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Taking the Bar Exam as a 46-Year-Old Law Professor

I hope I don't have to do that again.

A lot of recent law school graduates are going to be taking the bar exam in less than two weeks. I can relate. I took the bar exam just last summer, twenty years after I took it the first time. Here's what happened, together with some possible lessons about the experience.

I. Why Take the Bar Exam?

I'll start with the obvious question: Why? I took the exam because of a job change. I accepted a teaching job last June to start teaching at the University of Southern California in January 2018. You don't need to be a bar member to teach law. But I do occasional part-time legal work in addition to teaching. I wanted to keep that up when I moved to California, so I wanted to join the California bar.

But there was a complication: California rejects bar reciprocity with other states. I passed the New Jersey bar exam in 1997, after I graduated from law school. I later waived in to the District of Columbia. But California doesn't let out-of-state lawyers waive in. If you want to practice law in California, you have to take and pass the California bar exam.

One way out of taking the bar would have been to rely on the federal practice exception. Technically, state bars can't really regulate purely federal law practice in their states. If you're a member of the United States Supreme Court bar, for example, in theory you could go to any state and maintain a U.S. Supreme Court practice there without needing a state bar membership. But the federal practice exception is surprisngly murky in scope when you get down to the details. And I didn't want to rely on it given even just the theoretical risk that it might expose me to unauthorized practice of law claims. So I decided to sit for the California bar, which was coming up in less than two months after I signed up to join USC.

II. What's On The California Bar Exam?

The California Bar exam is known to be pretty difficult. Part of that is because it has a lot of topics. The topics include:

  • Constitutional Law
  • Contracts (Common Law and Uniform Commercial Code)
  • Criminal Law
  • Criminal Procedure
  • Evidence (Federal)
  • Evidence (California Evidence Code)
  • Real Property
  • Torts
  • Wills
  • Trusts
  • Civil Procedure (Federal)
  • Civil Procedure (California)
  • Community Property (California law)
  • Professional Responsibility (ABA Rules)
  • Professional Responsibility (California Rules)
  • Agency Law
  • Partnership Law
  • Corporations
  • Remedies

California has in the past had a three-day bar exam, but that has recently changed: The exam is now two days. The sort-of good news is that I was able to take an additionally shortened exam, the Attorney's Exam, that California permits for lawyers who have been practicing elsewhere for a few years. The Attorney's Exam is just one (very long) day. It's the regular written essay exam minus the multiple choice Multistate Bar Exam. You show up for the first day and take the essays, and you don't have to take the second day that is the multiple choice part.

At first blush it seemed like a blessing to be able to take the Attorney's Exam. I didn't have to suffer through a second day of testing. And I was flying out to California to take the exam, so I could get back home to DC more quickly. Over time, though, I came to think the Attorney's Exam is actually harder to study for than the regular exam. The multiple choice Multistate Bar Exam only covers seven topics that are 1L and core subjects. Knowing that lets you focus your efforts; you know you'll be tested on those subjects. In contrast, the essay exam draws from all of the topics, and the only subject that always appears is something on Professional Responsibility. That meant you had to spread your efforts out widely, as you mostly had no idea which of the many topics might be tested.

III. How Did I Study?

I didn't need help with Criminal Law and Criminal Procedure. Constitutional Law wasn't going to be too hard for me, either, and I had taught federal Evidence Law a few years back and could dust that off pretty easily. But I had never studied a bunch of the topics on the bar exam. Subjects like Trusts, Partnership, Wills, California Community Property Law, California Civil Procedure, and California Evidence were all new to me. And although I had once studied 1L subjects like Property and Contracts, that was over twenty years ago. I didn't remember very much. I needed some bar prep help.

So I took Bar/Bri. Yup, just like old times. I had taken it in 1997, and I became a repeat customer last summer. Fortunately all the lectures were online through the Bar/Bri website, so I didn't have to show up in person and see my former students in bar prep class. I found myself watching Bar/Bri videos, sometimes taught by professors I knew or knew of, while filling in the big lecture notes books they give you. It was a strange experience.

I found Bar/Bri pretty effective in 1997. But I confess I found it underwhelming in 2017. Part of that may have been that I was a nontraditional student the second time around. For understandable reasons, they don't pitch bar prep classes to professors. Recent law grads usually have been exposed to most of the topics on the bar relatively recently; they often need mostly refreshers of stuff they have more or less seen within the last two years. Professors twenty years out are in a different place. We know an insane amount about a few topics, but next to nothing about others. So I needed to learn a bunch of subjects from scratch and to do it quickly.

