Barely Legally

Confessions of a Moot Court Bailiff

The Bar Exam: a Look Ahead

Today, I finished my bar review class. Forty sessions combining in 175 hours of in-class instruction, and probably nearly twice that outside of class. I now have two weeks to go before the bar exam. (13 days, 17 hours, 10 minutes, and so on. But who’s counting?)

To mark the occasion, I’d like to answer a questions I received on twitter from a Miss Beans:

(1) How much do you regret the bar classes you didn’t take in school?

(2) do you feel comfortable w/what you learned in [review]?

Without knowing what the bar exam proper is like, I’ll give this a shot.

(I haven’t re-written or edited this, so I must apologize for the sloppiness of what follows. I’m slightly pressed for time, and I ramble terribly.)

First, I think it’s important to get some context. In law school, I did not take New York Practice, Wills & Trusts, Family Law, or Criminal Procedure. These are really the only bar subjects that I didn’t cover on their own or as part of a larger class. My school mandates (what I assume are) the traditional first year classes:

  • Contracts
  • Civil Procedure
  • Torts
  • Criminal Law
  • Property

As well as required second-year classes in Constitutional Law and Evidence, I took Corporations (which included agency) and a class on the UCC (sales and negotiable instruments).

That being said, my last semester of law school, I took a class taught by a former instructor of a bar review course, called “New York Law in National Perspectives.” It covered eight subjects, including Wills & Trusts and Criminal Procedure. The class was intended to be a survey course of popular bar exam topics, and give students a chance to dip a toe into the whole “bar review” grind before the real deal begins.

So, to answer (1), I don’t really regret not taking certain bar subjects in school. I think part of that was my luck in attending a school with a bar review prep class. But part of that is because by the time you’re a graduate, you’re good at picking up legal theories quickly. There’s an internal logic to the law, and while you may not have been quite so bad at sussing it out as I was as a 1L, the fact remains that as a J.D., you pick up on it very quickly. Specifically:

Wills & Trusts was covered in my bar review prep class: it’s mostly straightforward, but there are some areas where I’ve done some extra work to keep my head above water. I don’t know that it would have been worth a 14 weeks of my life to get that extra time to spend with the material, to be honest.

Family Law wasn’t covered in my prep class, but I think this is even more straightforward. Perhaps my ignorance just glosses over the topic, but I think that while there are lots of rules (aren’t there always?) none of them seem to descend into a thicket of legal esotericism the way Freehold Estates do for me. Seriously, screw Fee Simples Subject to Conditions Subsequent(s?).

And New York Practice is the term at my school for NY’s civil procedure: statute of limitations, pleadings, motions, defenses, jurisdiction, venues, etc. There’s almost no legal reasoning required here, just memorization of rules and tests. This is the sort of meta-law for which index cards are sold in bulk. I think it’s a waste of time to take it before your last semester of law school, when the scarce few complex areas of NY Practice might still be fresh in your mind.

Really, I really don’t think I missed enough of any of these subjects to hurt me on the exam. And I don’t plan to practice in either of the two substantive areas of law, so the fact that I haven’t spent time in a classroom wrangling the doctrine for myself isn’t inhibitive.

I suppose if you somehow knew you had some strange mental block with regards to Corporations or Wills, you should get as much exposure to it beforehand. Maybe Evidence, because hearsay may drive you batty if you don’t spend a good month or two on it. But really, the bar review guys are very good at what they do (and hell, for $3k a head, they’d better be!), and you’re very good at what you do by the time you’ve finished six semesters of law school.

So, with regard to question (2), bar review class is a little too much like first semester’s exam week all over again. On the one hand, you know you’re all in the same situation, and everyone’s rather nonplussed. On the other hand, this is of no comfort at all, because you’ve just finished drinking from the fire hydrant. Trying to soak it all up on your first go is impossible, and you’ll have to spend a lot of time afterwards trying to mop up the bits that bounced off the outside of your head.

Bar review is different, obviously, in that now it’s not the grasping of legal principles that’s tricky, but the retaining of thousands of legal principles. In theory, I’m comfortable with any of these laws I’ve learned. You know, a few at a time. The novelty here is retaining nearly as much information as you learned in all six semesters combined, and being able to cogently spit it out on command.

I worked hard, I stayed in on weekends, and I kept up with what the class was doing. I did the homework problems, I’ve reviewed my wrong answers, and I made sure that I wasn’t saving a mountain of work until the end. There’s just no way to cram for twenty subjects at once: you have to keep up a steady pace all summer.

Even so, immediately after the hydrant (the class) has shut off, I feel bewildered. I’ve been doing my best to keep up on past subjects while learning new ones, and that’s just damn hard. If you never studied for two (or three!) exams at once in law school, you should do it at least one semester. Seriously. Compartmentalizing that much information all at once is a skill, and I don’t think bar review should be the first time you try it.

Overall, I’m pretty comfortable with what I learned in bar review class. Not right now, though. I take comfort in the fact that I have fourteen days to re-read my notes when no one is throwing new notes at me. I can focus and start to compartmentalize, and I feel pretty good about where I’ll be in fourteen days. Again, none of this stuff is impossible, and some of it is downright easy after spending all that time in law school, but it’s the combination that’s tricky.

I hope that at some point in my rambling, incoherent response I was even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought, and that everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it.