I Am Not A Lawyer... Yet.
December 14, 2009 3:31 PM   Subscribe

Suggestions for getting the most out of BarBri while staying employed full-time?

I'm taking the February 2010 Texas Bar Exam. I'm employed full time (a strict 9-6 schedule) and enrolled in BarBri. I have to do the mobile course because I don't live close enough to a testing site to get there in time for the nightly videos. How do I make the most of this experience while remaining employed full time? Is that possible? Is that stupid?*

Factors to consider:

- I'm not a morning person. I would love to wake up at 5am and start studying for a couple hours before work, but that just isn't going to happen.

- I AM a night person. I can stay up until about 2am just about every night and still function the next day. After 2am I'm pretty much no good.

- I have no children and no responsibilities and I'm pretty clear that a social life is out. I'm okay with that.

- I live 10 minutes from work. No need to factor in a major commute or anything of that nature.

- I did not go to law school in Texas, and I graduated in 2007 so any relevant law school studies are probably either stale or irrelevant.

- My work environment is not conducive to studying. I am a case manager for a social service agency, and I see clients on a walk-in basis. That means that I'm constantly interrupted. My office is also tiled and located next to a children's immunization clinic: their little screams reverberate through my skull all day long.

*I'm fairly certain this is a stupid plan, and I'm fully ready to slash my hours. But before I do that, I need to hear any and all suggestions for how to stay employed full-time while preparing for the bar exam.
posted by greekphilosophy to Law & Government (19 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
As you may have heard from a number of people, there's an old chestnut about the bar exam: What did they give the person who aced the bar exam? A license to practice law. What did they give the person who squeaked by and passed the bar exam by one measly point? A license to practice law. All you're going for is the equivalent of a C-, so study accordingly.

I know a lot of people who have worked full time with more demanding hours than from 9-6 and passed. A good friend of mine who took the February 2009 Massachusetts exam with me studied for only one week before the exam due to work obligations, and passed. Maybe she didn't ace it, but she still got her license.

At the end of the day, if you can commit to a consistent block of time every night (and full days on weekends), you should be fine--provided you can be OK with the amount of time you get to study. You may simply be one of those people (like me) who just has a hissyfitfreakout if you can't just be grinding away at the books for hours at a time. If you can relax and be comfortable with the fact you will not know everything, all the more power to you. Books for the February exam will arrive before Christmas, so you may be able to get a head start on the program, too.

Incidentally, the passage rate for first-time takers in Texas is consistently over 80%. Cite (pdf). Breathe deep, study hard, and good luck!
posted by Admiral Haddock at 3:44 PM on December 14, 2009

Your law schools studies aren't going to be relevant to begin with, to be honest. The ABA-approved curriculum is crap at teaching you material in the depth and agonizing, agonizing detail required for the state bar. In most of the subject areas, you'll recognize words and overarching concepts, but that's about it if the TX bar is anything like the NY, CA, or other bars that I've seen people prepare for.

My situation when prepping for the Bar was a bit different, insofar as I was just lying around at home, at loose ends. However, I didn't attend a regular Barbri class either (I, uh, bought books from the year before off eBay?), and I found that the single most helpful piece of advice I got for those studying on their own is that like omgrightnow, you should sit down and figure out exactly what kind of pace you need to set to cover all the material. Yeah, you've got the list of Barbri lectures and when you're supposed to listen to them, as well as what you're supposed to do to prep, but sit down and acquaint yourself with the actual number of pages you'll have to turn to cover it all. Have the discipline to spend ten minutes every other day while you're studying to assess how much progress you're making and whether you're hitting your goals. If you don't do that, it's very, very easy to fall behind.

Also, the PMBR multi-state flashcards. Know them, learn them, love them, look for an older copy from back in the day, before they got sued for having their flashcards too much like the documents. You can pull them out in down time between meetings, while in the line at the grocery store, etc.

Can you take off a week or (better) two before the exam to devote yourself to it wholesale? I don't know anybody who passed the exam while working a fulltime job without doing that.
posted by joyceanmachine at 3:50 PM on December 14, 2009

This is memorizing donkey stuff. I.e., you soak up all you can from the review course, particularly on subjects that are not that familiar to you, then spend some uninterrupted time (a week is fine) to seriously memorize, then spot issues and regurgitate your memorized material at the exam.

You do need to set aside time to learn the review course, then memorize for about a week before the exam. Don't forget the important things like eating regularly and getting enough sleep and exercise.
posted by bearwife at 4:04 PM on December 14, 2009

Why on earth are you paying for Barbri? Why not Kaplan (maybe not in your state yet?) or MicroMash? If you can't attend the lecture, why pay for them?
posted by 2legit2quit at 4:12 PM on December 14, 2009

IANAL, but my friend made this humorous BarBri review video. I know it won't help you pass the Texas bar, but it sounds like you need a laugh.

