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For those of you who like the process of creating flashcards, but can’t live without your smartphone or tablet, there are a number of new apps you can use to create flashcards and other study devices.

One such app is the Flashcard Machine (http://www.flashcardmachine.com/). But there are many others.

Whichever app you use, or if you do it the old-fashioned way with index cards and a pen (do people still use pens?!), flash cards are a great study technique that appeals to many learning styles. Kinestetic learners will enjoy the process of making the flash cards, visual learners will benefit from any drawings, charts, etc, on the cards, and read/write learners will benefit from re-writing (or re-typing) the rules onto the flashcards.  Just like outlining, flash cards are a great way to condense your materials, and to review and quiz yourself as you prepare for your finals.  Whichever method you choose to make them!

Some helpful advice from the Academic Support blog!

http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d8341bfae553ef01901ef2dc08970b

NEVER a Dumb Question?
Part 2

As I said in Part 1—we’ve all heard and used this saying, but have also felt (especially as competitive law students) that, yes, there probably IS some question that is dumb, and it’s probably the one we’re about to ask. At Pace Law School, we’d never call a question “dumb”, but certainly there are some that are not very well thought-out and are common student pitfalls. Here is Part 2 of some examples of not-dumb but also some not-thought-out questions:

Not a dumb question:

What is a statute?

Statutes are laws that were passed by a legislative body. A legislative body is a group of people formed (usually elected) that has the power to pass (and amend and repeal) laws. In the United States, when we’re talking about a legislative body we usually mean one branch of the federal government or the state government. (Towns and Cities and other municipal governments can pass laws too, of course, but in law school usually you will read state or federal statutes and cases with state or federal statutes.)

For example, in your first year you will take two semesters of “Civil Procedure”. (A good term to look up! See Part 1.) In those classes, you will study the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (the “FRCP”). Those rules are statutes: they were enacted by a legislative body and are written down a book you will read. So, all you really need to know at this point is that some laws are written down and enacted by government and are called “laws” and “statutes” interchangeably. Laws that have come about through the courts (see Part 1 on the common-law system) are equally “the law” but just were never written down (except by in a judge’s opinion), voted upon and enacted; the way they were “born” was through the court system.

In law school, understanding whether the case you’re reading is a judge interpreting a statute or is a judge discussing common law will help you understand the rule of the case. That is, the case ended up in your book for a reason; that reason is usually so you can learn a rule that will be generally applicable to other similar situations (otherwise known as the hypotheticals on your exams). Often the case rule will be an explanation of a part of a statute: the statute still stands as written, but the facts of the particular case required the judge to determine whether one part of the statute should or should not include the situation presented. While reading the case, you have to understand what part or parts of the statute the judge is discussing and how that discussion integrates with the rest of the statute.

To make up an example following up on our cow escape situation from Part 1:
Imagine there was a statute that stated: “Any property owner who removes a fence between his property and the property of another shall be liable for the worth of any farm animal that dies as a result of that removal.” We would then read a case that explained at least one term of that statute because the facts of the case brought one term into dispute. Here are the possible terms and many of the possible factual scenarios that could put those terms at issue in a situation where your cow escaped and died:

“property owner” – how does someone legally own land? Or, does the property owner himself have to remove the fence? What if it’s his employee? Or just someone who thinks he’s doing the owner a favor? Etc!

“removes” – remember from Part 1 we considered what if the fence just fell down due to lack of maintenance; in that situation, the judge would have to interpret the word “removes” and decide if lack of maintenance was or was not removal. Once the judge has ruled whether or how much the property owner has to do to keep up his fence (and therefore avoid paying if a neighbor’s animal dies after escaping), that would help us understand how any future similar case would come out. Therefore, from reading that case you’ve learned a rule about what we mean in that statute when we use the word “removes”. You can then use that rule in a future hypothetical that requires you to discuss the legal term “removes”.

“a fence” – all kinds of things could come up here! Is any kind of division “a fence”? Can a fence be wood or cement? A hedge?