I found the Bar/Bri materials an inefficient way to do that because the rules were presented without context. For me, at least, the fastest way to learn a new area of law is to first learn what the law is trying to do. Most fields of law are trying to achieve some goals or balance some interests in a way that you can state in a sentence or two. Once you know the goals of the law, you can understand the rules in that field as an effort to achieve the goals. It becomes a lot easier to learn the rules because they tend to fit the goals. My frustration with Bar/Bri is that the rules were not given any purpose. The rules were just rules, hundreds or thousands of rules to memorize, presented rule after rule after rule. It was something like memorizing Pi to a thousand places. It may have been a good fit for students who have recently taken classes in related subjects. But from my odd perspective, at least, it was frustrating.

IV: How Stressful Was It?

I was interested to see, when I signed up to take the bar, if it would be as stressful as it had been the first time. When I was a student, way back when, I didn't test lightly. I would go all out, being super-stressed for weeks. So I wondered if taking the bar exam a second time would be a lot easier and less intense twenty years later.

I wish I could say I was pretty chill about the whole thing. But nope, I wasn't. Yup, it was just as stressful in 2017 as it had been in 1997. I had more or less set aside about four weeks to study for the exam, and that meant about two days for each subject. I tried to spend roughly one day learning the basics of each subject, and then one day just memorizing the rules for that subject. But it was hard, and stressful, just as it had been right after law school.

Part of the problem was that intense memorization seemed so foreign. I wasn't worried about writing a nice lawyerly answer if I knew the rules. But studying meant trying to memorize a few hundred rules about random subjects I would never need. My middle-aged brain didn't take kindly to that. In my world, you pretty much never need to memorize anything. You can always consult your notes. Getting back into the memorization mindset after two decades off was harder than I expected.

Granted, I had the luxury that I didn't actually need to pass for my job. Most professors are not members of the state bars where they teach. So no worry if I failed, right? Well, yes and no. A lot of people were quick to remind me that former Stanford Law Dean Kathleen Sullivan had failed the California bar the first time. Many remembered that about her despite her brilliant academic and professional career. (I could see how it happened, too; if you don't spend enough time memorizing the silly rules you know you won't need IRL, you're unlikely to pass.) I could just imagine showing up at a new law school known among students only for an Above the Law headline, This Law Professor Can't Even Pass the Bar! So while I didn't need to pass the bar, I also kinda did.

V. Taking The Exam Itself

The actual process of taken exam was pretty similar to what it had been in 1997. The biggest difference was that in 1997, you either wrote your essays by hand (as I did) or you used a typewiter. By 2017, the standard was to use laptops, and that meant getting used to the ExamSoft software. As luck would have it, my laptop froze about 10 minutes into the exam. I was able to get back up and running without losing much time, though, and fortunately it didn't freeze up again.

The exam itself went fine. It was strange to be back in the position of legal exam taker instead of legal exam writer and legal exam grader. But I figured that was sort of an advantage, too. When I wasn't sure about a rule, I knew from experience how to write an answer that best obfuscated my lack of knowledge by burying it in a sea of otherwise-seemingly informed and intelligent words.

It didn't hurt that the last question, worth 25% of the exam grade, was a Fourth Amendment question. In the problem, you are a defense attorney and you are writing a letter to an AUSA about why he shouldn't bring a case in light of a Fourth Amendment violation you articulate your letter. They give you a fake Fourth Amendment opinion to rely on as precedent in your letter. I had to laugh when I saw the opinion, as I remembered reading the circuit court decision on which the fake opinion was loosely based.

VI. Reflections on the Experience

Happily, I passed. So the story has a happy ending. But we law professors like to make everything a learning experience, so here are some possible lessons I take from the experience.

(a) The California Bar Authorities Should Allow Reciprocity. It seems silly to not permit any reciprocity with lawyers who are practicing in other states. It would be fair to require experienced lawyers from other states to take a CLE course on a few specific areas of California law that may be particularly important. But not allowing any reciprocity with other states seems like pure protectionism. It's just trying to help California lawyers by making it hard for other lawyers to move here. I get that everything is overregulated in California. But it's still lame.

(b) There Are Too Many Topics on the California Bar Exam. I think the primary role of a bar exam is to require a certain amount of lawyerly competence. If that's right, I don't see why the bar exam requires learning so many topics. You just memorize some rules in case they show up, and then you forget all of them immediately after. I don't see the point in having so many different topics on the exam. It's not like you can test lawyerly competence among twenty topics any better than with ten topics. It just requires more time memorizing, and it's not obvious what that has to do with lawyerly ability.

(c) The Exam Should Be Better Run. The administration of the test on exam day left a lot to be desired. We were required to show up at 8am, but it took about two hours after that for the exam to actually start. There was only a 45-minute break for lunch, and then we had to come back to the exam room where we waited another hour or so to start the afternoon part. We didn't finish until 7pm. Maybe I'm just impatient in my old age, but I don't see why a 6.5 hour exam has to take 11 hours to administer.

