Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Questions of the Day (#2)

What is the distinguishing factor between covenant at law and equitable servitude? List the common requirements of both.

Answer: Covenant at law involves money damages, whereas equitable servitude involves equitable or injunctive relief. Where there is a promise that forbids a particular use of land, usually that's an equitable servitude. Common requirements for both: (1) Intent by original parties to benefit a particular parcel; (2) burden must touch and concern (T/C) D's land, and benefit must T/C P's land; and (3) notice to D (actual or constructive).

Virginia Essays
On what grounds will a Virginia court grant a new trial?

Answer: (1) Prejudicial error by the court.
               (2) Misconduct of a party, attorney, juror, or third party.
               (3) New evidence discovered, or the failure to produce at trial was not because of a lack of       diligence.
               (4) Unfair surprise by material evidence at trial.
               (5) Excessive or inadequate damages that "shock the conscience."

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Questions of the Day (#1)

I'm going to post two question-and-answers each day, one for the MBE and one for the Virginia essays. They're just another way of keeping material fresh in your head. Treat them like an index card. If you know the answers, great! If not, now you do.

If a third party has knowledge of the conspiracy and, unbeknownst to the original conspirators, intentionally gives aid to the conspiratorial objective, is he guilty of conspiracy too?

Answer: Yes.

Virginia Essays
If defendant is hauled into a federal district court, how many days after service of process must he file his Answer?

Answer: 21 days. But if his 12(b) motion is denied, then he has 14 days from the date the court rules on his motion.

Knowing the Format of the Virginia Essays and Using That To Your Advantage

Virginia Essays

The Format

The written portion of the Virginia Bar Exam is a worth 60%, and is comprised of nine essays and ten short answers. You are responsible for 23 state-specific subjects, more than any other bar in the country. The essays will test you on about half of those subjects, with each essay typically testing on more than one subject. The remaining subjects will likely show up in the short answers. On the ten short answers, the average score is 5/10 correct, which should also give you some idea as to their overall difficulty. Most of them will be multiple-choice, while a select few will be fill-in-the-blank.

Each essay is worth ten points and each short answer is worth one point, for a total of 100 raw points. In the morning, you will have three hours to answer the first five essays. Plan for 35 minutes per essay - to read, outline, and answer. In the afternoon, you will have three hours to answer the remaining four essays and ten short answers. Again, average yourself at 35 minutes per essay and 35 minutes for the ten short answers, although the short answers should not take you 35 minutes to complete. Answer the short answers first. If they take you fifteen minutes to complete, then do the math; you now have 40 minutes to complete the remaining four essays.

The VBBE writes tough - but fair - essays. They are not gimme points, and they are not the sort of essays that you can B.S. your way through. On the other hand, they are well-written and seek specific answers (not hide-the-ball-type).  All this is to say that, unlike other bar exams, you can't blow off Virginia's state-specific subjects in favor of investing all of your time into the MBE. If you are not fully prepared for this portion of the exam, you are dead in the water.

The 35-Minute Rule

35 minutes per essay - to read, outline, and answer- means that you have to move efficiently. Barbri stresses the importance of outlining your answer before writing it. They suggest 5-10 minutes for reading, 10-15 minutes for outlining, and 10-15 for writing. If that works for you, do it.

I often found that outlining Barbri's way ate away at precious time, so I didn't really outline. Plus, 10-15 minutes to answer some Virginia essays just isn't possible. As I read an essay, I made small notations in the margin. When the essay posited its questions at the end, I answered each one in a few words (e.g., (a) "No. Summary judgment invalid. Depositions are not used to determine validity. (b) John takes priority because he is a holder in due course. All elements satisfied. (c) Jane may use an Alford plea for X reasons.) My brief jots were the points that I needed to make in my answer - the most important points I needed to cover. Nothing more. From there, I dove into writing my answer. I preferred a skeleton outline if it meant extra time to craft my answer.

State-Specific Subjects

23 state-specific subjects is a tall order. No easy way around it. And accept this fact sooner than later: you will not know everything. Don't try to, either, because you'll give yourself an anxiety attack. You'll never know everything -- but you don't need to either.