“between his property and the property of another” – we can tell that this was meant to be between the neighbor’s property and yours, as in our example in Part 1. But what if there’s a small space between the neighbor’s property and yours that is owned by the state? Does the state’s strip of land between your two properties mean the neighbor has no obligation to your animals? What if the neighbor didn’t even know the state owned that strip of land before he removed the fence? What if the owner of the strip isn’t the state but is instead another person?

“any farm animal” – again, we might imagine that this would extend to our cow, but does this also include cats and dogs, who can be found on farm? What about a tiger that you use in a private zoo that you call a farm?

“that dies as a result” – again, all kinds of things could come up here! What if the animal broke its leg and you had to shoot it, does that mean the death was “as a result of that removal” or was it a result of your action? What if the animal didn’t die but lost all of its worth to you because it never gave milk again after its trauma? What if the cow was never found, can it be presumed dead?

In the (imaginary) case you’d read on this (imaginary) statute, one of those terms would have been integral to the issue the judge was trying to decide and the judge would therefore give guidance on how the term should be interpreted. Your job would be to understand which term the judge was writing about and how the judge decided. Why the judge ruled as he did in that particular fact pattern will give you the judge’s reasoning; that reasoning it what another party would use in another case.

To make our example more specific:
Your directly adjoining neighbor removed a previously well-maintained hedge between your two properties and your cow immediately ran off and died after falling into a ditch on your neighbor’s property. You sue under the statute. The neighbor argues that a hedge is not a fence. The judge could reason that while a hedge is in fact not a fence under any ordinary, dictionary meaning of the word, it served as a barrier between the properties that kept your cow on your side, where there was no danger of her death. He would look at what he believes the legislature meant to do with the statute, which (he will state he believes) was to allow you to know your cow wouldn’t have access to another property and any dangers on it. He might look at how “fence” is used in other, similar statutes in your state or even another state. He would look at any other cases that discussed “fence” under this statute, maybe a case where another judge decided hay bales could be a “fence” and yet another judge decided that a stream was not a “fence”. The judge would then rule that a human-made and maintained barrier is a “fence” under the statute and you’d win. In class, you’d discuss how and why the judge came to his decision about the human-made part being important.

You would also have to understand in that example that the rest of the statute was not argued about by the parties, but could have been. That is, the facts must meet the entire statute–not just the fence part—even though the entire case focuses on the word “fence”. So, you as the plaintiff would have also had to show your facts met the rest of the statute: “Any property owner who removes a fence between his property and the property of another shall be liable for the worth of any farm animal that dies as a result of that removal.” The judge would briefly discuss in his decision that you met the rest of the statute in that you proved: your neighbor was a property owner, he removed the “fence”, the “fence” was between his property and your property, a cow is a farm animal, and your cow died as a result of the removal of the “fence.” The judge may even refer to other cases where it was decided by another judge what those terms meant. Usually, the case you read will focus on one term but just keep in mind that all parts of the rule must be met to prove what the lawsuit alleges.

In this way, law is sort of like those books where you can pick the ending—the slightest change of facts, or what term is at issue, changes the entire story.

(General hint: remove “statue” as a correctly spelled word from your spell-checker because you will rarely need to use the word “statue” in law school but you will very often use the word “statute” and won’t notice if you accidently write “statue” but the professor will.)

A question that is not-thought-out:

I’ve heard we should avoid legalese in legal writing, so can I use colloquial and/or slang terms?

No, you cannot use colloquial or slang terms. Don’t write “the defendant will be on the hook for the murder” or “the plaintiff went the whole 9 yards in complying with the contract” or “this case is a slam dunk because” or other such colloquial or slang sayings. The law is precise—we mean what we say. There is no need to mix up terms like in English class where you shouldn’t say “reasonable” eight times on a page and were supposed to change it seven of the times to other words like “rational” or “sensible”. You will use the word reasonable a million times in your legal career. (To bring the cows back into it and use a forbidden colloquial saying, “you’ll use the term “reasonable” until the cows come home.” Sorry, couldn’t resist!) Reasonable has a specific legal meaning and other words that the thesaurus considers equivalent are not, as far as lawyers are concerned.

