It reflects on your professionalism, which is a critical part of the interview and the bar review process. How will you present yourself with confidence? Attorneys are a confident bunch or at least we like to think we are.
It takes poise to stand up in court or represent a client in a heated negotiation. In practice, you must be able to communicate in a professional, confident way both in writing and in person. In an interview, of course, you want to present yourself as you would as an attorney—someone the interviewer would want to have on his or her side of a litigation. I would argue the bar exam is no different!
You want to show the exam grader that you are the type of lawyer he or she would want to work with! And that attorney is poised, confident, and professional. How do you convey confidence with your writing? You write in a clear and concise way. You state the rules as if you are sure they are the right rules to apply hopefully you are right. You argue both sides when appropriate and clearly conclude what you think will be the outcome of the case. How can you make an impression within a limited time?
Have you ever had a short interview? Fifteen minutes or even shorter? To prepare for a short interview, you would likely focus on making sure you put your best foot forward in the time allowed, right? Likewise, it is important to recognize how much time the bar graders spend reading each of your answers. For example, in California, bar graders spend an average of 2 to 3 minutes reading each essay exam and 3 to 5 minutes on the performance exam.
I have read reports that in other jurisdictions especially those with shorter essays bar graders spend on average 2 minutes grading an essay. So given those statistics, calculate how much time a grader in your jurisdiction will spend grading your entire written exam. In California that number is about 28 minutes on the high end for 12 hours of written exams.
So you have limited time to make a good impression. Use what little time you have to make the best impression possible. How will you be sure to answer the question asked? In an interview, it is very important to answer the question asked by the interviewer. The same is true on the bar exam. The call of the question is so important.
If the call of the question is in three parts, answer all three parts. You frame the answer in a way that will be pleasing to the interviewer. The same is true for the bar exam. You need to give the bar examiner what is asked for. Say you are an expert on the present sense impression exception to the hearsay rule. Heck, you even wrote a journal article about it. Should you spend your entire evidence essay talking about present sense impression? That is not what the examiner wants to hear.
The examiner wants you to go through the different exceptions in a simple and organized way. So really though, what are the qualities of a great bar essay answer?
It answers the questions asked both from the call of the question and by the facts in the fact pattern. It should be written in a professional and confident way. It should be organized with clear headers and helpful formatting. It should display your knowledge of the law. It should be written in the time allowed.
What if you are still struggling with the written portion of the bar exam? Tutors can give you individualized feedback on your writing. Many people feel that this is something missing from the bar prep process. But all tutors are not created equal! You should ask around for recommendations, read testimonials, and even ask for student references if you think that would be helpful. There are a number of helpful books on writing essay exams. Review real student essays. I think that many students learn well from reviewing other student essays both successful and not successful.
It puts the student in the place of the grader and shows what can be communicated through the written page. It can be a very powerful study tool! There are different places you can find sample answers. But this goes to show that knowing Conviser is all you need.
Perfect really is the enemy of the good here. The examiners can ask for an essay on any, or any combination, of the 17 subjects. Unfortunately, this is harder than the MBE subjects for two reasons. First, there are no multiple-choice questions to test your knowledge on the non-MBE subjects. I made flashcards for this purpose. Second, depending on what you took in law school, these subjects may be completely new to you.
Most were new to me. These elements—subject newness and uncertainty as to progress—may tempt you to go too deep. People dedicate entire careers to learning the minutiae of any one of these subjects. That is not your task. That is a recipe for competent essay writing. This is generally perceived to be suicidal. Practice essays are usually regarded as crucially important. I tend to disagree, since I think that one is in a great deal of trouble if studying for the Bar also entails learning how to write well.
Regardless, probably the biggest thing to watch out for is time management. The examiners are trying to see how well examinees can read, organize, reason, and compose a legal document under time pressure. These are general skills that law students have hopefully been developing for a long time by the time they sit for the Bar. You can absolutely pass the California Bar by studying for hours or less, and not getting freaked out is a key component of that.
The obvious pushback is that neither my advice nor my approach is applicable to people whose careers are on the line when they sit for the exam.
One could still give the MBE the relative weight I suggested, but go on to do 3x more practice questions than I did. The insight that anyone who did reasonably well in his legal writing class should be very confident about taking PTs without practicing at all may be useful to someone who is worried about only having practiced 5 of them. Or at least I hope so. So how out of touch can this be, really?
Ultimately I believe what the data suggests. Most smart people from good law schools can and will pass the Bar, and many probably need only minimal studying to do so. Many not-as-smart or otherwise disadvantaged people from poor law schools will fail, even with intense studying and multiple retakes. Fair or not, the Bar Exam rewards a certain brain type.
People who can memorize stuff well can do well on the MBE. People who write clearly under time pressure can handle the written parts. Stress or bad luck or inability can be merciless. That is a real shame. Arguably the Bar Exam should be done away with entirely old version here , modern version here. Meantime, though, one has to pass it to lawyer. Hopefully this post has provided some insight and will help someone do just that. Minimal Theme designed by Artur Kim.
Bar Contrarianism I suspect two things about the Bar Exam. Plan Given all this, I figured I could probably pass by studying much less than conventional wisdom instructs, so long as I avoided panicking or feeling guilty about that and instead re-framed it as optimal. Self Study Most examinees take expensive Bar prep courses, which strike me as psychic insurance policies as much as anything else. Here is what my general plan looked like:.
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