You must outline!
Lectures are pointless.
Listen to lectures as you sleep.
Bacon is fine.
DON’T EAT BACON.
Most are useless.1 The fact is that the only proven method of passing the bar is actually knowing the law. Every subject that you will be tested on has an intrinsic structure to it according to which you can organize the material, memorize the elements, and keep the information accessible for immediate recitation.
For example, take the common-law tort of negligence. The typical bar exam has at least one essay with a fact pattern where negligence is at issue. Let’s imagine that we are taking the bar exam and stumble upon the following essay excerpt:
Billy Bob rushed to enter his vehicle. He plugged his phone into the charger, started the vehicle, and pulled out of his driveway. As he was driving, his phone buzzed, signaling a text message from his love interest. Billy Bob then initiated the millennial mating-call: snapping “selfies.” He took his eyes off of the road in order to eliminate any unflattering photos. While selecting a heavy-duty filter from the choices on his app, Billy Bob crashed into Ms. Bellbottom, a pedestrian and public school math teacher leaving work early at 5:00 PM. As a result of the accident, Ms. Bellbottom sustained serious injuries and will be unable to work for six months. A witness at the scene noted that Ms. Bellbottom had not been in a crosswalk at the time of the accident, and also appeared to be staring at her phone at the time of impact.
What you see: A fact-pattern themed crossword puzzle.
What you think: I wonder if my old job is still hiring?
What you should see: A massive amount of potential points.
Let’s start with the free points. Yes, free points. Once you have identified a situation where the question relates to a party who has failed to act reasonably towards another party, you will get points by writing:
In order to prove negligence, the Plaintiff must show a duty owed by the Defendant, a breach of that duty, a causal relationship between the breach and the injury, and that the Plaintiff has sustained damages compensable by law.
This simple statement of law will net you points without any reference to the facts. You will get points for the above response to every fact pattern where negligence is at issue. You must commit to memory the elements of negligence (duty, breach, causation, damages) and do the same for every other cause of action, along with the pertinent defenses and excuses.
After you state the law relevant to the fact pattern, you must then explain how the law applies. But what does that look like? Here is an example:
As an operator of a motor vehicle, Billy Bob owed a duty to drive with reasonable care to all others who could foreseeably be harmed by his failure to drive with reasonable care. Billy Bob breached that duty by snapping “selfies” while driving. A reasonably prudent driver would not take his eyes off the road in order to feed his insatiable ego. These actions caused Billy Bob to drive directly into Ms. Bellbottom, breaking her legs. It is foreseeable that someone operating a motor vehicle without looking at the road will injure a pedestrian. Ms. Bellbottom suffered damages in the form of medical damages, pain and suffering, and lost wages. Luckily for Billy Bob, he didn’t hit someone who is paid a living wage.
The essay fact patterns are drafted to elicit some defense, excuse, mitigation, or exception to a cause of action, which should be viewed as a source of more points. (I’m sure you didn’t miss that Ms. Bellbottom wasn’t entirely without fault.) Whenever you see a complicated, multi-layered fact pattern, you should breathe a sigh of relief and then take a huge data dump on the essay sheet. Do not waste time on creative or artful phrasing. Instead, employ laser-like focus on producing answers with the most buzzwords and substance because those answers have the most potential to net you points.
These are just simplified examples, but they can be generalized to every area of law and any question that you may encounter. You are always confronted with the task of stating what claims the various parties have against one another, along with the defenses to those claims. You must therefore memorize the elements to every cause of action, along with every defense, and learn when to apply them. Your bar outlines will be structured in a manner that makes learning the various causes of actions and their defenses a straightforward task.
There is no magic pill to guarantee you success over this last great hurdle of your legal career. There is no quick-fix. If you find yourself googling “last minute tips to pass the bar exam,” then something has gone terribly awry. The deciding factor will be your level of commitment and the self-discipline that will keep you from projectile vomiting during the exam.
1We do acknowledge the efficacy of the MPRE approach known as “Jesus minus one,” whereby the unprepared test-taker is recommended to select the second-most ethical answer choice.
Will Congress accomplish something this year?
Are Kim Jong-un's eyebrows natural?
Can you master the bar exam in just three weeks?
As I explored in the first article in this series, the bar exam industry is flooded with deceptive marketing that feeds our worst study habits. We want to believe that we can conquer the bar exam in several weeks of casual study. We want to believe that we can predict the essay questions based on an analysis of previous years' topics. We want to believe that milkshakes are good for us…the truth hurts.
Companies and individuals sell bar exam rituals, two-week study schedules, and my personal favorite: essay topic predictions. As Sturgeon's Law dictates, ninety percent of it is bunk. When you analyze any of the tips, tricks, or “secrets” to the bar exam, the first thing you realize is that most of it is either utter nonsense or hilariously obvious. I found one article that began with the following tip:
“1. Register for the bar exam.”
Apparently, Nostradamus is in the bar review business. Talk about necessary and indispensable. The trouble begins when the advice seduces you into thinking that you do not have to commit intense dedication to your studies. Unfortunately, you must pay the troll before you can cross the bridge.
