Thursday, June 28, 2012

Your New Theme Song While You Study for the Bar

Olympic officials this week released the official song of the 2012 London Olympics. "Survival," by Muse - an English rock band, fittingly.

At the end of July, as you walk into the exam room, imagine yourself strutting into Olympic Arena, with this - your theme song - blaring overhead. Imagine the bar exam committee acting as the chorus. The head proctor is the long-haired solo guitarist, perched high on a craggy rock, lit only by moonlight. Suddenly, flames erupt and outline the path to your chair. A lone wolf howls in the distance. Thunder strikes all around. You think to yourself, "Did I just take a hot tub time machine back to a Def Leppard concert?" No. Something better awaits you. The bar exam. Played by Ivan Drago.

WWRD. What would Rocky do?

Exactly. Go and do likewise, gents. Go and do likewise. And let this ballad help you on the way.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Remember to Give Your Brain (and Body) a Rest

I suspect many of you followed your classmates and registered for Barbri or Kaplan. That means many of you have recently sat for a full-length practice MBE. That means many of you bombed that practice MBE. That means many of you are now freaking out, panicking, and attacking yourself with doubt and the fear of failing.

First of all - RELAX. (Seriously.) Go have a coke and a smile. You'll feel better.

No, seriously. . . Go have a coke and a smile. . . This post will still be here when you return. . .

(. . . .)

Okay. Feel a little better? Now, take a deep breath and have a heart-to-heart with yourself. That practice exam sucked. It was sobering, and the honeymoon is over. Now's the time to buckle down and focus. One month is plenty of time to continue studying and improve your practice scores. But unfortunately, one month is also a lot of time in which you can irreparably screw things up.

The most frequent shot-in-the-foot approaches moving forward will be over-studying, too many practice questions/essays, and carelessness for health and rest - usually a combination of all three.  If you continue down any of these paths, you are sealing your fate. I have seen it before: Two weeks before the exam and the bar examinee is strung out and teetering on the verge of a nervous breakdown. You will be exhausted and filled with doubt, and you will feel defeated. Ask yourself. . . Is that really how I want to walk into the bar exam?

Listen up, kids. As a tutor, some of the best advice I will give you has nothing to do with studying and everything to do with taking care of your mind and body. Preparing for the bar exam is incredibly taxing on your physical health, your psyche, mind, family life, and sense of worth. As much as you need to devote energy to studying, you also need to devote time these other parts. You won't be an efficient, effective studier without balancing your life.

I would not recommend following Barbri's Pace Program. It's unrealistic. I would not recommend studying 18 hours a day either. Nor would I recommend doing 100 practice MBEs a day, or shoveling down bird food for dinner. If you take care of yourself, you will take care of studying.

So how do you take care of yourself? Over the next month, incorporate these guidelines into your daily bar preparation.

  • Take off one day per week from studying. Do fun things with your family, friends, or significant other. Remember to laugh and tell yourself that, soon enough, the bar exam will be over. If you insist on not taking one day off, then at least take off a full afternoon. 
  • Get 8 solid hours of sleep per night. I'm serious. Your brain and body need rest from all that studying. If you don't give them what they need, they won't give you what you need. 
  • Eat well, and eat healthy. Breakfast, lunch and dinner. Again, your body and brain need constant charging from all this studying. You don't hesitate to charge your phone when its battery is low. Do the same for yourself. Also, cut out the junk food as much as you can. Eat fresh things, things you love. Make real meals, not microwave. The extra half hour it requires will not make the difference between passing and failing. Not at all. 
  • If you did a regular activity before you began studying, don't stop! Go to the movies, play in your pick-up soccer games, go to the BBQ outing or church function. Have a drink with your friend.
  • Don't study for more 8-9 hours per day. But make them a solid 8-9 hours. If you take 14 hours to produce 8-9 solid hours, something's wrong. Reevaluate your approach. Your brain can only absorb so much in a day. After 8-9 solid hours, you're just throwing paper at a wall. Some will stick, but most will not. And in the process, as your mind and body grow tired, you'll begin to chip away at all the good work you did in those 8-9 hours earlier. Tired, inefficient studying is not good studying. 
  • Keep a schedule, and incorporate these bullets above into your schedule. Yes, you can afford to do them; you have the time. But seriously, keep a good schedule. Not a day-to-day one, but a week-to-week one. Know how your Friday will look on Monday.
Listen to your body. Listen to your brain. If they need something, drop your books and give it to them. You can afford the time, but you can't afford to fail them! Good luck, and hang in there. You're doing great!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Index Cards - How Many is Enough?