A similar problem is to use “they” to refer to companies or other entities: “I go to Pace Law School because they have a great faculty.” An entity is an “it” not a “they”. (Note—I’m not part of the faculty so am not being self-congratulating! However, I did go here, so I am being accurate! )

A time when colloquialisms and slang tend to crop up is in emails. Keep in mind that how you text or email your friends and family is NOT how you should be emailing or texting people you know professionally—whether professors, staff, supervisors, alumni, future employers (this could include upper level students), etc. In any professional communication, you should try to spell words correctly, use proper grammar and be clear and organized about what you’re trying to ask or state. Your electronic presence is as important as your in-person or on-paper one!

From the Law School Academic Support Blog:

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/academic_support/2013/07/refining-your-memorization.html

NEVER a Dumb Question?
Part 1

We’ve all heard and used this saying, but have also felt (especially as competitive law students) that yes there probably IS some question that is dumb, and it’s probably the one we’re about to ask. At Pace Law School, we’d never call a question “dumb”, but certainly there are some that are not very well thought-out and are common student pit-falls. Here is Part 1 of some examples of not-dumb but also some not-thought-out questions:

Not a dumb question:

What is a “common-law” system and how does it differ from a “civil law” system?

Common law is law that was developed by courts and judges. Someone sued someone over something, and a judge had to make a decision years and years ago; then someone else sued someone else over something similar, and the judge in that case looked to the first case and used that case’s rule; and so on and so on. The idea is that it’s only fair to treat similar cases in the same way as they had been before and it’s good to have predictability in the law. The emphasis in common law is on precedent (a principle or rule established in a previous legal case that is used a court or other tribunal when deciding subsequent cases with similar issues or facts).

If we could trace a common-law rule of law all the way back to its origins, it would go something like this:
Say you sued your neighbor because he tore down his fence and your cow escaped and died; you hadn’t put up your own fence to keep in your cow because your neighbor’s fence had been there for all of living memory. The judge would have to decide who had to pay (and how much/what value) for the dead cow—did you have to just take the loss or should your neighbor have to pay? (And if your neighbor was liable (had to pay), how much would he have to pay? for the worth of an average cow’s output of milk or meat, or that particular cow’s output (then the cow’s health and age would matter)? would he have to pay more if that particular cow was beloved by your family?)

The judge would look at it from the point of view of what had happened before; what would the typical person think should happen under the circumstances? He (it was always a “he” back then) would state what he thought society would agree should happen if there was no prior case he knew of or that had been reported or no other legal commentary on such a matter. In a common-law system, that judge’s reasoning about why he thought you or your neighbor should have to pay for the cow became a rule of law. The rule could be something like “if a fence has existed for a long time and the owner of the fence knows that there is a neighbor’s cow kept in by that fence, then the owner will have to pay for the dead cow if he just tears down the fence without warning the neighbor who owns the cow.” Or, the rule could have been “even if a fence has existed for a long time, if you own a cow and it is not your fence, you can’t rely on the fence continuing to be there to keep your cow in—the fence’s owner can decide at any time he chooses to just tear it down and if your cow escapes and dies you get nothing.” I’m sure you can think of other possible rules that could seem reasonable. After the judge decided your case, if other cows escaped and died due to a neighbor tearing down a fence between his land and the cow owner’s, then that rule could be used by the new cases.

That seems simple enough—just find a case with the exact same fact pattern as your case and you’ll know how the judge should rule in your case. However, even with all the cases being decided over all the years we’ve been keeping records, chances are good that you won’t find one with exactly the same facts. In your new case, it will be a chicken that leaves and dies (differs from a cow because chickens can fly so maybe the fence did little to keep it in anyway) or the fence is not torn down but instead just falls into such disrepair that the cow or chicken walks out—are we going to say that the owner has to keep the fence in good repair when it’s your cow or chicken being kept inside and not his? Taking the rule from one case with one set of facts and applying that rule to another case with a different set of facts is what we do in a common-law system. (I could go on and on with examples where we’d take the original rule and apply it to other scenarios to see how the rule should be extended or modified or maybe wouldn’t work at all: the chicken doesn’t die but can no longer produce eggs; the cow had gotten out of your own fence at other times so you knew you had to do more to keep it in; it is a wild animal rather than a domesticated one; it’s not a fence but a hedge or canal; there’s no barrier between your properties and your neighbor decides to put a sculpture at the property line which then falls on you; etc.)