(d) On Test Day, Don't Wear School-Related Clothing. The bar exam brings together people from all walks of life. Some people attended schools where the bar passage rates are very high, and others went to schools where it is not. Given the stress of exam day, don't wear clothing from your school, especially if you went to a school with a high bar-passage rate. It's just obnoxious.

(e) Yes, You Can Learn the Rule Against Perpetuities. My Property professor didn't cover it my 1L year, and I only learned a little bit of it when I took the exam after law school. But this time around I got into it, and I think I finally figured it out. It's a pretty interesting common law doctrine! Of course I have forgotten it now, see (b) supra, but at least there was a brief time when I understood it.

(f) Just Get It Done. Finally, a note to those reading who are taking the exam in less than two weeks. I know it's crazy stressful now. But it will be over soon, and when it is over you can forget everything you just learned. It's just a strange rite of passage, and when the exam is over and you pass you never have to take it again. At least unless you move to California someday.

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  • Zennyfan||

    You just had to mention the Rule Against Perpetuities! took my CA Bar Exam at 46 and the NV exam 10 years later, and my experience with the RAP was similar to yours, in that it didn't make sense the first time around. Come to think of it, the hearsay rules were the same.

  • QuantumBoxCat||

    "For me, at least, the fastest way to learn a new area of law is to first learn what the law is trying to do. Most fields of law are trying to achieve some goals or balance some interests in a way that you can state in a sentence or two. Once you know the goals of the law, you can understand the rules in that field as an effort to achieve the goals."

    Applying this same method to the rules related to California's licensing of attorneys provide insight into why the state regulates exam requirements the way it does. I would assume that those who attend law school in California and practice law there have an interest in maintaining as small a legal field as possible, as would those in any state (or profession). Those licensed in another state who want to practice in California have an interest in wanting as easy a process as possible. Citizens of the state have an interest in knowledgeable attorneys, but also in competition on attorneys as a means of keeping costs down. The state then must attempt to establish rules that take into account these competing interests.

    From that perspective, and recognizing people and communities will differ in the weights applied to each interest, the claim of "protectionism" seems more to imply that your interest wasn't afforded the weight you prefer.

  • Orin Kerr||

    Interesting that the state interest you identify is "an interest in maintaining as small a legal field as possible," while at the same time you say that my "claim of protectionism seems more to imply that your interest wasn't afforded the weight you prefer." Maybe I am missing something, but aren't you admitting that the state interest is protectionism? If so, I don't see why it is problematic for me to say what you say.

  • QuantumBoxCat||

    "Interesting that the state interest you identify is "an interest in maintaining as small a legal field as possible.""

    I wrote: "I would assume that those who attend law school in California and practice law there have an interest in maintaining as small a legal field as possible, as would those in any state (or profession)."

    In my claim, which was a starting assumption, the interest I stated belonged to a specific group inside California. In your post the latter part of my assumption, the interest, is detached from that group and the "the state" is inserted as possessing the interest.

    I suppose in a sense the "state's" interest can be inferred to be those interests that receive protection in laws, regulations, and rules. In another sense, the state's interest is in a political process in which competing interests struggle against each each other. But maybe I was too quick to dismiss your claim. Laws, regulations, and rules are all protective of some interests, and this often comes at the expense of other, competing, interests. In that way every state is "protectionist" as every state possesses laws that protect interests. Law enforcement, with its motto of "to protect and serve" is protectionist, as it seeks to protect the interest others have in life and safety. The geese I walk by, who hiss at me when they are with their offspring, are protectionist, as they seek to protect their young.

    To say a state is protectionist, therefore, is to state a truism.

  • Orin Kerr||

    In my experience, "protectionism" is an economic term that refers to shielding a political entity's domestic industries from outside competition by imposing restrictions on the ability of outsiders to compete. That's the meaning I had in mind, and it seems that you agree with that meaning as applied here.

  • LarryA||

    In my claim, which was a starting assumption, the interest I stated belonged to a specific group inside California. In your post the latter part of my assumption, the interest, is detached from that group and the "the state" is inserted as possessing the interest.

    OTOH "the state" or those who make the laws in the legislature tend to be part of that specific group, lawyers, and possibly one election away from having to practice the profession. The groups overlap.

    Not that the lawyers in the legislature have been slow to "protectionism" other professions.

  • Lee Moore||

    But not allowing any reciprocity with other states seems like pure protectionism. It's just trying to help California lawyers by making it hard for other lawyers to move here.

    Doh ! Obviously. California is in a strong position for this sort of thing. (See "Trade Wars - don't start one, but if you really must, it's best to be the USA.")

  • Lee Moore||

    As to exams, IANAL, and I cannot say that my preferred technique would work for you guys. But faced with an essay style exam for which I might be expected to know 200 facts, I would learn about 30 quite well and ignore the others. I mean completely. I would then select questions to answer on which I could deploy my 30 facts, at length and repeatedly (though in different formulations.)