Another fair question. . . and, again, it depends. Your number will vary by subject, and depend greatly on your level of comfort within each subject. Too few cards, and you risk missing core concepts. Too many, and you risk overwhelming yourself and also defeating the very purpose of index cards: filtration and brevity. Quality should always trump quantity.

Having said that, here are some ballpark ranges you might want to follow. These ranges, of course, vary by student. Some will be comfortable with fewer cards than the ranges suggest, but not many students will have more cards than the ranges.

MBE Subjects

40 - 55 index cards per subject. With one month before the exam, you should be finished with making index cards. The final month is reserved for learning the cards. Learning 40-55 cards takes a LOT LESS time than trying to memorize 40-55 pages of outline. If you follow the strategy that I teach, these cards will capture the core takeaways within each subject as well as tips and commonly tested tricks.

Virginia Subjects
  1. First Tier (most commonly tested subjects): 30 - 50 index cards per subject, closer to 50, with two exceptions below 30.
  2. Second Tier (medium-tested subjects): 15 - 30 index cards per subject, with one or two exceptions potentially below this range.
  3. Third Tier (least tested subjects): 2 - 15 index cards per subject.
Again, same sentiments as mentioned above in the MBE subjects. With one month before the exam, you should be finished with making index cards. The final month is reserved for learning the cards. Speaking from experience, it's easier -- and so much more efficient -- to rifle through a stack of cards than a stack of outlines. If you follow the strategy that I teach, these cards will capture the core takeaways from all previous Virginia Bar Exam essays.

Anyway. . .

Keep studying, and keep your heads up! Refuse to allow stress or anxiety to curb your confidence. You CAN do this! And one more thing - you have permission to responsibly enjoy the Fourth of July next week. Plan for it, in fact. You need nights off to decompress.

Friday, June 22, 2012

MBE Practice Questions - How Many Is Enough?

The age-old question. And probably the worst - but best - answer a bar examinee wants to hear is: It depends. (By the way, get used to giving that answer. It's a lawyer's most obvious reply to any question.)

Having said that, some general guidelines are worth outlining.

First, and this one is far and away the most important, remember "quality over quantity." I would rather see a student do 800 quality questions than 3,000 questions where he doesn't learn from his mistakes, doesn't read the answer explanations, doesn't make index cards, doesn't do anything except rifle through a bunch of questions without a plan.

What do I mean by "quality questions"? Well, exactly the above. Doing a set of 25 or so; then reading through the answer explanations. Always the ones you got incorrect or guessed or we're half-sure and, preferably, on the ones you felt comfortable answering too. Don't rush through reading answer explanations, as if it were a check-off-the-box chore. This step is very important. Think about the answer, why you got it wrong, what trick tricked you, what law didn't you know. Then make an index card about it, so that you don't get caught in the trap next time. Also, go back to Emanuel's Strategies & Tactics (S&T) mini-outlines. Read the mini-outline for the subject in which you're taking practice questions. Always keep S&T's tips and tricks fresh in your head. They took a few minutes to review, but are worth their weight in gold.

Regarding where to source your practice questions, please read my previous review of various bar materials. In short, avoid Barbri's questions - they're not realistic. S&T questions are the best, followed second by PMBR's Red Book. Those two sources alone will yield about 1,500 questions, which should be plenty for most students. S&T questions are actual, previous MBE questions. Use them as your base of questions to really learn the law and get comfortable with MBE questions. Then integrate your S&T questions with PMBR's Red Book questions. PMBR questions are there to hone your test-taking skills and also to measure the depth of your law knowledge. These questions are tough. After a 1,000 of them, you'll be seasoned for anything the MBE throws at you. And while they're a tad outdated, don't fret too much over that. PMBR questions are still very relevant for today's purposes.

In terms of actual quantity, it varies by student. If you're comfortable with MBE law, 1,000 questions should be sufficient. If you're knowledge is average or below average, or if you struggle with multiple-choice exams, 1,500 to 2,000 questions might be better. But never more than 2,000 questions for any student. As I tutor, I will meet with each student individually to design a plan that best fits his/her available time, strengths and weaknesses, goals, etc.

Focus on one subject at a time. And remember, it's a graduated-step process. In the first weeks of studying, 25 or so questions per subject is sufficient. Then, gradually, build up to 50 or so questions before moving onto the next subject. Then, with two weeks left, start mixing subjects.