That's one of my biggest beefs with Barbri. They throw all of these subjects at you, one after another, and lead you to believe that because all may be tested, all are equally important. That's Barbri's way of covering themselves (i.e., "If we say, 'know everything,' then we can also say 'told you so!' if the VBBE tests you on something obscure.") The problem is, when you try to know everything, you end up knowing everything at a C-level. And that's from where your anxiety will come. As you review practice essays, you'll realize that you don't know the important aspects of each subject as well as you should, because you spent too much time on the obscure details. Your knowledge will be patchy and, in your head, will feel disorganized. How does everything fit together? Why can't I recall material that I already covered? It's a slippery slope that can devolve into a meltdown two weeks before the exam. I just wouldn't recommend Barbri's approach.

Efficient Approach to Studying

Instead (and once more), you don't need to know everything, but you do need to know the important things. Barbri will give you a chart showing frequencies at which the VBBE tests each subject. Looking at this chart, you can break down the subjects into three categories: high, medium, and low. Under high-frequency, place the top 3-4 commonly tested subjects (e.g., VA Civ Pro, Wills / Trusts, Fed. Jur., Equity, etc.). Under medium-frequency, place the middle bunch of commonly tested subjects (there's about 10). And under low-frequency, place the subjects that are rarely tested or, when they are, are not worth very much (there's an additional 10 or so). Then start with the first tier. Study those subjects cold, as typically all of them are tested on each exam. Once you are comfortable with these subjects, then move to the second tier and repeat the process. All subjects are important, but the third tier carries the "least important" ones. Apply your time accordingly.

Knowing a subject cold does NOT mean knowing everything within that subject. Read through all of the practice essays. They are organized by subject. You will see which areas within each subject are commonly tested, and which areas aren't. The practice essays - not the Barbri outlines or lecture handouts - should dictate what to study and where to focus your efforts.

If you want to follow Barbri's schedule and outline practice essays three or four per night, go ahead. I don't recommend it, but it's better than nothing. A better use of your time would be to read the Virginia Essay book from cover to cover at least once. Again, take each subject one at a time. Within each subject, read each essay and its corresponding answer (no outlining). This process will make clear what law is commonly tested within each subject, and which isn't.

Bottom Line

Studying for the bar exam is hard enough, so don't make it harder on yourself. Use your time efficiently by following a schedule that corresponds with the law the VBBE frequently tests. In other words, apply far more time to understanding the subjects on which the VBBE will almost certainly test you, and less time on the ones on which they may only briefly test you. It's better to know nothing about Tax Law but to be fluent in VA Civil Procedure than to know both at a C level. The former approach will yield more raw points.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Knowing the Format of the MBE and Using That to Your Advantage

MBE Format

The Virginia Bar Exam is comprised of two sections - the written portion and the MBE. The MBE is standardized (the same questions) for all state bar exams except Louisiana's, which does not use the MBE. Even if standardized exams were your strong suit, don't be afraid of the MBE. You know exactly what to expect on the MBE. Use that standardization to your advantage.

Breakdown of Subjects and Sessions

The MBE is comprised of 200 multiple-choice questions worth 1 point each. Six subjects (technically, eight) are tested equally:
  • Torts - 33 questions
  • Contracts & Sales - 33 questions
  • Criminal Law & Criminal Procedure - 31 questions
  • Constitutional Law - 31 questions
  • Evidence - 31 questions
  • Real Property - 31 questions
Add them up; that's 190 questions. 10 additional questions are experimental and are not graded. Hence, you have a total of 190 raw points available. The experimental questions will test on the same subjects above, and the 200 questions are randomly ordered (i.e., a mix of all subjects).

The 200 questions are answered in two, 3-hour sessions (a morning session and an afternoon session), with 100 questions in each session. One session will likely be considerably more difficult than the other session. For example, if the morning session seemed tolerable, be prepared for a much harder afternoon session. Or, if the morning session was dreadful for you, chances are the afternoon session will serve you better.

Easy, Intermediate, and Impossible Questions

What do I mean by one session being harder than the other? Two ways. First, while all of the above subjects are hard, some on the whole are harder than others. The so-called harder subjects are usually Contracts & Sales and Real Property, partly because of subject matter and partly because of the complexity of the questions. If one session is overloaded with contracts and property questions, that's usually the harder session. Secondly, all of the 200 questions, regardless of subject matter, can be broken down into three categories: (1) Easy questions (50 questions); Intermediate questions (100 questions); and (3) Impossible questions (50 questions). Let's start backwards.

