New State, New Bar Exam. Wah!
December 30, 2007 3:18 PM   Subscribe

Advice for a lawyer taking another state bar exam?

Asking for a friend...

Friend went to top-tier law school and graduated in 2003. Took and passed NY bar, worked for big firm in NYC for two years. Friend and Fiance moved to DC in 2005, where Friend worked for different big firm in DC for two years, and waived into DC bar.

Now Friend is working for a firm in VA and has to take the VA bar. Friend is signed up to take the February Bar and will be working 8-5 at firm and taking BarBri classes from 6-10 M-F from January 2 - end of February.

Any words of advice for friend? Specifically:

1) Helpful hints/tips about Virginia's bar exam specifically (including online places to get outlines/flashcards/ mnemonics)

2) Helpful hints/tips about taking Feb. bar vs. July bar

3) Personal anecdotes of having to work FT and study for a bar

4) Personal anecdotes about taking a bar after practicing law for 4+ years (is it easier b/c you know more law or harder b/c you are no longer in 'student study' mode).

5) Advice on how to get through two months straight of 14 hour week days + studying/working on weekends + time for spouse/housework (etc)/dog/friends...

Thanks in advance!
posted by batcrazy to Law & Government (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
From my DC-barred girlfriend who took the VA Bar twice, after having gone to law school in Louisiana:

"Either take the VA Bar-Bri course or buy the books on eBay."

Virginia apparently has different terms for things, different civil procedure, etc, so she strongly recommends at least picking up the Bar-Bri books.
posted by J-Train at 3:34 PM on December 30, 2007

I worked full time while studying for my first bar (NY), but I took off a full 3.5 weeks to cram just before the bar. I did most of my studying in that 3.5 week period -- probably only did a total of 40 hrs studying (including BarBri class time) while I was working. I felt well enough prepared, although the cramming wasn't pleasant at all. I'd say he needs to take off at least 2 full weeks to devote to cramming, which is more important than regular attendance at those mind-numbing BarBri classes, IMO.
posted by footnote at 3:36 PM on December 30, 2007

Agreed on the cramming. I worked all the way through, then took off 10 days to cram.
Set up an insane schedule, studying 55 minutes per hour with a 5 minute break, taking an hour for lunch and dinner and studying 8-8 each day. I stuck to the 55 minutes.
posted by Ironmouth at 4:23 PM on December 30, 2007

I think everyone's study habits and innate abilities differ drastically. I hardly studied for the IL bar; I talked/texted through BarBri and ended up cramming using the "summaries" the day before the bar. Passed the first time, waived into DC too. Classmates studied 40+ hours a week and didn't pass - everyone's different.

I have friends who took the February bar and the July bar - seemed like there was no difference in difficulty, rather a difference in the quality of students who sat for the bar each time, hence the general lower pass rate in February.

I'd suggest that your friend duplicate their study habits as much as possible from their original bar course. Of course, it won't entirely be possible with working, but since your friend has practiced so long, there will be that much less that they'll have to pick up. The really hard part will be the more obscure stuff and (since it sounds like they work in Big Law) probably the consumer/family law stuff, which they don't deal with that as much. Contracts, Civ Pro, and Evidence will probably come pretty easy and require limited review.

Good luck to them!
posted by BuddhaBelly at 4:33 PM on December 30, 2007

The course will have all prep necessary. You really don't even need law school with the prep courses these days, except the pesky bars still require the diploma........
posted by caddis at 5:32 PM on December 30, 2007

4) Personal anecdotes about taking a bar after practicing law for 4+ years (is it easier b/c you know more law or harder b/c you are no longer in 'student study' mode).

My experience has been that, once you have practiced for four years, you have a general sense of how the legal system works that someone fresh out of law school doesn't have. Your experience gives you a structure in your mind that helps you retain the stuff you're trying to cram into your brain during your bar study. I don't think that no longer being in "student study" mode is a problem, if you've been practicing law. If anything, practicing law has made me better at cramming than I was as a student.
posted by jayder at 6:29 PM on December 30, 2007

I took the Missouri bar exam 17 years after taking the Texas bar and used BarBri's horrendously expensive home study option, which features all the written materials and CD recordings of the prior semester's lectures. If the law actually changed afterthe lecture or the lecturer changed his/her materials to any great degree, they would overnight the latest lecture to me. I too held down a full-time job, albeit one which allowed me some flexibility in my work hours. They will give you a schedule for when to do stuff, and I pretty much stuck to that.