Unlike Barbri's schedule, I don't see much value in taking a full-length practice exam. That's six hours of test-taking, plus two days of reviewing each question. If you're working full-time like I was, the benefit does not outweigh the cost. One half-length exam (100 questions) will tell you the same thing - areas to focus, whether your timing's on point, etc. I would rather see you focus your energy on each day's practice set. In the beginning, timing takes a back seat to learning the law. But the more questions you do, coupled with a better understanding of the law and the MBE tricks and traps, the quicker you're timing will be. I'll repeat, for your timing to improve, you need all three: first, understand the law; second, know the tricks and traps; and third, get more practice questions under your belt. Focus on each prong every day, one day at a time.

Percentage Correct
By the end of your studying, you want to be getting 65-70+% correct on the tougher questions (e.g., PMBR). That may take 1,000 or so questions to get up to that percentage correct. For S&T's questions, by the end you want to be getting 75-80+% correct.

With PMBR's questions, I started off with lousy percentages and then gradually improved to 60-65% correct. Then I hit a wall. I stayed at 60-65% correct for weeks on end. Finally, in the last two weeks before the exam, I broke through the barrier and finished with 68-75% correct consistently. So, don't worry, getting to this percentage may take some time. It likely won't come together for you until the end. Just be patient. Don't let your anxiety get the best of you. Stick to your plan.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Breakdown of Barbri's MBE Lectures for Criminal Law & Procedure and Constitutional Law

MBE Criminal Law & Procedure, with Virginia Distinctions (Vellony) (Grade: C-)

Vellony's lecture is probably the most disorganized of all Barbri lectures. Instead of separating multistate and Virginia law, he zippers them together (e.g., Multistate conspiracy elements and exceptions, followed immediately by Virginia's conspiracy elements and exceptions, whether or not they're actually distinct from multistate law). This format, while good in theory, is counter intuitive in practice. The student is left more confused than before, because now he must sift through two laws (Multistate and Virginia) for every issue, whether or not they're actually different.

Vellony's lecture would have been much more user-friendly had he focused primarily on multistate law and then, at the end, listed the Virginia distinctions to multistate law. Because despite what Barbri tells you, Virginia Criminal Law & Procedure isn't substantially different from Multistate Criminal Law & Procedure. Again, read the Virginia Criminal Law & Procedure essays, compare them to your MBE Criminal Law questions, and you will see that more times than not they reach the same answers. Yes, Virginia has some distinctions - all of them worth knowing - but they are manageable. And yes, while Virginia's elemental language is sometimes worded differently than multistate law, if you read both laws carefully, you'll see that they essentially say the same thing.

So I would probably scrap this lecture. If you have a detailed question, refer to the Convisor for an answer. Otherwise, learn Multistate Criminal Law & Procedure by three resources: Emanuel's Strategies and Tactics (S&T) condensed outline, PMBR's CD Lecture, and S&T's and PMBR's practice questions. Then make index cards from the outline and practice questions. For Virginia's distinctions, read through all of the essays and make your index cards from them. If you do this, you will spot the distinctions. But really, they are not so numerous or so different, as Barbri will lead you to believe.

MBE Constitutional Law (Cheh) (Grade: C+)

Cheh's lecture is organized and comprehensive, but still too detailed for MBE purposes. What you need to know about Con Law for MBE purposes can be condensed into about 10-15 pages, not 50. Scrap this lecture; it'll weigh you down too much. As I said before, refer to Emanuel's Strategies and Tactics (S&T) condensed outline, PMBR's CD Lecture, and S&T's and PMBR's practice questions. Let these resources teach you MBE Con Law (it's quite different from law school Con Law). The MBE isn't asking for an essay, or for citations or procedural posture. It's asking whether you know the tricks and fine-line distinctions, and Con Law has plenty! Remember: Knowing the law is half the battle. The other half is knowing how to take the MBE.

Con Law questions are filled with tricks - answers that are always wrong, answers that could never be correct given the question presented, easy ways of determining whether a question is about equal protection or due process, or simple steps to quickly determine whether a case is final or else appealable to the Supreme Court. All of these tricks and fine-line distinctions are covered in Emanuel's Strategies & Tactics outline. In the 15 minutes it will take you to read that outline, you will already be better prepared for the MBE Con Law questions than Cheh's two-day, 50-page lecture could ever hope to do.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Barbri's Wills & Trusts Lecture

Wills & Trusts (O'Brien) (Grade: A)

Excellent. O'Brien is right up their with Freer as one of Barbri's best lectures. You know you're going to get a Wills or Trusts essay.  So do yourself a favor: Maximize your study time by learning cold a subject for which the VBBE will almost certainly devote an entire essay. There's ten points in your corner already. That's how you beat this exam.