    And in different orders in different questions. Obviously my facts would fit some questions better than others, so I would overperform on the first couple of questions, and try to get a good score where my facts were at least vaguely relevant to the question. And then try to pick up scraps elsewhere. In desperate straits you could analyse the wording of the question - eg "Was Wellington's strategy at Waterloo sound, or was he just lucky ?" allows a lot of scope for conceptual discussion of tactics and strategy, and the relationship between luck and preparation, without any actual Waterloo related facts at all. You wouldn't get many marks for that, but in a rush at the end needing five marks, it might get you the five you needed.

    I have never failed an exam. It probably helped that I was mostly taking exams in difficult subjects with low pass marks, so that even a single aced question would get you half way there.

  • Orin Kerr||

    Lee, the bar exam is more like a test in which there are 2000 rules, and in which they test 50 selected rules for each exam and the other 1950 are irrelevant. Maybe 100 of the 2000 rules are frequently tested -- say, once every five exams, for a total of about 20 of the rules tested. But the other 30 rules are random rules from the remaining 1900 rules, so just knowing 30 rules quite well means you'll probably just learn 30 of the 100 frequently tested rules and probably know only about 8 of the 50 rules tested.

  • Lee Moore||

    Yet another reason (aside from the lack of sunshine, and the social stigma) to avoid the profession of law. The extent of my wisdom even as a callow youth never fails to astound me.

    All the same, I will concede that my technique, even in the sort of easier to bluff subjects I was attempting, does rely on a certain amount of luck.

  • rsteinmetz||

    I am an Architect licensed in 11 or 12 states. Every state accepts the same examination although other requirements vary a little. Some years ago California decided that they needed their own examination - because California. They then assumed that the other 50 something jurisdictions (all states + DC, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands and Guam) would accept their examination as equivalent but anyone wanting to practice in California had to take the California examination . They were shocked and stunned to find that no one else would. They changed their mind.

  • Brancron||

    Finally, someone with a higher CA Bar number than mine! Makes me feel old. (I'm in the 317,000s.)

  • Orin Kerr||

    Yeah, I may be in my 40s, bald, and overweight, but I have the bar exam number of a 25-year-old.

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    What a refreshing perspective. Apparently, It's Always Sunny In Southern California.

  • UVaGrad||

    California Evidence:

    1) Is it relevant?
    2) Is it a criminal case?

    If the answers to questions 1 and 2 are yes, write something about how Prop 8 lets everything in and collect points.

  • Ridgeway||

    Do they grade the CA Bar on a curve?

    I remember one of the things that relieved a good amount of the stress in NY was sitting in the Bar Bri course and listening to the people behind me discuss the lecture we had just heard. They were so profoundly wrong about some reasonably simple topic, that I realized I didn't have to outrun the bear, i just had to outrun them.

  • MonitorsMost||

    There was an article over at ABA journal saying intelligence was overrated because the institutional barriers such as the bar exam sufficiently weeded out the unintelligent and incompetent. It was very clear this person lacked sufficient interactions with other attorneys and opposing counsel.

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    Happily, I passed.

    I'd send some free beer to celebrate, but there are roughly 2,402 reasons that disincline me to try.

    Maybe you have some leftovers?

  • David Bremer||

    I was going to say you should send his beer to me instead, but then I remembered that Orin Kerr definitely does not owe me a beer.

    Maybe he thinks he does, but I assure you that Orin Kerr definitely does not owe me a beer.

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    If you get substantially closer than 2,400 miles from my beer inventory, Prof. Kerr, I would find a way to overcome the remaining two obstacles. And if you have any leftovers, it probably is time to consume them. Beer (good beer, at least) lasts longer than many people understand, and some beers can improve with age, but in general it's a good idea to consume them within a year or so.

  • Oliver Dunford||

    I had a similar experience. I had been practicing in Ohio since 2001 and moved to California to join Pacific Legal Foundation. I used Kaplan, not BarBri (which I used last time), but I was underwhelmed by the Kaplan materials. Not as clear as I thought they could have been. I didn't feel quite as much pressure as 2001, but it was still a lot of work and more than enough pressure.... I took the one-day exam in Sacramento, and our day was quicker than yours; no complaint there. I too passed, but I still think California should allow reciprocity--if not get rid of the bar exam altogether. It is protectionism, pure and simple.

  • MonitorsMost||

    Sounds hauntingly familiar. When I passed the state bar, it was all essay as well. I have never put so much effort towards studying for an exam as I was a professional procrastinator and crammer. The exam covered areas of law I never learned in law school, including Indian law, secured transactions and commercial paper.

    It took until the last couple days leading up to the exam for me to feel reasonably confident I would pass. I felt great after the first day. I felt pretty good the second day, except for a question about juvenile court criminal procedure that I knew nothing about. Something about the fact pattern led me to (correctly) infer that the juvenile court had to decline jurisdiction before a minor could be charged as an adult. I was also vaguely aware there was no right to a jury trial in juvenile court. Everything else in my answer was pure puff.