When a judge does this application of a prior rule to new facts, then her decision further refines or explains the rule or gives us an exception. To continue our example: if the original case’s rule was that the owner has to maintain the fence and give you notice if he’s going to tear it down then the judge in our new case (where the fence became broken) could use that in one of several different ways. She could decide that while actively tearing down the fence requires the owner to give you notice, the owner doesn’t have to give any notice that the fence is falling down because you could have noticed that for yourself and besides, at what point does the owner have to tell you—when the fence is starting to fall down, or when it almost is down? Or she could decide that the owner has to give notice to you as soon as he decides to stop maintaining the fence. Whichever way she decides, that decision would refine the rule to tell us what duties the owner actually has if he has a fence along a property line. In law school (or later as an attorney), you would have read both those cases, worked out what the rule is in its entirety (putting both cases together), and then been able to answer an essay question (or advise a client) that has a new fact pattern you believe is similar to the fence situation. (See my examples of possibly related fact patterns above.)

In a civil law system, the court is not bound by prior decisions; courts use statutes and executive orders interpreting those statutes. (What are statutes, you ask? Not a dumb question! See Part 2 of this series.) Since I’ve never worked or lived in such a system, I’m going to leave it at that!

A question that is not well-thought-out:

What is the definition of precedent/tort/larceny/covenant/third party/liable/damages/etc.?

Above I’ve used a lot of legal terms and defined them. I did this because I wanted you to be able to understand the basic concept of common law without being distracted. However, usually such terms will not be defined for you in what you read or hear in class. You will come across a lot of new words and terms in the cases you read. You should look those up. Be curious! You can’t expect to just wait and hear from the professor in the class the next day what the term means. In fact, it’s very likely that the professor will ask whoever is called on for the definition—and if it’s you, you’ll want to be prepared.

When I was about to start my first year I thought, “what is this class, ‘Torts’ that I have to take?” It being 1996, I looked up “torts” in my newly purchased hard-copy Black’s Law Dictionary. You can of course find almost any term on-line now, just watch out that the source for the information is good. As discussed in Part 3 of this series (on the Socratic method), you will need to find out information for yourself the rest of your legal career, so start now by looking up “torts” yourself!

Legal writing can seem very mysterious, but it really boils down to a basic formula:
state the legal issue/point/question you’re going to discuss;
give the Rule (or Rules, including all relevant definitions) for that issue;
Apply the facts from the hypothetical or real fact pattern to those Rules;
conclude.

This is usually called “IRAC” for Issue, Rule, Application, and Conclusion. (The “A” can also be called Analysis; I prefer Application because that more clearly describes what you do in that part—Apply the law to the facts.) It’s also called CRAC because the Issue need not be stated in the traditional format—“The issue is whether the defendant is liable when [relevant facts plus law]”—but can also be stated as the conclusion—“The defendant here is liable because s/he [relevant facts plus law].” So long as you’ve pointed out where you’re going in the discussion, the “I” is satisfied. Think of it as the turn signal of legal writing—just as in driving, you make others confused and angry when you turn without signaling. These are not emotions you want to evoke in professors (or supervisors or clients).

The Rule is usually not too troublesome for students, but they often leave out necessary definitions and/or start to mix in facts before fully stating the general Rules. The point of the statement of the Rule for the reader depends on the reader, of course: for a professor, it shows you’ve memorized the relevant Rules; for the supervisor, it reminds her of the Rules that she may not have really thought about since law school; for the client (yes, someday you’ll have clients!) it starts to give him important information on which he’ll base his decision on how to proceed. No matter which audience you’re writing for, they all need a clear statement of the law as a general Rule before they start thinking about how their facts may be put together with that Rule.
For example, a Rule statement when contract formation is at issue would be, “Contract formation requires offer, acceptance and consideration,” not, “Bob formed a contract with Sue if his statement was an offer, Sue accepted it and there was consideration for their agreement.” The Rule is for all contracting parties, not just Bob and Sue. Also, mixing law and facts usually leads to a sentence more like, “Bob formed a contract with Sue because he made an offer, Sue accepted it and there was consideration present.” A professor will write “conclusory” next to this because all I did was state that the Rules were met—I didn’t show how or why they were met in that sentence nor did I set myself up to do that discussion as I did with the “if” in the first version. If I continued on and actually applied the Rule to the facts, then my grade would still be okay because I would have done an Application, but I would not get as good a grade as the student who showed that she knew the Rule because she wrote it as a Rule, and that she understood the Rule because she went on an Applied it in the next section.
As for defining all terms, if I stop after stating the Rule—whether generally or with facts—and start using the facts with the Rules, then the reader still doesn’t know what I mean by any of those terms. (Of course your professor knows, but she needs to know that you know what you mean!) You have to first define what constitutes an offer (“an offer requires…”), an acceptance (“the offeree can show acceptance by…”) and consideration (“consideration is…”). Usually that takes at least one sentence per legal term. Only then can you Apply those Rules to the facts.

