2 comments November 21st, 2008
Posts filed under 'Bar Exam'
And now I am going to e-mail this to all of you and then summon the flight attendant and demand the array of alcoholic beverages I so richly deserve.
–Neal Stephenson, Cryptonomicon
Well, maybe not an array of alcoholic beverages, but I figure I’ve earned a beer after eighteen hours of tests and moving to a new place immediately afterwards. A scalar alcoholic beverage, if you will.
I think it went pretty well, but it’ll be a full sixteen weeks before they tell me whether I passed or not. However, now that I’ve actually taken the bar exam, I have some advice for those who will:
- Before you take the bar exam, traverse the route you will take to get there. I don’t mean that you should look at it on a map or transit schedule or anything like that. I mean that you should start from the place you will wake up on the morning of the bar exam at the time you will leave that morning, and take the exact route you will take that day, all the way to the end–again, not to the train station where you’ll get off, and not to the point where you’ll drive by the place where you’ll take the exam–I mean that you need to walk to wherever you will take the examination, to the very seat if you possibly can. I did exactly this, although the security guards didn’t let me into the hall where I would take it (and the seats weren’t set up, nor did I know where I would sit). Actually, I did it twice. Two times. You might consider this to be slightly paranoid, but taking a professional licensure examination tends to have that effect on people, especially law students. Surprises are great, surprises are lovely, surprises are for amateurs. You are a professional, and professionals plan all the way to the end.
- Actually, if you keep that principle in mind, you will prepare pretty well for the bar exam. Prepare your clothes and everything you’ll bring to the exam the morning before, set at least two alarms to ensure that you wake up at the appropriate time (I used four, but I am a) a very sound sleeper (one time in college, a storm broke a six-inch-thick branch outside a window, but I had no idea until my friends told me the next day) and b) a bit paranoid as mentioned supra), and bring at least twice as much of any consumable supply as you think you’ll need for the examination.
- At my test center (the Oakland Convention Center), at least, they let us leave our bags in the hallway–you’re not allowed to take anything into the exam except for what’s on the approved list. This means that you don’t need to clean out your bag completely, because they’ll make you leave it in the hallway anyway. I didn’t really worry about things getting stolen, as there was a uniformed security guard and at least two proctors in the hallway at all times–your $529 does get you a fair amount of security. (And yes, it really does cost $529, and that’s just for the bar exam. Here‘s (4k PDF) a list of all the fees the State Bar charges you. By my calculations, I’ll have paid the State Bar $1,176 before I’m admitted–of course, as compared to law school, these costs are epsilon.)
- A corollary: if you need anything that’s not on the approved list for medical or other reasons, apply to the State Bar for accommodations. There is no charge, but you need to do it ahead of time. Bring the letter specifying the accommodations you were granted with you, and be prepared to show it to every proctor or other test official you meet for all three days.
- Do whatever helps to keep yourself relaxed during the examination. I paused to take a few deep breaths every once in a while and took a few walks around the exam room, other people probably had different rituals. I observed more than a few folks doing a few quick yoga asanas in the hallway.
- It overlaps a little with a prior statement, but keep yourself in good health. Eat decent meals, get some fresh air during the lunch breaks, and try to get a good night’s sleep. Don’t depend too much on chemical assistance for that last one, though–one of the Bar/Bri lecturers shared an anecdote about a person who took half a sleeping pill (her usual dose) one night, then the other half, then a second whole pill, and finally a third, six times the amount she usually took, before she fell asleep. She was extremely groggy the next day.
That’s all I can think up for now. Back to unpacking . . .
2 comments August 6th, 2008
Today is the first day of the California Bar Exam! I’m sorry I haven’t had time to post more, but preparing for the bar exam has left me so busy that I haven’t had much time to blog about it. However, I did want to share with you this sign that somebody posted in the elevator here:
There are worse send-offs than that, I suppose. Here we go!
1 comment July 29th, 2008
I apologize for the lack of bar exam posts–even though I wrote a lot of these before my bar review course started, I haven’t really had time to post them. If you read through this, you should understand why. Anyway, where were we? Ah, yes, talking about . . .
Admission to the Bar
Ok! You have spent three years at the law and, against all odds, have graduated from an accredited law school with your sanity mostly intact. Mazel tov.
But while you are a lawyer (one who is learned in the law), you are not yet an attorney (one who may represent another in legal matters). To become such you must be admitted to the bar of the jurisdiction in which you intend to practice. You’ve gone a long way towards this already, but there are a few more hoops remaining.
All jurisdictions in the United States require that you prove that you have the appropriate moral character to become an attorney. In California, proving this requires that you fill out a remarkably long form (846 kB PDF) with details of your criminal, credit, education, and employment histories, and that your fingerprints be taken for a background check.