What I said about VA Civ Pro also applies here. Get as comfortable as possible with this lecture outline. That doesn't mean memorizing every page. Instead, pay close attention to where O'Brien says, "this is important," or "this was tested last year," etc. Star or highlight those sections - they're very important.

Like VA Civ Pro, Wills/Trusts is all about spotting the problem and knowing which steps to apply to solve that problem. The process is fairly mechanical. That's why the VBBE loves to test on these subjects! There's very little room for interpretation; you either know it or you don't. Sure, a Wills essays might ask you to discuss the validity of a will, and might even set up the facts so that you could make an argument for or against validity, but one argument will likely be stronger than the other. Address the points for the other side, but then reinforce why the position you're taking is the better one.

As to which issues within Wills/Trusts to give extra attention, again READ THE ESSAYS. As I said for VA Civ Pro, the VBBE loves to recycle essays. Take note of where certain issues are tested three, four, five times in the practice essays. . .  If you do every Wills/Trusts essay in Barbri's essay book, you will see very clearly which topical areas you need to know cold. If the model answers still leave you a little shaky on a particular issue, refer back to O'Brien's lecture outline. The only part I would not recommend sweating over (more than once) is his lengthy elective share problem towards the end of the Wills section. It's poorly set up, and might confuse you more than it will clarify.

Finally, while Wills is by far the most tested of the two subjects, they really go hand in hand. Do not skim Trusts to spend more time on Wills. For all you know, the Wills/Trusts essay could end up being a straight up Trusts essay (e.g., the Feb. 2010 exam). Don't gamble on ten points like that.

More Thoughts on Barbri's Virginia Subject Lectures

VA Creditors' Rights and Suretyship (Kraus) (Grades: D)

Waste of time. Way, way too much material for two fairly minor subjects. Moreover, it;s not even helpful; I thought it confused more than clarified. While these subjects aren't heavily tested, they're also not that difficult either.

You're better off skipping the lecture and Barbri outlines here, and going straight to the essays. Let the model answers teach you creditors' rights and suretyship. There's only a small handful anyway. suretyship has about two essays total, one full-on and one mixed. Creditors' Rights has maybe a dozen total, five or six full on and fix or six mixed. If you study those model answers, you will see that while these subjects bark a loud bark (i.e., they look scary), they don't have much bite (i.e., you will grasp the subject matter).

Creditors' Rights is the more important of the two. I lob this subject together with Commercial Paper and Secured Transactions. Historically, the VBBE usually commits one essay on each bar exam to cover one of the three subjects (or a combination of them). Virginia did not test on any of them in the last exam (Feb. 2012), so I think July 2012 is primed for an essay.

Finally, a quick word on suretyship. The one or two essays that have ever covered suretyship are manageable. But in the unlikely event that the VBBE commits an entire essay to suretyship, relax. Do your best, and then take comfort in the fact that everybody else is in your shoes too. The VBBE very rarely commits an entire essay to subjects like suretyship or Income Tax, because they're too specific. Remember, the VBBE only has nine essays to test you with, so they want to make the most of them - and not waste an entire essay on a very minor subject like suretyship or tax law. (They also realize that the students who, for example, specialized in tax law in law school have an unfair advantage.) If you do see these subjects on the exam, they'll likely be part of a mixed essay. That means the surety or tax sub-question might only be worth 3 points. Not a big deal if you're stumped.

Agency, Partnership and Corporations (Kaufman) (Grades: B)

These lectures aren't bad, but don't treat them like gold. Use them simply to get comfortable with the law. Again, the best way to really learn and get comfortable with the law is to dig into the essays. Let the model answers teach you exactly what you need to know - and only what you need to know. Having said that, Kaufman's one of Barbri's better lecturers. He does a good job at trimming the fat from his lectures, leaving only the important material.

These subjects are middle-tier subjects in terms of testing frequency. Know Agency really well, though, because it can tie into virtually any essay as part of a sub-question. (Translation: That means Agency pops up often on the exam.) Corporations is another subject you should know well. The February 2012 exam had a hybrid Agency-Corporations essay, which was recycled verbatim from a previous exam (in addition to a completely recycled VA Civ Pro essay). If you had read all of the practice essays, you would have easily recognized them and recalled the model answers. Doesn't get much easier than that, does it?