Seventeen years' law practice was of only very limited use, and in fact it sometimes got in the way-- I wound up just cramming, memorizing, doing my own flash cards (2,000, I think...used mailing labels which I glued to the cards, since my handwriting's atrocious). I did have a practicing lawyer's understanding of how everything fits together, but oddly enough, my worst grade was on the simulated practice exam, which was a variation on things I had done professionally for years. Go figure. I passed, easily.

BarBri's best at narrowing your focus down to what they have seen the examiners test, time after time, and on strategies for answering questions. I hated dealing with BarBri and loved that they got hammered on their antitrust suit, but the materials were indispensable.
posted by missouri_lawyer at 7:55 PM on December 30, 2007

Best answer: I took and passed the NY bar a few years ago, then retook (and passed) the Virginia bar this summer.

Luckily for me, my firm paid for Barbri self study (you get the books and an ipod with the lectures preloaded) and gave me paid leave from July 5 until the date of the bar exam to make flashcards/cram. I was very fortunate in this respect.

Compared to the NY bar exam, the VA bar exam itself is easier -- the questions are more superficial and are pretty explicit in what information you need to provide, so the VA exam doesn't require as much issue spotting. But studying and preparing for the VA bar exam was tougher -- there are many, many more subjects that may be tested in Virginia, and to be properly prepared, you need to touch on them all. Thus, in addition to studying in July, I didn't bill much in June, because I was listening to the Barbri lectures on the many, many subjects to learn for the VA bar. I was glad I didn't have to attend evening barbri classes -- the flexibility was valuable to me, even if it cost me a lot of billable hours in June. Also, for last-minute help, I listened to a few lectures on the looong drive to Roanoke (your friend will be driving in Norfolk).

I agree with missouri_lawyer -- I eagerly await my anti-trust settlement check -- but Barbri isn't rich merely because of their monopolistic tactics. If you (1) more or less follow their schedule, (2) use their materials, and (3) are basically smart enough to have graduated from an accredited law school, you will pass the bar. You can pass the bar without meeting all three steps, of course, but not doing so, IMO, increases your chances of failing.
posted by hhc5 at 10:40 AM on December 31, 2007

Addendum: I think I did well on the VA bar, so in retrospect, could have put in fewer hours to Barbri and bar studying. But since laterals like me don't get a second chance at passing the bar (a bar failure requires "de-lateraling" from my firm), I wasn't taking any chances. Your friend should find out the consequences for failing the bar at his new firm, and the possibility of re-taking.
posted by hhc5 at 10:45 AM on December 31, 2007

Practicing for a few years can have an adverse effect. After practicing for five years, I took the Louisiana Bar Exam. I had just resigned my position as a federal attorney; during that time I ate, drank and slept the federal rules of civil procedure. In Louisiana at that time, the federal civil procedure portion of the exam was three hours long. It took me 18 minutes to finish. Why? Because literally, I knew all the answers. I failed the exam. The nice thing about Louisiana is that its exam is like the CPA exam, if you fail a part of the exam you can take that part over. I was shocked to find out that I had failed So I spoke with an examiner and I told him, look, I would have accepted a failure in Louisiana property law (unlike any other state) but there's no way, simply no way that I got the civil procedure questions wrong. He said to me, "did you write short answers or long essays?" I told him that I had written short answers (the questions were along the lines of, "A is from state x, B is from state y, they have an automobile accident in state Z, the amount in controversy is $500. Is there federal jurisdiction?" He said, "Well, that's why you didn't pass, we prefer long answers." The point of my advice here is that there will be some areas of the law that you know very well because you've been living it. Especially as to those areas, talk to the examiners and find out what kind of answers they like. Talk to people who grade the exams-they may be your peers-and find out what the Examiners are looking for.

I returned to Louisiana to retake the civil procedure portion. This time, I was the last exam-taker to leave the Superdome. I passed.
posted by tesseract420 at 11:34 AM on January 1, 2008

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