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July is here: your bar exam is just a few weeks away!

It’s here. This month that you looked forward to from the first day of law school is finally here. You may be feeling dread or fear or fatigue.  Likely you are not yet excited.

Notice the word “yet.”  Trust that you will be.  Give bar prep your full attention, focus fully for the next three weeks, and you will most likely come to the point when you feel if not downright excited then certainly empowered by all the knowledge in your head.

Picture yourself as a runner finishing those final laps.  You will be ready to cross that “finish line.”

You will be ready to write intelligently on any topic they throw at you.  You will be ready to say, “Bring it on, Examiners. Bring any topic and I have something to say.  I can break the issues down, recite the main rules, and, based on a careful reading of the facts determine a logical outcome to each issue presented.”

You will be ready to read each multiple choice question carefully, with curiosity, delving in to the call to figure out precisely what the question is, then seeking the facts to match up to law that is in your head so that you can rule out the wrong answers and bubble in the best one.

You will have more law memorized than at any other time in your life.  And, if you let it, that feels good.  Threads of legal rules that seemed to be picky irrational details finally make sense. You see how it all fits together. You see parallels between legal rules and policies in numerous areas of law that previously had been “siloed” in your brain in only own course, associated with only one professor.

Stay focused these next three weeks, though.  This is not the time to let up.  Today is.  Take today, July 4th, off.  Recharge your batteries.  Then, get in and soak up every bit of knowledge you are now ready to learn.  You are primed.  The rules have context now, so they will stick.  Memorize.  Know key rules just as well as you know your favorite passwords.  (Say them out loud, sing them, write them out 20 or 50 times.)

Think of how much you learned in three days before certain final exams.  These three weeks are the bar exam parallel to those three days.  Embrace them and enjoy this process.  You are strong and getting stronger.  You will go in there and be prepared to do your best.  And, that is a great feeling.

Where are you Studying for the Bar Exam? The Power of Simulated Exam Conditions.

Bar takers who have completed all their studying in ideal (quiet) conditions are often thrown at the actual exam when there are hundreds of other people around them making noise and emitting the collective emotions surrounding bar exams.  (Ask any practicing attorney and she or he will tell you about an experience during the bar exam where someone in the room made strange and disconcerting noises midway through an essay, PT, or set of multiple choice questions.(

If you are studying for the bar exam, do understand the power of taking at least some simulated exams under exam conditions.  The experience of writing and analyzing multiple choice answers under test-like conditions provides special and important training in combatting the anxiety, fatigue, and other pressures attendant to the bar exam.

It’s not all about how much law you know –though learning and memorizing all the heavily tested rules (and many of the less heavily tested rules) as well as possible.  Bar success is also about mental preparation and being ready for “battle.” Simulated exams help prepare you for the psychological and strategic pieces of the success puzzle (timing, combatting distractions, etc.).  Simulated exams provide an additional important tool on top of all the individualized studying and practice exams you are completing on your own.

Keep up the hard work!  This July’s bar exam is yours to pass!!

PS. Additional success strategies for passing the bar exam in Pass the Bar Exam.

The Virtuous Cycle of Bar Exam Success: Are you regularly writing practice essays & PTS and completing daily sets of practice MBEs?

Bar review is in full swing.  I lectured this past week for bar review in Virginia, Illinois, and Colorado.  Working with my students in Florida.  Will lecture shortly in California.

The common theme?  Everyone is listening to bar review lectures (though I do see some still on social media during bar review lectures), but not everyone has cemented the habits of routine practice tests.  It’s harder.  It’s active learning.  And, it is perfectly normal to feel like you don’t know enough law yet to take practice tests.  But take and learn from practice tests you must.

The “power trio” of a) taking regular practice tests, b) studying sample or explanatory answers, and c) seeing where you need to improve and making improvements accordingly with each subsequent power trio is the virtuous cycle of success.

Note: The vicious cycle of bar failure arrives all too often when bar applicants learn everything so it’s all their in the heads but don’t complete enough practice tests so they are not able to give the examiners what they want in the format and timely fashion they want it.  Still others don’t learn the material with the kind of precision necessary for the quick and accurate recall required for bar success. Others get distracted by well-meaning friends and family who just don’t get it.  But failing the bar exam can be prevented!  Tips, and success strategies for virtually every part of passing the bar exam detailed in Pass the Bar Exam.

Active studying, practice testing, and learning from each practice opportunity is what bar exam success is all about. (Yes, getting to take practice tests is an opportunity, a gift!  If you complete enough practice tests and learn from them, many of the questions on the bar exam will seem familiar.  Unlike many law professors, bar examiners tend not to hide the ball.  It’s all there for you.)

With every practice bar exam essay or PT you write, ask yourself how you can improve.