The 50 impossible questions are, well, ridiculous. All the preparation in the world won't prepare you for them. Most likely, you'll be able to narrow the answer choices down to two and make an educated guess. Don't spend too much time on these questions, because the probability that you'll get them incorrect anyway is high. If you get 50% of these questions correct, you're in good shape.

The 100 intermediate questions are the meat of the MBE. How you fare on this set will reflect your knowledge of the law and your ability to successfully apply that knowledge. You want to aim for getting 65% or better correct in this section.

The 50 easy questions are not easy per se. "Easy" assumes that, with a strong understanding of the law and with up to 2,000 practice questions under your belt, by now this set of questions should be second nature to you. Common MBE tricks, which the examiners love to use, also fall under this set of questions. You need to know where the examiners will try to trick you, and how they'll do it, so that you don't get caught in the trick! Your success on the MBE will depend greatly on how you fare on this set, even more than the intermediate section. I repeat, the key to a passing MBE score is answering the easy questions correctly -- all of them.

A Word on Experimental Questions

Once you have a substantial number of practice questions under your belt (e.g., up to 2,000), you should be able to spot most of the experimental questions by appearance. They may be excessively long, sometimes a half-page. Or they may have four answer choices, which all appear seemingly correct or incorrect. Or the question's wording will be very different from the practice questions you took. Or all of the above. If you hit a question like these, don't spend too much time on it. Chances are it's an experimental question, or else it's an extremely difficult graded question you're likely to get wrong anyway

Scoring the MBE

Barbri won't shed much light on this part for you, and that's a shame, because one of the keys to testing well on any exam is knowing how the exam is graded.

As we discussed earlier, with the 10 experimental questions stricken, you have 190 raw points available. What a "good" score is depends on the state bar exam for which you are sitting. A bare minimum safe score in Virginia is approximately 65% or better correct overall, or 125 of 190 questions. A safer, comfortable score is approximately 71% or better correct overall, or 135 of 190 questions. These are raw scores, not scaled scores. The scaled score is the important, final one. The NCBE will take your raw score and, using an overly complicated formula, will curve it to your scaled score. All that you need to know is that the curve will add roughly 14-16 points, depending on raw score. The higher your raw score, the fewer curved points. The lower your raw score, the more curved points. Using our examples above, a 125 raw score will likely result in a 141 scaled score. A 135 raw score will likely result in a 150 scaled score. Again, the scaled score is your final score - the one you care about.

After each bar exam, California's Bar Examiners release a handy MBE Conversion Chart showing the scaled score for each raw score. For your convenience, they are linked below for the most recent February and July exams. Note that the difference between the February and July exams has no effect on the raw score-to-scaled score ratio. In other words, a raw score of 125 or 135 in February equals to same scaled score, within a point, if you received that same score in July.

California's MBE Conversion Chart - February 2011
California's MBE Conversion Chart - July 2011

Weighting the MBE in Relation to the Essay Portion of the Bar Exam

The VBBE weights MBE and written essay portion of the Virginia Bar Exam as follows: MBE (40%) and Essay (60%). Most state bars weight the MBE at 50%, while a minority weight it as 35%. Even thought the Virginia essays are weighted slightly more than the MBE, I would devote equal 50-50 time to each section. Remember, the MBE is where you can rack up big time points. If you put in the work, it's easier to score a 150+ (scaled score) on the MBE than it is on the Virginia essays.
A score like that will ensure an overall passing score on the Virginia Bar Exam in all but some exceptional circumstances (e.g., where your knowledge of Virginia state law is below average, or where you are a very poor essay writer or essay exam taker).

Hope this helps. In one of my next posts, I'll break down the essay portion of the Virginia Bar Exam.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Bar Application Deadlines Are Fast-Approaching

Remember, folks --

The deadline for which the Virginia bar application must be submitted for the July 2012 examination is this Thursday, May 10, 2012. No exceptions. Be sure to read the specific methods of mailing that Virginia requires if you mail your application on or before May 10, but which you expect will arrive in the VBBE's office after May 10. (i.e., Fed-ex and UPS are not accepted methods in such a circumstance.)