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Thoughts on Barbri's First Few Virginia Subject Lectures

Virginia Civil Procedure (Freer) (Grade: A)

Va Civ Pro is the most frequently tested state subject. Expect at least one essay on the bar exam, maybe one and a half or two. Fortunately, Freer is one of Barbri's best lecturers. He's engaging, and his outline is organized and reasonably well-filtered of unnecessary law (for bar purposes). Your time will be well spent getting as comfortable as possible with this lecture outline.  That doesn't mean simply trying to memorize every page. Instead, pay close attention to where he says, "this is important," or "this was tested last year," etc. Star or highlight those sections - they're very important. The lecture's six sections are also hierarchical, starting with the most commonly tested material and working down.

The VBBE does not like to re-invent the wheel. Which is to say, they love to recycle essays. You will see it happen within Barbri's VA Civ Pro practice essays (which are straight-up copies of actual previous VBBE essays). Take note of where certain issues are tested three, four, five times. . .  If you do every Va Civ Pro essay in Barbri's essay book, you will see very clearly which topical areas you need to know cold.

Federal Jurisdiction (Freer) (Grade: A)

Another Freer gem. Same thoughts as above. The VBBE has not tested on Federal Jurisdiction in the last two exams. Given the subject's historical frequency, two absences is a drought. I think the July 2012 exam is ripe for a Federal Jurisdiction question.

Local Government (Sinclair) (Grade: A)

In the last two exams, the VBBE has devoted two full essays to Local Government. I believe, before that, it was a staple in the short answer section. What does that tell you? The VBBE loves Local Government, so you should too! Sinclair's lecture outline is trim (19 pages) and very well filtered of unnecessary law. Virtually everything you need to know about Local Government for the exam is in that lecture outline. And, again, do the practice essays and take note of which issues come up time and again.

Some people disliked Sinclair's dry tone of voice. Some even walked out of his lecture, assuming it would be unhelpful. Don't poo-poo this subject. It's a wolf in sheep's clothing. And Sinclair is your best friend here.

Equity (Sinclair) (Grade: A)

Same thoughts as above. Another big subject. Don't overlook it. Sinclair knows best.

Conflict of Laws (Easley) (Grade: B-)

The VBBE tested on this subject in February 2012. Overall, though, it's a minor subject (and, also, not that difficult). Your time would be better spent reading the five or so practice essays for Conflict's of Law, and making index cards from them. That's about the extend of what you'll need to know.

Personal Property (Easley) (Grade: B)

Most law students do not study personal property, and Easley's lecture and lecture outline are a great crash course lesson in the subject. It's a medium-tested subject and the material's not difficult, so don't try to memorize the lecture. Read the practice essays. They'll point you to which areas you need to know.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Thoughts on Barbri's First Few MBE Subject Lectures

MBE Real Property (Franzese) (Grade: C+)

The Multistate Real Property lecture with Frazese is. . . . not as helpful as you would think. The lecture does a good job of refreshing your memory on (or, for some people, teaching you) first-year law you probably haven't thought about since first-year. That, however, doesn't necessarily translate to a good lecture that will prepare you for the MBE.

First, the lecture is too long, something like 100 pages. That's too much content for the bar, even MBE subjects. I also found Franzese's jokes tedious and, even worse, her little tricks to remember requirements for adverse possession, real covenants, etc. If you find yourself spending more time trying to remember acronyms to remember something else, you need to reevaluate your strategy.

Instead, use Emanuel S&T's (see my post here) brief Property outline, and then start working the practice questions. Additionally, listen to the PMBR lecture CDs at least once, preferably two or three times. Make index cards from the outline and from the practice questions that you get incorrect or had to guess on. That's how you should learn property for the bar. Again, what Barbri outlines don't tell you is that what matters for passing the bar is not knowing everything, but knowing the right things. Barbri outlines include everything but the kitchen sink. If you try to learn everything, you're likely to overwhelm yourself.

MBE Evidence (Alexander) (Grade: C+)

This lecture is shorter (something like 60 pages), and the jokes and unhelpful tricks are mostly absent, but I reiterate many of the same sentiments above. PMBR's Evidence lecture on CD is a fantastic alternative - use that as your foundation for learning the material. No note-taking, just listening. The rest of your focus should be on learning from Emanuel's Evidence outline and working the practice questions. Again, index cards are your friend.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Questions of the Day (#3)

When can third parties recover for negligent infliction of emotional distress?

Answer: When (1) D is negligent; (2) where the third party was within the "zone of danger"; (3) is threatened by D's negligence; and (4) the third party suffers bodily injury and emotional distress.

Virginia Essays
Possessory liens have priority over any security interest in the collateral as long as what requirements are met?

Answer: (1) The goods or services were provided in the ordinary course of business; and (2) the collateral remains in the lienholder's possession.