I’ve called this posting “The Case of the Missing ‘A’” because that is where most students get into trouble and you definitely cannot get an A grade without an Application. Most students fail to fully Apply every bit of the Rules they worked so hard to memorize to the facts that the professor (or the supervisor or client) worked so hard to create (or share). This is where the most points on a law school exam can be found (and is the reason the supervisor gave you the assignment or the client hired you) because it is your opinion on how this specific fact pattern works with the general Rule. We use Application in our daily lives—we just usually short-hand that discussion. You want to give a long, considered discussion on an exam or an assignment. Think of a time you made a major decision and you told a close friend about it. You may have explained your reasoning fairly quickly, and without a complete explanation of your reasoning because your close friend/family member would know your considerations and what you’d rate as a pro or a con or prioritize. That is, you had Rules (morals, standards, considerations) that helped you reach your decision and your friend would know and understand those quickly as you applied them to your situation.
For example, say you needed to buy a new car—you’d have to consider the amount of money you could spend, the number of miles you’ll regularly drive, and how environmentally conscious you are. You might say to your friend, “I’ve decided on a hybrid because I can get extra hours at my job this month.” Your friend would know you previously didn’t have much money to spend but that you really care about being environmentally conscious, you drive a lot of miles so need good gas mileage, you have a car to trade in, and “extra hours” means overtime for which you get time-and-a-half pay. So you didn’t fully explain your monetary considerations and you didn’t even mention the non-monetary considerations. Now imagine you’re having that same discussion with a stranger who has to understand exactly why you made that decision—you’d have to think a lot more and explain a lot more about why and how you came to your decision. “Although money has tight, I will be able to get more hours at my job this month for which I will receive time-and-a-half pay. That pay for the month should be enough for me to afford a down-payment of $2,000. I also have a car I can trade in which I expect to get me a $500 credit. Therefore, altogether I can make a down-payment of $2,500 which would make my monthly payments only $150. I know can afford to pay $150 per month because my current payment is $200 per month.” Look how many sentences that took, and you haven’t even explained your feelings about the environment or how the number the miles you drive impacts your choice.
The professor needs to read that reasoning because otherwise he cannot know that you have an actual working knowledge of the Rules and how they Apply to facts. The supervisor and client need to read or hear that reasoning because that is why they have hired you—to get your legal opinion on factual situations. Anyone can just memorize legal Rules; it is the person who learns to think like a lawyer who can use those Rules with facts and write that Application in a clear and reasoned way. On most law school exams, showing that you memorized Rules is likely to get you no better than a C grade; Applying them thoroughly can get you an A.

The Conclusion rarely gets people into trouble when they remember to do one. Just in one sentence answer the issue you raised in your first sentence and end. If you feel you need to further discuss the reasons behind your Conclusion, you didn’t solve the case of the missing “A”—you didn’t Apply enough and need to go back to that part and further explain your thoughts (if you’re hand-writing an exam, just start a new paragraph and write, “It should also be noted that…” and keep going).

I hope you all solve the case and get an A!

Final piece!

Challenge Yourself!!