For those of you who are sitting for the District of Columbia (D.C.) bar exam in July, your application must be with the Committee on Admissions by Thursday, May 17, 2012 (with a late fee of, I believe, $200). So get on it.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Review of Barbri, PMBR (Kaplan), & Emanuel Bar Exam Material for Self-Studying Purposes

I want to provide a brief review of bar exam study materials that, for many of you, will be (or are already) at your disposal. If you're enrolled in Barbri or PMBR (Kaplan), then you're all too familiar with the shipments of books they sent you. Maybe 50+ pounds' worth total; it's just absurd. Some of these materials are helpful; others aren't.
I'll start with a rundown of MBE material from Barbri, PMBR and Emanuel (from worst to best). Then I'll look at Barbri's state-specific material for Virginia. I trust that my comments on the Virginia state-specific material will be helpful to any taker from any state who's looking to purchase Barbri books for his state bar exam.

MBE Materials

BARBRI (Overall Grade: C)
In a word, Barbri's weakest link is its MBE material, especially its practice questions. Of the many MBE options out there, Barbri would be one of the last on my list.

1. Multistate (MS) Book. I never touched it. It's far, far more detailed than what you'll need to successfully pass the MBE. You have enough information to digest already. Don't make it harder on yourself by knowing every single nuance imaginable.

2. Conviser Mini Review (CMR). This one's better, and can be helpful if you're struggling with a specific issue and want more light shed on it. But I caution you to use this book sparingly. If you find yourself becoming too attached to this book, or are constantly referring to it, or are trying to memorize every page of it, STOP NOW. The CMR is a blessing in that it will answer almost any MBE question you have. It's also a curse if you get too obsessed with it. You'll never know everything in the CMR, so don't try to, unless you want to give yourself a nervous breakdown two weeks before the exam.
3. Multistate Practice Questions (MBE Preview, MPQ1, MPQ2, and MSE (Simulated MBE)). Again, I really didn't care for Barbri's practice questions because they're nothing like the questions you will see on the actual MBE. This isn't just my opinion; almost all of my classmates concurred. There's nothing worse than putting all of your trust into Barbri, and then walking out of the actual MBE thinking, "WTF, Barbri?" Barbri's instructors will repeatedly tell you in their lecture videos that Barbri's practice questions are harder than the actual MBE. That's BS. Don't buy into it. The actual MBE questions are worded very differently than Barbri's questions, and so, because the actual questions will seem foreign to you, they'll seem a lot harder. That's not the kind of anxiety you want when you're staring 200 questions in the face. Don't get me wrong: Barbri's practice questions are better than no practice questions. But you have other, better options out there. Use them.

PMBR (KAPLAN) (Overall Grade: B+)
In a word, they're very good. While PMBR questions are getting a bit old, the concepts on which they test you aren't. There's only so many tricky ways the NCBE can test you on spousal immunity privilege or intentional infliction of emotional distress. PMBR covers all of the tricks, so you don't get caught on the actual MBE. PMBR's questions are tough, on par with the actual MBE's difficulty, but don't let that discourage you. Put the effort in, work at them, and you will reap the benefits.

1. Multistate Workbook, Vol. 1 (Red Book). The outlines are unnecessarily long, but good. There's over 1,000 questions too. Some questions are harder than others. Some ask you on very obscure property law that, most likely, will not be on the actual MBE. Some questions are also a half-page long, which is equally unrealistic. Take the bad questions with the good. Because PMBR questions are hard, you'll want to use the Red Book to gauge how well you know the fine-line law and exceptions, because understanding them cold will make or break you on the actual MBE. Think of PMBR as your tool to partly build your skills, but more so to sharpen them. If you're taking Barbri's course, buy a used Red Book on Ebay or Amazon or Craigslist, and substitute Barbri's practice questions for PMBR's and Emanuel's (see below).

2. Multistate Workbook, Vol. 11 (Blue Book). Not necessary. Plus, the Blue Book questions are generally longer and more obscure, which makes them more unrealistic when compared to the actual MBE. Use the Red Book instead; it's better.

3. Multistate CD Review. About 30 CDs total (30 hours or so of material). All of the lectures are great, except Contracts. Skip that one. I uploaded them onto my iphone and played them whenever I could - driving to and from work, making dinner, riding a train, flying, working out at the gym, waiting around, etc. Listen to them as often as you can until the concepts discussed become second-nature. I went through each subject about three times. Great preparation, and also a great break from reading or taking practice questions. No need to take notes (unless you really want to). Just listen.