After criticizing the use of tips, tricks, and silver bullets to acing the bar exam, it's only fair that I offer my own seven foolproof secrets to approaching the bar exam:
1. Take your exam on a laptop. You can type faster than you can write and your hands won't cramp up as if in full rigor mortis. But be mindful of Murphy's Law: if your laptop can crash in the middle of the exam, it will. Do everything in your power to avoid technological issues, such as ensuring the computer doesn't update and restart in the midst of the exam.
2. Don't worry too much about your sleeping and eating habits. A lot of this is beyond your control. Some people just simply can't eat or sleep normally under the intense pressure of the exam. Just accept it. If you worry about it, it will cause you further disruption, which will cause more stress, and you will soon enter an incurable, infinite loop of hangry sleeplessness.
3. Disconnect. Pareto's Law tells us that twenty percent of our effort yields eighty percent of our results. In the bar exam context, this means that we waste a lot of our time during our studies because we aren't actually studying. Refreshing Facebook a thousand times will give you a good sense of how much better your friends' lives are for the ten weeks of bar prep, but it won’t give you the edge you need to pass the MBE.
4. Emulate excellence. The sample answers provided in your bar review courses do more than show you the correct answer. They show you how to formulate a correct answer. When it comes to legal work, borrowing is key. In fact, you will learn in your future practice as a lawyer that it is absolutely crucial to success. Who is more likely to be sued for malpractice: the attorney who writes a will from scratch, or the attorney who uses a tried and true template? (The answer is both, because clients are cray cray.)
5. Accept that failure is a possibility, and you will be more likely to pass. I couldn't find a name for this “law,” so I will call it “Gandalf's Law.” Stop worrying so much about passing the exam. The pressure that you feel is only as real as you believe it to be. You will perform better on the exam if you have a clear and calm mind. You shall pass.
6. Read the call of the question before you read the fact pattern. It's much easier to identify the pertinent issues if you already know which direction the examiners want you to go. For example, if the call of a Criminal Procedure question is “How should the judge rule on the defendant's Motion to Suppress?” then you already know that you need to discuss, inter alia, the Fourth Amendment.
7. Register for the bar exam.
After ten years in the bar prep industry, Themis remains the only company to publish comprehensive, transparent, and trustworthy pass-rate data. If you have yet to check out our pass-rate information, you can find the numbers here. Themis calculates pass rates because we value transparency and student success, and to prove to students that our methodology works. In this post, we want to give you a chance to understand how we get the data for our pass rates and what that data means.
‘Tis the season for holiday parties! Remember that memories linger long after the champagne stops popping, so here are some friendly reminders to help you navigate these events with professional dignity.
Topics: Law Student Advice
Inviting strange children to your home after dark to feed them potential allergens and choking hazards? Displaying fake corpses and images of the occult? Hacking into giant gourds with huge, unsharpened kitchen knives, in close proximity to friends and loved ones? It’s not surprising that Halloween has given rise to some pretty sensational lawsuits spanning all areas of the law. From products liability (who knew it would be a bad idea to light a cigarette when dressed as a cotton-ball-covered sheep?)1 to freedom of expression (shout out to the Seventh Circuit for protecting your right to talk smack about your neighbors via fake tombstone)2. From the mundanity of premises liability (if you break your nose fleeing a haunted house right into a cinderblock wall, you’re on your own)3 to intellectual property (banana costume buyer, beware) 4.
Since tricks and treats have inspired a plethora of lawsuits, it follows that lawsuits can inspire some truly great Halloween costumes. We know you can do better than stapling some old case files to your oldest gray flannel and calling it a “lawsuit.” See below for some ideas sure to impress your friends.
Go with an oldie but a goodie (or should that be a Goody?). The Salem Witch Trials give rise to too many costumes to list here. Goody Proctor. Judge Hathorne. Giles Corey and his “more weight”. Even Old Scratch himself. Bonus points if you can figure out how to dress as ergot poisoning.
Celebrate the popularization of American courtroom drama: find a group of friends, two of whom can go as legal giants Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryant, one of whom can go as high school teacher John T. Scopes (men simply do NOT wear enough straw hats these days—this could be your excuse to buy one), and any number of whom can go as a monkey, or really any other hominid, in the Scopes Monkey Trial, which was the first American legal trial to be broadcast on the radio. H.L.
Whether you are at the top of your class or just scraping by, law school has a unique way of making you feel completely inadequate and insecure. These feelings are often unfamiliar because you excelled to get into law school in the first place. Everyone reaches their breaking point, those times when stress and anxiety fill you with the impending fear of not being good enough.
It’s a new school year and the semester is now in full swing. You survived a summer job or internship and are getting back to basics: reading cases, trying to avoid getting called on in class, and wondering how you’ll make it out of law school alive. As you navigate through this semester and beyond, it’s important to think about what you want to accomplish this year. What do you hope to achieve? What plans are you making for the future?