 Depending on where you live it may feel like being a lawyer is no big deal. I live in New York City, and sometimes it seems like everywhere I turn there is another lawyer. Many living in big cities may feel the same way, but don’t let feeling like just another fish in the pond distract you from the fact that lawyering is an elite profession. A very small percentage of the population are lawyers. And because it is an elite profession, it is not easy to get into (no matter how easily your law school cashed your tuition checks). Those who determine whether or not you’re going to be a lawyer set the bar high, so you must jump high! You must challenge yourself in order to get over it.

 

My previous career in sales taught me some very important lessons – not least of which being that I’m not a very good salesman. The managers in sales organizations are always looking for ways to motivate their sales people to sell more, and this motivation often involves the use of catchy one-liners. Most of them are terrible, but I found a few of them sticking out in my mind as I was studying. I hope that you will find them helpful.

 

“Successful people do things that other people are not willing to do.”

 

While this never sat well with me in a sales context because it was often used disparagingly, it makes an awful lot of sense in the bar prep context.

 

Many of us have already done things that other people are not willing to do – heck, we’ve been in school for nineteen years! But studying for the bar exam requires you to take that determination one step further. You must push yourself hard in order to pass the bar and become a lawyer. The profession does not want people who don’t work for it.

 

Studying for the bar requires you to do things that, for most of us, are not easy or comfortable. You have to train your brain to think clearly and stay focused for long periods of time in a way that you may never have had to do before. This requires that you push yourself and prepare more rigorously than you ever have before.

 

The brain is just like a muscle. It gets stronger when it is being used, and it will get weak through non-use. So just as top athletes push themselves physically so they can perform at the top of their games, so must you push yourself to build the mental stamina necessary to succeed on the bar exam. The good news is you don’t have to condition yourself to dunk a basketball or hit a home run.

 

Harnessing the determination and focus to push yourself to the next level will serve you well. It may not feel good and it probably won’t be fun, but remember, this process is not designed to be fun or to feel good. It is however, a process that you must endure and you must embrace. Challenge yourself now because as agonizing as it may seem today, it pales in comparison to the agony of studying for the test again. Trust me.

 

“The harder you work, the luckier you get.”

 

While you certainly don’t want to leave success on the bar exam up to luck alone, a little luck never hurts. And you will find that the harder you work the more luck you will have. However the real secret is, it is not luck that will tip the odds in your favor, its hard work. Challenge yourself and it won’t be luck that the Examiners ask a question on an issue you have studied, it will be because you pushed yourself and studied enough to stack the odds in your favor of seeing a familiar question.

 

And last, but certainly not least,

 

 

Believe and Visualize

 

And now for the “new-agey” portion of your bar exam survival. I never considered myself much of a new-agey type of person, and I still don’t, but while studying I came to appreciate some of the techniques you can employ.

 

When I was preparing to take the bar all I was doing was eating, sleeping, studying, and exercising. My suggestion is to do all you can to make your schedule as similar as possible. I found exercise – running in particular – to be a great way to blow off some steam and clear my thoughts after hours with my head in the books. I would run at a local park that had a great running path, and often as I ran I would talk aloud to myself, telling myself I was doing great and that I was going to pass. The other runners must have thought I was nuts!

 

But this time is not about anyone else. This time is about you doing what you have to do to take the next step. Talking aloud to yourself may not work for you, but find something that does because when you’re having a bad day of studying, a little encouragement can go a long way.

 

In golf, every instructor teaches that visualizing the putt going in the hole before making the stroke is key to the best stroke. You may not be a golfer, but it is the principle that’s important. It’s about believing in and encouraging yourself. Take that principle and find a way to make it work for you.

 

For those of you taking the test again, there’s a lot of additional anxiety and negative associations to grapple with. I know, it was me. To help mitigate that added stress, face it head on. Some things I did to fight this stress was to go to the board of law examiners website where they post the exam results and imagine seeing my name where I hadn’t seen it before. I would also imagine opening the letter that said I passed, or I would see myself in the testing room, calmly answering questions as I hadn’t before. Use all or some of these techniques, but if you use none of them find some other way to envision yourself succeeding. Everybody should see themselves passing!!

 

And finally, one last story from my preparation that I hope will be helpful. At the park where I would run, there are benches along the paths dedicated to those who had run there but had since passed away. On one of the benches there was a quote:

 

“The race does not always go to the swift, but to those that keep running.”