In a word, the very best MBE resource out there! (Seriously.) Use Emanuel's S&T as your base of practice questions; in other words, supplement S&T questions to build up your MBE knowledge and test-taking skills. Emanuel's questions are actual, previous MBE questions, and are still representative of what you will see on the actual MBE. Take advantage of that!

1. Strategies and Tactics for the MBE, Vol. 1 (red-accented cover). This book is gold. Forget Barbri and PMBR outlines. Start here. Each subject starts with a mini-outline, which covers important concepts and very helpful tips and tricks for the actual exam. The outlines won't discuss every possible issue for each subject because you don't need to know everything. Instead, they discuss the most frequently-tested issues as well as issues that the NCBE commonly traps or tricks students on. In others words, S&T filters out less-important issues and focuses solely on the knowledge and skills. Additionally, the practice questions for each subject, and the two simulated practice exams in the back of the book are excellent. Very close in terms of style and language to what you will see on the actual MBE. Note too that the questions will be somewhat easier compared to PMBR's questions. Do both. You need the experience. The actual MBE is 1/4 easy questions, 1/2 mixed questions, and 1/4 impossible questions. Use S&T to build your knowledge and skills, then supplement it with PMBR's Red Book and PMBR's CDs to sharpen both of them.

2. Strategies and Tactics for the MBE, Vol. 2 (blue-accented cover). Volume 2 is 300 more practice questions, split evenly between each subject. Get this volume too. An answer and explanation follows each question, meaning you can't really rifle through a bunch of questions at once. Don't worry. Use this book to really learn the law and get more comfortable with actual MBE questions. Use PMBR to time and pace yourself.

Virginia State-Specific Materials

BARBRI (Overall Grade: B+. Some materials, A)
In a word, Barbri does a pretty good job capturing the overwhelming amount of law that the Virginia Bar Exam covers. But Barbri being Barbri, they'll of course give you far more material than you'll need. Some books are gold, while others aren't so much.

1. Virginia (VA) Book. Like its MBE counterpart, don't touch it. It's far, far more detailed than what you'll need to successfully pass the written portion of the Virginia Bar Exam. If you want to learn intricacies of Virginia law after the bar exam, then this is your book. But it's useless for the bar exam.

2. Conviser Mini Review (CMR). See my comments above for Barbri's MBE CMR. They generally apply verbatim here. This book can be very helpful if you're struggling with a specific issue and want more light shed on it. But don't rely on it obsessively, and don't make it your primary source. Think of it as you would a dictionary. When you don't know the meaning of a word, you look up that word and that word only. Not the five pages before or after. Likewise, when you're struggling with a particular area of Virginia law, use similar restraint.

3. Virginia Essay Taking. Pure gold. This should be your primary source for learning Virginia law. Every essay question was a previous, actual Virginia Bar Exam essay. Read it cover to cover at least once. Don't get carried away with Barbri's insistence on drafting an outline answer after each question. It's more important to read as many practice answers than it is to outline your own. In the book, you will also find the short answer section. That's great too. Go through it several times and know it cold. I loved this book.

4. Virginia Lecture Handouts. The handouts are keyed to the Barbri lectures in a fill-in-the-blank-type style. The lectures for Virginia Civil Procedure, Federal Jurisdiction, Equity, Local Government, and a few of the smaller subjects are extremely well-prepared. Go through them several times and pay particular attention to where the Barbri lecturer says, "This was just tested" or "this is frequently tested." Overall, the lecture handouts for Virginia-specific subjects are pretty good. In contrast, the Multistate lecture handouts are generally a waste of your time, except for Contracts & Sales. Lastly, for those of you who are buying Barbri books second-hand, the Lecture Handout book is usually not included. Try to get your hands on the filled-in lecture handouts anyway.

5. Supplements Handouts / VA Distinction Handouts. Technically, the VA Distinctions section is located in the CMR, about 20 or so pages, but it's scattered with blank or missing sections. Barbri will likely hand out clean copies of VA Distinctions at your video lectures and also post them online. Read them carefully a week or two before the exam. They're very good - and very helpful for the actual exam. Know Evidence's distinctions particularly well, because Virginia likes to ask short answer questions concerning Evidence. Most other supplemental handouts that Barbri hands out, like recent Supreme Court rulings or statutory updates, are useless. The Virginia Board of Bar Examiners typically will not test on new law until a couple years after it has become law. They need to see how courts interpret the law before they can reasonably test examinees on it.