I think your after work study schedule is a good one. A lot of people study for the CFA, GMAT and myriad licensing and professional exams while maintaining a full-time work schedule. Find a routine and stick to it. It may help you to find a place other than work to study so that you have a clear separation between work and studying. Your next few months won't be much fun, but it will be worth it when you pass the bar.
posted by Andy's Gross Wart at 4:17 PM on December 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

Nthing the above that what I learned in law school at a 'national' school was basically irrelevant for the bar exam. I think part of the answer depends on your own evaluation of how good you are at memorizing stuff, because that's what this is about.

If you are able to read text, understand it on the first read, go through a second time, outline it, and that is enough for you to remember it, you should be fine. If that is you, I would say learn the tricks for writing the essays and do practice questions, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of practice questions.

My only caveat would be that February 23 is not real far away, and there is a lot of material to master. If you don't easily and quickly ace memorization on the first read and and need more time and repetition, you might want to consider cutting your hours. But I don't think it's automatic that you need to go that route.

I would suggest taking the full 2 weeks prior to the exam off from work entirely, so that you can maintain a good 8 hour per day study schedule but also get a LOT of rest. I highly recommend not studying at all the day before and during the exam.
posted by bunnycup at 6:02 PM on December 14, 2009

(Let me add that I worked full time during the first half of my Bar Bri period, and didn't work at all the second half. I passed NY on the first try.)
posted by bunnycup at 6:03 PM on December 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

2legit2quit, the OP seems to be taking what is known as the "iPod course," where all the lectures are recorded and sent to the student on, well, an iPod. You have to give the iPod back, unfortunately, but it basically gives you all the advantages of BarBri while letting you do it when and where you like.

If you are willing to spend from about 7PM to midnight on this, five days a week, you'll be fine. You've got the time. It's just a question of sitting down and doing the actual work.

Did BarBri in Indiana. Didn't spend nearly as much time on it as I should have. Passed on the first try.
posted by valkyryn at 6:12 PM on December 14, 2009

I'm with valkyryn. Just put the time in after work, and you will be fine. Having something to distract you from the misery and isolation of bar study might actually be a good thing.

I quit my job and puttered around the house every day this summer looking for ways to avoid studying instead of actually doing it. I also moved and took a short vacation within the three weeks leading up to the exam. On the other hand, I definitely did put in some serious time as well, especially in the last week (at least 6 hours per day). Still, I certainly did not treat it as a full-time job, and I passed the CO bar easily.

Also, prioritize the learning tools based on your learning style and ability. Barbri gives you WAYYYY more than you actually need to learn the stuff sufficiently. So choose the things that help you learn best (online practice, workbook practice, essays, flashcards, etc. etc.), and do only those things. Don't try to do everything they tell you to do or you will go crazy!

Lastly, GOOD LUCK!
posted by angab at 6:29 PM on December 14, 2009

Best answer: It's all about organization. Figure out how many hours total you have to study for the Bar, and divvy the subject matters up accordingly. You should also allocate a substantial percentage of your time to practicing the exam itself. THE MOST important thing you can do is take practice tests over and over and over again. I did the same set of 200 multi-state questions 5 times just prior to the Bar Exam in California and it helped enormously (I tested well enough that they invited me to become a grader). Headings are also critical. If you forget the law feel free to use the facts as your titles.

Oh and one more thing: I think BarBri kind of sucks (because their focus is really on memorizing the law rather than writing a beautiful exam). And also, this little equation helped me immeasurably:


Here's how it looks in action: When "Jamie punched Bob in the face" it was _battery_ because Jamie had intent to cause Bob harm, she made physical contact with Bob, yada yada yada.

Good luck!

sorry I don't know how to underline here yet...
posted by ohyouknow at 6:55 PM on December 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

I think BarBri kind of sucks (because their focus is really on memorizing the law rather than writing a beautiful exam)

This is precisely why BarBri works. There are probably some style points to be earned, but being able to regurgitate the UCC statute of frauds at a moment's notice will earn you a lot more points.