 

For those taking the test again, it doesn’t matter what has happened before, it only matters what you do now. For those taking it for the first time, make sure to do the right things so that you don’t have to take it again. Now is the time. Don’t stop running. Keep pushing. It’s going to be hard and it’s not going to be fun, but it’s not supposed to be. Put on your blinders and eliminate distractions, put yourself on the clock, challenge and believe in yourself, and visualize success –  and YOU WILL PASS!

continued from the previous post:

Put Yourself on the Clock

 

I cannot understate the importance of this. Put yourself on the clock. Be fiercely protective of your time while preparing for the test.  Be sure you can account for every minute.

 

Not only is it an important bar exam skill, but it is an important lawyering skill as well. (Billable hours anyone?) But beyond that, the bar exam is a timed test. The sooner you can become comfortable working under timed conditions, the more the days of the test will feel like just another day of studying. And the more you can make the test days feel like just another day of studying, the more stress you eliminate from the situation, and the clearer you will think when it counts.

 

The other advantage of putting yourself on the clock is that it will give you a scorecard you can use to hold yourself accountable and keep track of your progress.  You may spend eight hours at the library, but how much of that time was spent studying?  And what did you study?

 

Studying for the bar exam can be a very enigmatic process. You study and study, and the more you study the less you realize you know.  How do you know you’re on the right track?  Nobody can tell you that if you do X, Y, and Z you will pass, but what we can tell you is that the more you do, the more you increase your chances.  In many ways, preparing for the bar exam is about doing as much as you can to stack the odds in your favor. Keeping “score” as you prepare is a good way to track the extent to which you are stacking the odds in your favor.

 

As a practical tip, when you sit down to study, note the time.  Whenever you leave your desk for more than a quick bathroom break, note the time again and jot down what you’ve done between the starting and end times.  When you sit back down, repeat the process. At the end of the day your scorecard will tell you exactly how much time you spent studying and what you studied. (I.e.; X amount of time, two Torts essays, 50 multiple choice questions, etc.) Tracking your progress in this way will be very helpful. I used my calendar. I thought it was one of the keys to me passing.

 

As a sub-point to this, you should be managing your time to ensure that you get an appropriate amount of rest at night. You should not consistently find yourself working late because you did not get enough done during the day. First, that means you’re not managing your time effectively during the day, and second, you are shooting yourself in the foot!! Important neurological processes happen while you sleep that help what you’ve learned that day “stick”. Remember, the preparation process is all about doing what you can to stack the odds in your favor. So help yourself and get your rest!

to be continued….

The following is an excerpt from an article written by Jonathan Telfair, Pace Law graduate from the class of 2006.  After finally figuring out what worked for him to help him pass the bar exam, he shares what he learned so that others can start off on the right foot and pass the first time around.  I’ll be posting his article in 3 parts, the first of which is below….

KEYS TO PASSING THE BAR EXAM

 Jonathan Telfair, Pace Law ’06

 Every year, thousands of lawyers-to-be take the bar exam in cities across the country.  Some are taking it for the first time, some for the fifth time, and some may be taking it for the fifteenth time, — but for all it is an extremely daunting, over-whelming, and anxiety provoking experience.

 

There are a number of tutoring services available that face the challenge of cramming students’ heads full of everything they learned in law school, along with many things they may have not learned. They employ any number of different strategies to meet this challenge – everything from the simultaneous lecture / fill-in the blank method of the not-to-be-named giant of bar review prep, to the use of constant repetition, acronyms, practice tests, flash cards, more lectures, more notes, more practice tests, and more acronyms – all with the goal of training students’ brains to memorize mountains of information, and be able to quickly retrieve, analyze, and apply that information under the high stress of the bar exam.  No easy task for both student and bar prep course alike, and many courses do a fine job equipping students with the information they need to succeed on the bar exam.

 

However, there is another side to the equation that most bar preparation courses do not address.  For lack of a better description, I will call it the human side of the test taking experience. Yes, if we were all finely tuned machines we would all be able to easily memorize all of the information given to us, retrieve it at a moment’s notice, and successfully analyze and apply it without feeling the stress or gravity of the situation.  Unfortunately, even on our best days, most of us rarely approach the realm of finely tuned machine-dom. We are human, we have human problems, we live human lives, and for us mere mortals, high stress levels – like those experienced while preparing for and taking the bar exam – can make us do things we wouldn’t do in our everyday lives but that become huge stumbling blocks in this context.