  • Vandalia||

    I am in a completely different professional field that requires a license from the state to practice. I have come to the conclusion that these exams do not exist to measure competence, but rather to measure preparation. If a test-taker knows obscure rules or facts, then there is a decent chance that they prepared well in their degree program - or at least put a decent amount of effort into reviewing the critical materials.

    (Of course, the real reason is to protect the guild from competition and to generate revenue for those who develop and administer the tests, but that is too easy.)

  • LarryA||

    Having taken license exams in two widely different fields, I agree. Half of the knowledge in each exam was topics I knew I would never need and could forget the next day without consequence. Half the rest was stuff practitioners would look up when needed.

    I passed both mainly because I'm good at taking tests.

  • Peter Gerdes||

    Well the California bar technically has to also function to ensure that lawyers who apprentice are also sufficiently qualified and that may explain some degree of the breadth of the courses covered.

  • Peter Gerdes||

    Sorry for the dup.

  • Peter Gerdes||

    Well CA does technically allow one to practice law without going to law school so for the very few people apprenticing law maybe there is some extra need to have breadth to ensure people who have a family member who practices law don't just chill in their office 18 hours a week and then do a short bit of studying to practice.

  • JEB01||

    Question about reciprocity: Do other states recognize CA's licensing? I know my dad took the architecture exam ~60 years ago in CA because almost every other state recognized CA (even though he was from NY and never practiced in CA).

    I suspect if other states had reciprocal reciprocity and CA lawyers were limited to only CA, the pressure for change would build pretty quickly.

  • Ridgeway||

    If you think about what "reciprocity" means, you will find the answer to your question.

  • DRM||

    Do other states recognize CA's licensing?

    No, they don't. In part because California refuses to go along with the usual guild rule of requiring lawyers to have graduated from ABA-accredited law schools in order to get a license.

    ABA accreditation standards are, incidentally, very blatantly restrictionist, with all sorts of measures designed to drive up costs in order to control access to the legal profession. For example, a law school in New Haven that has arranged to get its students full access to the Yale Law library still, in order to be accredited by the ABA, must have its own bricks-and-mortar law library, with a long list of specified facilities, materials, and governance rules. Similarly, an accredited law school can only allow distance education for students with 28 credit hours toward a JD accumulated, and distance education counts as a course where more than a third of the instruction hours are at a distance. So a course for 1Ls that's 40% recorded video lectures and 60% classroom time automatically disqualifies the law school from ABA accreditation. And so on.

  • Careless||

    Oh, come on. The supply of new law grads has exceeded the demand for a long time. There are inefficiencies, but it's not a successful guild the way orthodontists are

  • Careless||

    Oh, come on. The supply of new law grads has exceeded the demand for a long time. There are inefficiencies, but it's not a successful guild the way orthodontists are

  • Lee Moore||

    DRM : ABA accreditation standards are, incidentally, very blatantly restrictionist, with all sorts of measures designed to drive up costs in order to control access to the legal profession.

    careless : Oh, come on. The supply of new law grads has exceeded the demand for a long time. There are inefficiencies, but it's not a successful guild the way orthodontists are

    A cautionary tale for engineers. Not all designs work. Doesn't stop the bad ones being designs though.

  • Jeff Gamso||

    I was an older law student in the first place, having taught English at college before starting law school at 35. And two years after being licensed in Texas I moved to Ohio - at which point I had to take the bar exam because I hadn't been licensed long enough for reciprocity. I'm sure that I answered at least some parts of some answers on the Ohio exam with Texas law. So I borrowed Bar Bri books from an Ohio friends who'd just taken (and passed). And while I passed both Texas and Ohio bars on the first try, I was confident in Texas - not at all confident in Ohio where I feared I hadn't studied hard enough.

    When I moved to New Jersey for a few years, I said the hell with it and just kept my office in Ohio and commuted. The Garden State, like California, had reciprocity with nobody. Back in Ohio now, and no more bar exams anywhere, thank you.

  • Eric VonSalzen||

    After I retired at the age of 60 from the DC firm in which I was a partner, I moved to Florida. I decided to join the Florida Bar because I thought I'd do some pro bono work in retirement. Like Calif., FL doesn't allow lawyers from other states to waive in, so I had to take the Bar Exam. My experience was similar to Orin's -- took a bar review course and then sweated through the exam -- one difference: my typing is too slow, so I hand wrote the exam, which didn't do the graders any favors. I passed, although with less than flying colors. As it turned out, I spent my retirement time on non-legal-practice matters, so it was all a waste of time. Except, like Basic Training, maybe it's something you'll always be secretly proud you got through.