Having done that, the real fun begins with
The Bar Exam
which is a comprehensive test of the basic areas of law that every lawyer should know. This is slightly different in every jurisdiction. In California, we take:
- The California Essay Exam, six essay problems much like most law-school exams
- The California Performance Test, two tasks that come with a statement of the facts, a library of documents to use in analyzing it, and a question asking you to draft some sort of document based on your analysis
- The Multistate Bar Exam, two hundred multiple-choice questions (as the name implies, this exam is given in many US jurisdictions–there are multistate essay and performance tests, but California doesn’t use them)
Each of these three parts is divided into two halves (one performance test problem, three essays, or 100 MBE questions), each of which takes three hours. The exam is given over three days, which is another way California is special–it’s usually just two. We do three essays Tuesday and Thursday mornings, one performance test on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, and a hundred MBE questions during each session on Wednesday.
To put this into perspective, the average law-school final exam (which determines the student’s entire grade for the course) takes about three hours, except for courses with take-home finals and those graded on a final paper or project. In a typical term, most students will take between three and five of these during a period of a little more than two weeks.
Furthermore, Hastings has a provision in its regulations called the “48-hour rule,” whereby if a student has two examinations that start within 48 hours of each other, the records office will postpone the latter of the two to preserve that spacing.
The California Bar Examination is the equivalent of taking six finals in three days. It begins fifteen days from today.
So you can see why I might be under a little bit of stress at this point.
1 comment July 14th, 2008
Some background, first:
Becoming a Lawyer
The first step in becoming a lawyer in the United States is attending law school. In many other countries, law is an undergraduate major, but here it’s a three-year graduate degree.
The first year varies remarkably little between schools: contracts, civil procedure, torts, criminal law, and property. Some schools require constitutional law as well, and some allow students to choose an elective at one point. My law school required all the courses I mentioned at the beginning of this paragraph (two terms of the first two and one of each of the last three) and allowed us to choose one elective our second term, all of which related to an area of law governed more by statutes than by prior cases.
Students will also generally need to take a course in legal writing and research. At Hastings, we did this our first term and took a moot court course in our second. (Moot court is much like it sounds–you get a case, usually one that’s pending before the United States Supreme Court or the highest court in the state where the school is located, are randomly assigned a side to argue, and spend a unit or two’s worth of time researching, briefing, and arguing it.)
In the second year, students pretty much get to take what they want. Some schools (including Hastings) don’t require con law and evidence, but you’d be a fool not to take them, especially as they’re covered on the bar exam, more on which later.
The third year, at Hastings at least, is much the same from a formal standpoint. Some schools (such as George Washington, I’m informed) take a page from medical schools’ books and have an entirely clinical third year–students work under the tutelage of experienced attorneys or judges assisting them in their duties. It remains to be seen whether this will become standard practice, but clinical programs are becoming more common and prominent in the American law-school landscape. For my part, I spent half my time my last semester of law school working for a judge at the San Francisco Superior Court. If you’re in law school, I strongly recommend it.
Of course, you could go the seriously old-school route and not bother with law school at all, instead taking a period of apprenticeship to an attorney or judge and studying under them. This used to be the only way to become a lawyer, but it’s far less common these days–most states don’t even allow it, but California is one that does.
Add comment June 7th, 2008
I’m studying property at Sugarlump, a very cool coffee place in the Mission. About half the people in this place are studying for the bar, I think.
Add comment June 7th, 2008
Dr. Hoenikker used to say that any scientist who couldn’t explain to an eight-year-old what he was doing was a charlatan.
–Kurt Vonnegut, Cat’s Cradle
The work presumes a standard of education corresponding to a university matriculation examination, and, despite the shortness of the book, a fair amount of patience and force of will on the part of the reader.
–Albert Einstein, Relativity: The Special and the General Theory
In recent years, a lot of newly-minted JDs have blogged the process of preparing for the bar exam. I intend to follow through on this trend, blogging not only about the process of preparation but about the law I’m reviewing at the time.
As you are (and I am) about to find out, preparing for and taking the bar exam is a very serious undertaking. You might want to know why I’m bothering to write up these blog entries while I’m doing it. The reason is that I really enjoy explaining things, and that I thought that explaining the law I’m reviewing to a general audience (educated, intelligent people without any legal training) would be an excellent way for me to review what I’m doing and fix it in my mind as I prepare for the test. I also hope that these entries will be useful to other people, whether they are prospective examinees, law students, or curious civilians. In particular, I hope that you will find them useful, or at least interesting, or at the very least an efficient way to avoid productive work for a few hours.
At first, I’m going to blog about background topics that my bar review course won’t cover specifically, but that are important to understanding what’s going on. In my law school experience, I found that this was one of the harder things to pick up, as they weren’t explicitly taught, but left for students to discover on their own.
Later, I’ll blog about the particular substantitve topics we’re reviewing at the time, as well as my experiences while studying for the bar.
Add comment June 6th, 2008