:00pm when the turn was made. Did the Defendant’s turn from Elm Street onto Main Street on December 1st violate traffic regulations?

Now let’s say you know (because you have learned the relevant rule of law) that left turns are permitted at the intersection of Elm and Main from the left hand turn lane, when the green left turn arrow is blinking, at times other than 4pm-7pm weekdays. (From 4pm-7pm weekdays such turns are not permitted even if the arrow is green.) How would we logically deconstruct the validity of the turn in question?

       An IRPC example in law and daily society

Did D’s 3:00pm left turn at Elm and Main violate any traffic laws? [ISSUE]

Left turns are permitted at the intersection of Elm and Main from the left hand turn lane, when the green left turn arrow is blinking, at times other that 4pm-7pm weekdays. [RULE]

D was in the left turn lane (so in the proper location for the turn). D saw the turn arrow blinking (so D had a signal that it was safe to make his turn). D made the turn in question at 3:00pm (thus the timing was appropriate for this type of turn). Note: since it was 3pm, it did not matter which day of the week as the only bars to turning are from 4-7pm. [PROOF or analysis] Last but not least, policy would dictate that even if D had followed the technical requirements for turning, D must also confirm that it was generally safe to make the turn –i.e. there were no other obstacles, emergency vehicles or unanticipated conditions that would make the turn unsafe. Assuming D did so confirm there is no reason to indicate that the turn was unlawful. [POLICY]

Therefore, D’s turn from Elm onto Main appears to have been lawful.[CONCLUSION]

      IRPC works!

Are you starting to see why IRPC makes sense?  If IRPC is clearer and more helpful for you than IRAC, think IRPC.  They mean the same thing, but IRPC may just make the idea a little clearer.

One of my professors once explained bar exam writing something like this: “Many of you came to law school from lofty colleges where you theorized, you studied literature and history and the like. You read poetry and wrote beautiful essays. You sought to include metaphors and alliteration in so your words would flow. You want to continue that sort of writing now, in law school. Your minds are creative. You want to think, ‘Well, I’ll start by discussing A, but then let me foreshadow Z, then I’ll get back to B, maybe then toss in a bit of H and J to make things more vibrant.’” He then hollered, “No!” Everyone in class jumped. “Cut that out right now! From here on, instead of flowery prose, it’s “A+B+C=D. Period.”

Bar writing, in many ways, is indeed A plus B plus C equals D.

IRPC for bar writing is straightforward.   IRPC makes sense. It is not mysterious or intriguing. IRPC is not eloquent. It is simple and direct.  It is mathematical, likeA+B+C=D.  IRPC works!  Try IRPC as you write practice bar exam essay answers.

This page is excerpted from:

Pass the Bar: A Practical Guide to Achieving Academic & Professional GoalsPassTheBar_COV2

For more on IRPC and all sorts of tips on bar exam and law school success, read PASS the Bar Exam.

Success is built by slow and steady hard work, not miracles.

Yesterday, I posted about the tortoise and the hare in connection with bar exam study and success. (http://www.passlaw.com/taking-the-july-2016-bar-exam-think-tortoise-and-hare/).  Today, thinking about how that bar exam advice applies in so many other places. Here are just a few:

-Mastering a sport, or an artistic talent.  Sure, natural ability helps.  But ask any determined, successful athlete or actor just how many times he or she made a mistake, got back up, and built their success, slowly and steadily, and you will find that nature was greatly assisted with practice. This Michael Jordan quote comes to mind, “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

-Getting into a good college.  This is a process –slow and steady.  For many people, it involves years of building a background worthy of being accepted into a great university: years of studying for classes and pursuing good grades; years of participating in (and serving as a leader in) student groups; months if not years of studying for admissions tests; weeks if not more of working to write effective entrance essays and complete complex applications.

-Building a Successful Professional Identity.  This does not happen the day you get your first job, or the day you become a college graduate or a lawyer. This involves years of proving oneself, showing colleagues by coming through day in and day out successfully, proving that you are reliable and smart, networking, publishing, speaking or otherwise publicly demonstrating your skills or ideas, and much more.

-Raising children. This is surely a slow and steady endeavor, with a need to be there, every day –strong and consistent, to provide, nurture, and support.

There is no shortcut for most great things in life. Pete Seeger’s Maple Syrup Song perhaps sums it up best: “Everything worthwhile takes a little time….”

Bar Results: Some of the Toughest News to Receive….

Passed the July 2015 bar? Congratulations!!  Hope you are still celebrating!!

If you did not yet pass, the February bar exam is yours to pass.  Say that to yourself.  Don’t even use the word “fail.”  Just say “I will pass the exam this February.”

Still waiting for results, good luck!  Stay calm and get yourself ready so that you will be fine whatever the website says.

 

Seven Simple Success Steps for Improving Reading Comprehension and Effective Writing.

The following are steps you can take without any special tools, without spending any money, and without enormous amounts of time.  Learn to fit at least some of these into your regular study routine.  They will help build your success foundation.

  1. Read opinion pieces in the editorial section of a national national newspaper and summarize in one-three sentences.  (Log in at the same time each day and read at least one editorial.  Gives you practice reading on a variety of topics because people editorialize about every subject under the sun.)  This is not only a great life habit but a tremendously useful way to prepare for standardized tests that involve reading comprehension sections.
  2. Write a letter each week.  Fine to email but may be even better to slow down and handwrite at least once a month.  Include at least 3-5 short paragraphs in each letter you write.  The extra added benefit is that if you actually send these to people, you will build your network (and maybe make your mom smile!).
  3. After reading each page of your homework (your cases in law school, and your textbooks in college), stop and put into your own words what you just read.  (This sounds much more time-consuming than it is.  It may take time at first but you will get practiced at it and be able to do it in less than a minute.)
  4. Look up the meaning of words you don’t understand, or do not see why they are in this particular context.  (Maybe they have more than one meaning.)
  5. Read difficult passages with three senses: eyes, ears and hands.  Do this by touching each word as you read it aloud (or mumble it quietly under your breath if you are studying in the library.).  Law students: this technique is a must for reading statutes.
  6. Exchange your written work regularly with a friend (a first draft of something, a case brief, etc.) and critique each other’s work.  (Of course, be attentive to do this in such a way as not to violate any honor codes about work sharing.  You can even show someone your weekly letter and see if you are conveying your thoughts accurately, or exchange a resume or cover letter, or some other extra-curricular document.)
  7. Read a novel.  Try to read one every month, but at least read one each semester.  (If you don’t like fiction, read non-fiction.)

Bottom line: the more you read, the sharper your understanding of what you read will be. The more you write, the easier it will be for your words to flow in a clear and articulate manner.