  • Bill Poser||

    You write: "I spent my retirement time....". Have you un-retired, or are you writing from Heaven? :)

  • California Dreamer||

    I disagree with Professor Kerr's suggestion that that the exam cover fewer subjects. It's impossible to know in advance what area an attorney will specialize in, but it's useful to require them to have at least a passing level of familiarity with every subject, which will enable them to identify an issue in a field outside their expertise when it comes up. The fact that all of those subjects are covered on the exam makes it more likely that students will take courses in those subjects in law school. My dad, who taught conflicts at USC a long time ago, was outraged when they removed that subject from the bar exam, because he believed attorneys would no longer recognize a choice of law question when they saw one, nor would they know how to approach it. I also disagree with Professor Kerr's assertion all that stuff is forgotten after the bar exam. In my (admittedly unusual) career as a lawyer -- I was a judicial staff attorney at the California Supreme Court for over 30 years -- I've had to deal with all of the subjects covered on the exam except federal evidence and federal procedure. It's surprising how often I'm able to dredge up something I remember from the ancient past.

  • Ohio Farmer||

    You are very much the exception. Every lawyer who is not a judge or staff attorney to a judge specializes to some extent. Whether they totally forget the other stuff or not, they do not need it in their work.

  • David Nieporent||

    Yes. Also, the amount one needs to know about a given topic to pass the bar in no way qualifies anyone to do anything at all.

  • Orin Kerr||

    Yeah, that's part of the problem. You don't learn actual law: You learn fake bar exam law. So you're memorizing random rules that may not have much to do with actual law, and you learn that just so they can test you on something. But they don't need to test you on 20 subjects to get an idea of whether you can be a competent lawyer.

    As for putting subjects on the bar exam to encourage students to take the topics in law school, there are easier ways. For example, why not have a state certificate for students who took that set of classes in law school? It doesn't seem to make sense to test everyone on the subject just to encourage some to take certain classes.

  • ipsquire||

    As soon as you figure out a way to measure the performance of lawyers in practice, we can see if your theory holds up. Until then, the bar gets to say that everyone who hangs a shingle has proven that they know the basics.

    As for '(d) On Test Day, Don't Wear School-Related Clothing', Virginia (used to?) require test takers to dress as required for a court of record (except for loud shoes or something). I'd take watching the Stanford gunners in their school spirit-wear walk out an hour ahead of me over that.

  • Mike22||

    Middle ground - 90 hours of online courses with tests for reciprocity. (maybe 45 or 60 ? ) I do 45 hours every 4 years for my CA Real Estate Broker License renewal. It looks like the CA bar has 25 hours every 3 years. Some of the hours are for ethics of course, and I do think it is useful to be reminded about ways a person can go wrong.

    Courses vary in quality but I've used a service that makes a good faith effort to actually educate me in the time I spend. Reading anecdotes and violation actions (administrative law findings and tort cases that went against the Broker) are really useful.

    The service I use asks good enough questions that I can't quite take the tests and get above the passing level - the questions refer to the reading sufficiently enough to be sure I read the material ... I also have some personal pride in wanting to get 90% or 100% on the quizzes .. if I'm going to bother might as well get something out of it. The online quizzes can be retaken 24 hours apart (and only so many hours worth of material per day can be passed through)

    I could see the CA bar requiring decent courses like I describe that would ensure that a new entry to CA read 300 pages of peculiarities of CA practice as well as some basics - perhaps a portion of the test would need to have a signed proctor like a librarian or title agent. (before the online days, that was a requirement in the 1990s)

  • Paul McKaskle||

    I taught Conflicts for a number of years but once it was off the California Bar, few students wanted to take it (the main exceptions were students intending to practice in Nevada where it was on the bar. Another reason few take it is in California conflicts of law arise relatively infrequently (compared to the Eastern US) because the state is so large and there are few population centers (other than Las Vegas) near its borders. In addition, California choice of law is heavily California oriented (thanks to Brainard Currie and Roger Traynor adopting a "balance of interests" test) make a genuine conflict less likely. Finally, the cynic in me noted that, whatever the theory of conficts used in most states, the judges almost always seem to find that the law of the jurisdiction applied.

    On another point, I think it is a pity that many law professors aren't members of the bar. I think some practice experience is very useful for teaching. (Maybe I'm swayed by the fact that my bread and butter classes were Evidence and Civil Procedure.)

  • ScottK||

    Great, entertaining piece, thanks for writing it. I remember being unhappy upon learning that, despite my top grade in my Future Interests class and my expertise in the RAP, it is not really feasible to sustain a law practice on the subject.

  • David Nieporent||

    Maybe you can hold yourself out as the nation's foremost RAP consultant to other lawyers.

  • Liberaltarian||

    You should've cited to one of your law review articles on the 4A question just for lols.

  • AmosArch||

    Helpful Sample Questions for an honest California Bar Exam.