As someone said above, BarBri is overkill, if you do everything they ask you, you'll have more than another full time job on your hands. I'd say that at a minimum you need to listen to all the lectures, take good notes, and then do the practice tests. I didn't need to spend as much time on "review" as they told me to, or even as much time as I did, the practice tests are were the real learning happened for me. That said, maybe you're different. The key is to be as self aware as possible, so you know where you stand and know what you need to do. A little self awareness and a little discipline, and you'll be fine.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:27 AM on December 15, 2009

I agree with most of what has been said so far; all you really need to do is put in the time. It is worth thinking about whether you're good at taking standardized tests and memorizing rote information. If you're bad at those things, you may need to work a little harder than most. Also, consider what studying techniques work well for you. If you pick things up well via audio, maybe listen to the lectures a second time. If writing things down helps, maybe make your own flash cards instead of buying them. Thing about what works for you.
posted by craven_morhead at 8:35 AM on December 15, 2009

I did BarBri in NY (the video course), but found the books to be more helpful than the lectures. If you're doing the iPod course, I recommend reading through the (I think it's called) CMR - the main comprehensive review book. You can take notes, or highlight, or whatever helps you retain it. Take the practice exams to gauge your progress. For the areas you have trouble with, are the most tested, or need mnemonic devices and such, listen to those classes. I essentially did this - read the book, didn't go to class (went to 1 hr of the first class), but watched 6 online lectures in the heavily tested areas where I needed extra review (you get a max of 6 online lectures if you do the video course). I passed, and didn't ruin my summer in the process.
posted by melissasaurus at 9:22 AM on December 15, 2009

After 20+ years with a Texas license, I had to take the Missouri exam in 2006 (long story), while working full-time. The lectures were located 120 miles away from me, so attending was out of the question. At the time, the remote alternative was getting the lectures from the prior class on audio CDs, along with the books and materials. It worked GREAT. It cost about $1,000 more than the live lecture version and worked like a charm. I could listen to the audio lectures (and do their silly, but effective, fill-in-the-blank canned lecture notes) at any time I could fit it in...which included 2 am. They were total Nazis about my returning the materials to them and I wound up keeping the big books for future reference (something I highly recommend in any case-- there's a lot of good nuggets of law in there).

They'll give you a schedule, which you should try to follow, but I didn't and I did all right. It IS all about memorization. It has essentially nothing to do with what you learned in law school, and my long practice experience wasn't much help either. It is utterly artificial and a hurdle you must clear.
posted by missouri_lawyer at 10:13 AM on December 15, 2009

I did BarBri totally counter-intuitively. They kept saying do as many practice tests as possible. I didn't do that many. Some, but not many. I also started skipping the classes when I realized they weren't that useful. The classes were just (not thorough) summaries of the written outlines. Time would be better spent just reading the outlines rather than showing up for class.

What I did focus on was the brief outlines that is part of the BarBri package (the Conviser outline). I condensed each subject to a 5-10 page outline and started memorizing them. My rationale was that knowing the material and having something to say on the written portions outweighs any test-taking strategies. I passed on my first try. So here's one voice who totally did it wrong (didn't do the practice tests, didn't go to class) but still passed.
posted by That takes balls. at 1:07 PM on December 15, 2009

Response by poster: Just ducking back in to thank you all for your insights! Great answers all around - and you helped me figure out exactly how much time I have to be devoting to this, and what is reasonable/prudent to be doing right now.

I didn't cut back my hours at work, and I'm glad to have the full income. I set myself two schedules starting before Christmas and going to just before the bar exam. The first is for the reading, which I'm doing currently after work, every day. I worked it out so that I would be able to get through reading all the course material by the end of January. That's when I'll start reviewing/watching the course videos. And that's also when my schedule has built in time for me to be drilling with questions, essays, outlines and flashcards.

Thanks again for all the insights. I doubt the thread will be open by the time I get my results, but if I have good news to share, I'll make sure to thank you via MeMail!
posted by greekphilosophy at 12:19 PM on January 14, 2010

Good luck. If you find that you retain stuff better from one type of study over another, don't be afraid to tailor your schedule.
posted by craven_morhead at 1:06 PM on January 14, 2010

Response by poster: Welp. I wish I had great news to share with you, MeFites. But the results were released today and I was not on the pass list.

I'm a little bit sad and a lot bit disappointed, but I don't have the time to spend wallowing. I have to prepare for the July administration.

Thank you for the help, MeFites, and for the encouragement in preparing for the exam. This time around, I am going to reverse my schedule - I am going to prepare full time and work part time. I'm lucky that I have that option!
posted by greekphilosophy at 6:43 PM on May 4, 2010

Best of luck to you! And congrats on not giving up.

I cannot emphasize enough that everyone feels like they need to memorize every law ever written to ace the bar exam, and that's how people get screwed.

Especially if you're taking this a second time, you really do not need to be cramming your brain with flashcards. You have already done that. Put another way, you really only need to spend 20% of your time on studying the law. Seriously. 80% of your time should ideally be devoted to writing practice exams, honing your headings, and making your exam as easy and pretty to read as possible for your bleary eyed grader.

It's also about getting yourself in the mindset that taking exams is so routine that it won't cause the deer in headlights thing. You want it to be automatic and boring so that on the days of the exam you'll use all your adrenaline and energy to pour yourself into performing well rather than on freaking out about some obscure corporate rule.
posted by ohyouknow at 11:13 AM on June 4, 2010

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