  • Can you read more critically?  Missing even one word can derail success on an MBE.
  • Can you organize your answer more clearly?  Well-organized bar exam essays stand out as passing quality.  Rambling disorganized treatises will not impress bar graders.
  • Don’t know or don’t understand a particular legal rule?  Now is the opportunity to learn it, memorize it (maybe using a mnemonic).
  • Didn’t finish the exam within the allotted time?  Use a more strategic process of reading and outlining, hitting obvious issues, and completing your answer, then filling in detail if time permits.

More self-assessment and other success tools for PTs, essays, and MBES detailed in Pass the Bar Exam.

 

 

Bar Review begins this week; Seize this moment as a Opportunity

So proud of all my students. It’s hard to dig in, after graduation, and get ready for yet another exam. But, this is the last one. And, it’s so worth all the effort.

You CAN do this. You can pass the bar exam. Dig in and embrace bar review. It is an opportunity to get to do this kind of intense learning.

Don’t view it as torture or hazing.  Throw yourself in.  Think of the bar exam as a photo that right now is blurry and out of focus.  But each week as you get closer to the exam, you learn more and more, you refine your knowledge and your command of each subject, and that blurry photo comes more and more into focus.  By July it will be crystal clear.

July is your exam to pass!

PS. I know I wrote about this days ago, but I just learned of a dear friend — a beautiful, vibrant, smart, and talented college grad whose life was taken from her at age 22.  If there is a lesson in this loss it is to make the most of every moment we have.  Don’t view study as torture.  Don’t waste a moment feeling bitter, or angry, or sad.  Embrace the studies.  Learn all that you can. And, know that you are on a road to not only do well but do good.  Your future is bright. Embrace it!

Graduates: look to the hard work ahead with gratitude.

I attended a lovely graduation ceremony this past week, as I’m sure many of you did.  Huge smiles from graduates, their families, faculty, and administrators.  It’s all seems worth it on this big day. And, it is.  Do not be put off by the fact that there is more work ahead.  (For law students, your biggest test (the #barexam) is yet to come. Embrace that as good news –as an opportunity to learn more and rise to the challenges ahead.)

Do not let the idea of further effort diminish all that you have done to get to this point.  Those of us who have work to do are lucky!  Incredibly lucky.

I just learned about a college graduate who walked this past week and will never walk again. She died in an accident  –while her family was visiting for graduation festivities.  She was and will remain a shining star in the hearts of all who knew her.  I cannot believe that I will never have the chance to hug her again, to follow her career and see her shine.  She will never have the chance to work. Her career was taken from her, as was her life, at 22.

I don’t have the right words.  I doubt there are any.  My heart goes out to her family and friends. She will be missed dearly.

So, to all my students and readers, to anyone facing a bar exam this summer, to those studying in summer school, to the many engaged in summer jobs or internships, to all who just graduated and are looking for jobs –let us collectively be thankful that we face work ahead.  The fact that we get to work means we are alive.  And let us support one another in the process.

Tragedies remind us that the road ahead may be cut short at any moment; let’s make sure that each step we take is filled with purpose and gratitude.  And, let none of us be discouraged by the fact that some of those steps will be challenging.  How lucky we are to be here to face challenges….

Starting Law School this Fall? Get ready to arrive at well-reasoned, factually supported conclusions!

Gave an Intro to Law School of sorts recently.  I illustrated the difference in credibility of a baseless “feel-good” statement and an analysis that explicitly shows how provable facts support each part of a rule leading to a logical conclusion.

Think about these examples.  You don’t need to be a lawyer or law student to see the differences.  They don’t purport to prove elements of rules; they simply help demonstrate how using facts as opposed to fluff helps support credible logical conclusions:

Friend A says, “You are great! ”

Friend B  says, “You are great because you are loyal, reliable, and funny.”  First, I say you are loyal when I recall the many times you defended me even when lots of others did not.  You have never once doubted me.  Second, your reliability is clear; you are always on time.  When you say you will do something; you follow through on your promises.  And, I can always count on you to answer my calls or texts.  Third, you are funny.  You tell jokes that make me laugh out loud. You make silly puns that bring smiles to my face. You have  a quick and clever wit.  Everyone enjoys your sense of humor.  To sum up, as I said before, you are, “GREAT!”

OK –aside from the fact that Friend B is a bit long-winded, isn’t Friend B more credible??  Don’t you feel like Friend B is not just blowing hot air but actually means what he or she is saying?

Restaurant Critic A writes: “Nouveau Resto that just opened on Main Street is fantastic.  I am the best restaurant critic in town and I say New Resto rocks. Go eat there.”