    1. Officer Nigel E. Chesterson III ( a cisgendered heterosexual white christian male) pulls over Darius (an African American of male gender identification) this stop is obviously.
    A: racist
    B: classist
    C: homophobic
    D: sexist through intersectionality theory
    E: All of the above.

    2. If Mary, a young womyn of female gender self-identification has 10 rights and Brett Kavanaugh, the reactionary white male christian antiLGBT, antiPOC, anti-Semitic zealot; the illegitimate so called President Trump just appointed to the Supreme Court, took two rights away, how many rights does Mary have left?

    A: 7, he'd take another right off just to be sure.
    B: 6, Newer scientific methods such as Common Core teach us to take a more inclusive approach than the one size fits all black and white answers of antiquated white colonialist notions such as 'arithmetic'
    C: 0, Fanatics that republicans want on the Court will not rest until we are all enslaved.
    D: -3, Brett Kavanaugh probably beats his wife in private.
    E: All of the above

    2. Please identify the class of firearm this Glock 17 in the accompanying picture belongs to.
    A: A machine gun
    B: A machine gun
    C: A machine gun
    D: A machine gun
    E: A machine gun

  • Smooth Like a Rhapsody||

    When I took the bar, #1 had a clause about that said Darius was described as a gentle giant who had just robbed a convenience store.

  • Sarcastr0||

    Way to make everything partisan, chief.

    Righteousness is not the same as happiness.

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    When disaffected people begin to recognize that they have lost the culture war, you'll have this sort of thing.

  • tkamenick||

    Aw this one was worth a lol. Lighten up Francis!

  • Sarcastr0||

    Agreed that it was witty enough but the tonal shift was jarring to me.

  • ||

    You got off easy only sitting one day for the California Bar exam. I suffered through three days of the California Bar exam back in February of 2009.

    Admittedly I had a significant advantage over you since I had already sat for a passed the July 2008 NY/NJ bar exams. Having already i) taken Bar/Bri during the summer of 2008; ii) passed NY/NJ and iii) practiced T&E in the meantime I took the month of February (nice time to leave NYC for SoCal) 2009 to sit poolside with my California Bar/Bri books in lovely Altadena, California.

    After taking the 2008 NY/NJ Bar exams all the New York State and multi-state laws for a dozen plus topics were relatively fresh in my memory. Consequently I therefore I spent a month teaching myself the California distinctions of those same topics.

    Despite my recent NY/NJ bar passage success my California Bar experience was, like yours, no less stressful than my initial bar exam experience. Happily I was among the fortunate one-third of test takers who passed the February 2009 California Bar Exam.

    After successfully passing NY/NJ and CA bars I found the February 2010 Florida Bar exam significantly less stressful than my previous bar exam experiences (I spent a week studying poolside in Tampa Bay). These exams appear to get progressively easier after one has recently taken and passed a few. With that being said I have no desire to take, nor any confidence I could pass, a bar exam without committing a significant time studying.

  • Chem_Geek||

    Congratulations on passing!

  • nonzenze||

    I wonder if the 'too many topics' problem suggests that the bar should specialize the way the medical boards do.

    For instance, you could have a general bar test and then specialty bars for criminal, corporate, torts, wills'n'trusts, etc. A tester could take as many or as few as they wanted or, more relevantly, do the speciality bars months or years apart.

    The dual advantage would be that folks could skip the bars in specialties in which they don't intend to practice (but of course, could come back later and do them) but also that those tests could be significantly more in-depth because they don't have to be taken by everyone.

    And of course, the general bar should cover enough of 'what every lawyer needs to know' that the qualification still entails a significant lawyerly competence in general.

  • theobromophile||

    I like this idea. Less stress for the bar and more ability to prove yourself in certain specialties.

  • μ Aggressor||

    We were required to show up at 8am, but it took about two hours after that for the exam to actually start.

    Good lord, if I had to wait 2 hours before starting my professional engineer's exam (also an 8 hour exam) I would have been livid; that thing started and stopped on.the.dot.

  • μ Aggressor||

    We were required to show up at 8am, but it took about two hours after that for the exam to actually start.

    Good lord, if I had to wait 2 hours before starting when I took my professional engineering exam (also 8 hours) I would have lost it, that thing started on.the.dot.

  • μ Aggressor||

    and of course my other comment shows up now.

  • KenveeB||

    Congratulations! I decided long ago that I'm just staying in my state forever so I never have to take another Bar exam. :P I had something kind of similar to your last question when I took the Board Certification exam. They had obviously taken all three essay question topics from cases pending at the state high court. One I had worked on at the trial. One I had read about when it was accepted for discretionary review. One was my case, so I had written an entire brief on it. That was the most detailed exam essay answer in history!