 

This article aims to address the human side of the test taking experience and give students important practices to integrate into their test prep regimen. These practices are designed to help control stress levels and gain an added level of confidence while approaching the bar exam.

 

This is my story:

 

I graduated from law school in 2006.  I took the bar exam in the summer of 2006 right out of law school. I failed. Over the course of the following two and a half years I took the exam three more times, each time coming up short. Then after a two year hiatus, I took two states bar exams in February 2011. I passed both.

 

What was different?  My approach.  I finally figured out how to do the right things to get myself “over the hump”. The things I learned are important for anyone taking the bar exam to keep in mind – whether its your first or fifteenth time. I share my story so you can learn from my mistakes and hopefully not repeat them.

These are my Keys To Passing The Bar Exam:

  First and most importantly,

 Put On Your Blinders and Eliminate Distractions

 

The bar exam is a big, hard, ugly beast.  I don’t care where you take it, or who you are.  It takes every ounce of focus and dedication you can muster, and then some. This level of focus and dedication is neither easy to come by nor to maintain. In order to achieve it, you will need the help of those around you.

 

When I was preparing to take the bar for the first time, my favorite professor pulled me aside and said, “Jonathan, make sure that everyone around you knows that this is the most important thing in your life right now. If they are your friends they will understand. Anyone not supportive or distracting is only hurting your chances.” Unfortunately, I underestimated the importance of what she was saying. I thought I knew better. Don’t make the same mistake. Do whatever you have to do to create calm, support, and focus in your life. It will go a long way.

 

In doing so, you may have to miss out on some things that you would like to do.  There will be sporting events that all your friends will be going to. You can’t go. It’s okay. There will be others. They may be your best friends in the entire world, but they are not going re-take the test for you if you fail.  There may be concerts of your favorite artist, or a season finale of your favorite TV show. You have to miss them. The artist will tour again, and the TV show will be on Netflix waiting for you once you’ve taken the test.

 

Some of you may have a job waiting for you and you’re already thinking about how you’re going to spend your first paycheck.  Some of you may not have a job yet and you’re thinking to yourself, “Oh my god, how am I going to find a paycheck?” And other still may be thinking about the beach you’re going to be relaxing on when the exam is over. These are all legitimate concerns and there will be time for all of them, but that time is not now! Do not think beyond this test. Put on your blinders and focus only on the task at hand.

 

The first time I took the test, like many of you, it was summer time.  It was beautiful outside, I just graduated, and I wanted to celebrate! I’d always done well on standardized tests before – heck, I’d made it through nineteen years of schooling and standardized tests, certainly this one is no different.  But it is!

 

Simply put, preparing for the bar exam is a miserable experience. It is not fun, but it’s not supposed to be! From now until when you take the test, just get used to it. I don’t know anyone who passed the bar exam who enjoyed the process. But it’s a process that you must embrace in order to succeed. So put on your blinders, embrace the process, get focused, and get to work!!

 

to be continued…..

One of the highlights of the first year in law school is preparing and arguing the appellate brief.  Congratulations to the 1Ls on writing your appellate briefs—best of luck on your oral arguments!

As the 1Ls prepare to argue their case on appeal, just last week the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the constitutionality of the 2010 Obama health care legislation.  On the second day of arguments, the central issue on whether the requirement that everyone have health insurance is unconstitutional took center stage.  For those of us who have done oral arguments, at least in our first year of law school, we know that oral argument is not easy.  Solicitor General Verrilli’s performance however received much criticism.  Verrilli, who is widely described as a skillful and accomplished lawyer, was criticized for repeatedly pausing and excusing himself throughout his argument.  Opinions however differ.  Some called the Solicitor General’s argument an “awful performance” – a “train wreck,” while others called it one of the most spectacular “flame-outs” in Supreme Court history.

Check out the website below for more information and tell us what you think.

http://www.supremecourt.gov/docket/PPAACA.aspx

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