Restaurant Critic B writes: “Nouveau Resto that just opened on Main Street is fantastic.  I rated the restaurant on 1) the taste of the food, 2) food presentation and decor in the restaurant, and 3) on service. On all counts, I gave Nouveau Resto 5 stars, the highest rating on my newspaper’s restaurant rating scale.  I gave the taste of the food a 5 because every dish was made with fresh ingredients, seasoned well, and cooked to the correct temperature.  Myself and the five people dining with me all ordered different dishes and each of us found our selections to be delicious. No one had any leftovers.  As to food presentation and decor in the restaurant, both were clean and inviting.  There is no clutter at Nouveau Resto –not on its plates, nor in its dining room. The plates are all solid white with the colors of each dish creating a work of art on each plate. The napkins and table cloths –mostly a crisp white, with a minimalist border of beautiful blue accents that match a lovely blue theme in stylish artwork on the walls. The lighting is modern and bright.  Last but not least, the service is impeccable.  The waiters did not hover, but they were there to answer every question, refill drinks, and check in to see if we were satisfied and/or needed anything more after every course was served.  The were polite and knowledgable about the ingredients in every dish and about the wines on the wine list.  As I said, Nouveau Resto is fantastic –an excellent addition to the cuisine in our city.

Again, a bit longer to read, but isn’t the review of Restaurant Critic B more believable?

These are two simple illustrations, but I hope they make a point: conclusions that are well grounded in fact are typically more credible than baseless or unfounded claims.  And, credibility counts –especially for new lawyers-to-be!

 

“I respectfully disagree.” Being Nice Pays Off.

Being nice pays off.  (Maslin Nir, NY Times 4/17/2017) .  When we disagree profoundly with others, especially about existential or deeply personal issues, it can be hard to be nice.  With college campus issues surrounding free speech swirling, complex issues albeit, how about we start by encouraging students (and all of us) to learn to disagree, politely and respectfully?  It is not easy or always intuitive to disagree politely, especially when issues run to the core of one’s values.  So we have to practice, in and outside of the classroom.

I have been thinking about this lately because I am considering adopting ground rules for classroom dialogue –wanting to encourage students to critique each other but at the same time insisting they do so thoughtfully and in a civil manner.  Can we all practice that?  Can we train ourselves and, professors, can we train our students, to re-phrase our words to “respectfully dispute” the other’s points?   The key is this –dispute the other’s points, while remaining respectful of the other him or herself.

Sometimes, having a stock phrase in our heads that we can call up in tense situations helps us to pause, take a breather from the temptation to overreact, and instead to choose a thoughtful reaction –in some instances, choosing to remain silent and just letting the other air his or her views without reply.  (Note: I was reminded of the importance of civil discourse and of sometimes just remaining silent in a recent and most thoughtful sermon given by Rabbi Andrew Jacobs.)

What do I mean by stock phrases?   Here are examples.  I know, they are a silly, but they are catchy on purpose, for easy recall.  And, remember, you can say them, or they can serve as internal tools to keep them in your own head to remind yourself to pause before reacting.

  • “You engage, you enrage.”  A wise lawyer gave this advice to certain clients involved in terribly tense litigation: “Keep this phrase in your back pocket so that we can work together to diffuse and resolve the situation.”  Essentially, she was saying “don’t add fuel to the fire.”  She urged her clients to simply say to themselves, “You engage you enrage” every time they were tempted to even speak directly to the opposing party, and thus to help them hold their tongues.  [Note: most litigants can still sit together to work out settlements, even in tense litigation, but occasionally, things have just gone too far and parties must let all “oxygen” out of the situation for the fire to subside.]
  • “I respectfully disagree.”  Just using that phrase as a preface, especially if you follow it with a deliberate pause, can disarm the person you are disagreeing with, and buy you a moment to reflect and choose your next words more carefully than had you simply blurted back a retort.
  • “That is a very interesting point.”  We all know this as the hedging comment that often means “You are way off.”  But it doesn’t have to be dismissive or rude.  And, remember, this post is about phrases you can say or keep in your own head.  If you say it aloud, mean it genuinely.  (Even blatantly offensive comments can be interesting.  ‘Why did this person just say that?  What is behind the remark?’)  Think about how just that one line can diffuse a situation. You can shorten this to simply nodding to acknowledge you have heard the other, saying nothing aloud, and murmuring “Interesting, interesting” to yourself in your own head while you decide what if anything to say in response.
  • “I need to think about that for a bit.”  This is a stock phrase to say aloud to buy yourself time.  (Of course this is not an appropriate apply to a blatantly immoral comment.  But in many situations that could otherwise escalate because of a reaction, it can be entirely appropriate and useful.)
  • “People are for hugging, not for hitting.”  OK, this last one is ridiculous right?  Let me put it in context.  This phrase was given to parents of toddlers who were in a stage where they hit, pulled hair, bit, etc.  To avoid getting angry and yelling at the child, or worse, parents who mechanically but calmly recited this refrain bought themselves a moment to gather their thoughts and decide upon an appropriate response or consequence.

The bottom line, respectful discourse as we see on a daily basis is not intuitive and perhaps it has ceased to be the norm.  All the more reason to train ourselves, our students, and our children to engage in thoughtful, civil dialogue, and to know how to disagree with someone’s views without attacking the person we disagree with.  Stock phrases can be useful tools in this endeavor to encourage civil discourse.

If you have “stock phrases” you use to create a “thought pause” in tense situations, please comment so I can share them with readers.