  • orin ed deniro||

    I took the California Bar exam as a 58-year-old professor of stable isotopy (don't ask) back in 2007 when it was a three-day affair. I remember it was the hardest thing I ever did intellectually, even more so than taking my California driver's license written exam (on which previously I never got one wrong) and keeping my perfect batting average intact, then defending my Ph.D. dissertation on the same day, March 21, 1977, in the afternoon.

    But what excites me most about this post is that Orin Kerr, whose first name I used to produce my palindromic nom-de-internet, will be coming to Southern California, where I practice, and I may get a chance to meet him.

  • theobromophile||

    "(e) Yes, You Can Learn the Rule Against Perpetuities. My Property professor didn't cover it my 1L year, and I only learned a little bit of it when I took the exam after law school. But this time around I got into it, and I think I finally figured it out. It's a pretty interesting common law doctrine! Of course I have forgotten it now, see (b) supra, but at least there was a brief time when I understood it."

    I never thought RAP was that hard (we covered it in Property), which might have been an early warning sign that I would be a duck out of water in the legal profession.

  • Voize of Reazon||

    I used to think the Rule Against Perpetuities was one of the laws of thermodynamics.

  • Paladin_44||

    I certainly would not to stand for my dissertation defense in '18 based on what I accomplished prior to '71. Law, chemistry, physics and soft-science stuff evolves (altho facts remain facts - at least I think so!)

  • steeltown lad||

    Geez, it's been so many years. In my time, the Cal Bar Exam was 1 1/2 days of essays (total of twelve essays), one full day of the multi-state (multiple choice), and a half-day of Professional Responsibility. For each essay period, (morning, afternoon, and again morning) they gave you five essays from which you had to choose four. You could take the Professional Responsibility portion early and get it out of the way, which most did. I was one of the few who did not take a bar review course, but the California law schools all taught with the exam in mind and had courses available to cover all the subject areas. Taxation and federal procedure were not part of the test. I don't remember the test as being all that difficult...you knew that they were planting issue after issue in each question and you just had to ferret them all out....but I would certainly not enjoy doing it again.

  • Mike22||

    Have any semi-retired 50 year-olds from other fields taken the CA bar exam "because it was there" ? I'm kinda interested in taking the bar without going to law school in a "climbing Mt Everest" way - just seems like a good hobby challenge? (I don't really like watching TV and I'm a bit over a lot of reading - especially fiction and I've taken a deep dive into enough areas of history that I don't really want more right now).

    In the process I'd find some online law courses - I listen a number of Ivy league 25 lecture courses that were put up on YouTube and listen to professional seminars on stuff like anthropology and genomics from Max Planck Institute and CARTA for fun too - I've been having a hard time finding a good laws School that has posted all of their courses online.

    I'd think as a CA tax payer, the UC system is there to promote societal knowledge and recording all Boalt Hall courses and making resources available for free to CA residents would be serving the "noble goal of the advancement of knowledge" for a negligible cost to tax payers.

    Of course, that 'noble' goal might be BS and they're more into elitism at the taxpayer expense.

  • Richard2900||

    Taking the California exam without going to law school requires a fairly extensive apprenticeship plan including about a year spending 18 hours a week in a law office or judge's chambers. The obligations of the supervising attorney include personal supervision 5 hours a week as well as regular reports and other paperwork. It would be hard to get the required time unless you are working in a law office. And you have to take and pass the baby bar after your first year of study. I always thought it sounded like more work than law school, though certainly a more practical education.

  • showtimeUCLA||

    I'm taking the CA bar exam (ordinary bar) later this month. I graduated law school a couple years ago. I feel the same way about the rules. It's hard for me to memorize some abstract rule without context or background on the issue. There's also a bunch of "traditionally at common law...but the modern trend is towards...while some states..." My professors never really had me memorize in law school. I probably won't pass. I know in some countries, you have to take like 15 different bar exams on each subject. I'd prefer that. They could even make the exam harder.

  • NC Attorney||

    Recently took the NC bar exam. Took it by hand, because that is what had worked better in law school (I found that, having grown up using word processors to edit things endlessly, taking exams by hand forced me to get it right the first time and was better for the time constraints).

    I failed. I sought local advice, and quickly learned that it was an open secret that the NCBLE grades bar exam essays harder when they're done by hand than by laptop. I couldn't believe it at first, and dismissed it as someone's excuse. Sure enough, when I took a course by a local professor at a LS known for high bar passage rates, they told me "never take it by hand." "But I write in a neat, printed handwriting ... I'm sure they can read it fine." "That's not the point. The point is that it's harder to pass by hand." Sure enough, the first time I took it by laptop, I passed the first time, despite by laptop freezing up for >50% of the time allotted for one of the questions. Anyway, if you or someone you know is taking NC, take it by laptop! Apparently this is one reason NC Central started including a laptop as part of their tuition. How it is conceivable that they would offer both but grade one medium harder in the 21st century is beyond me.

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