The timely application deadline to take the July 2016 California bar exam is quickly approaching. As we near April 1st, let's discuss some strategies for being successful in July.
Know Thy Enemy
Without question, California has the most expensive bar prep programs I have encountered. Private tutors and specialty courses can easily set you back $10,000. Granted, the California bar exam is challenging and some people need extra help. But for the vast majority of people taking the California exam, you can pass by studying smart.
First, you should look at prior California essays and performance tests. You can find past examples for free here. If you spend enough time reviewing old essay questions, you will notice patterns. For example, if you encounter a Community Property essay question, the chances are good that you will have to write about whether Van Camp and Pereira apply.
The same goes for performance tests. What type of writing the performance test requires you to draft is somewhat predictable. Barbri and other reputable bar review courses will tell you how many times each type of essay/performance test has appeared on the California bar exam. But nothing beats the price and experience of discovering for yourself the patterns on this exam.
Take the Attorney's Exam
The California Bar states, "Attorney applicants admitted to practice law in any United States jurisdiction, possession, territory, or dependency the United States hereafter acquires may take the Attorneys' Examination provided that he or she has been an active member in good standing for at least four years immediately preceding the first day of the administration of the California Bar Examination for which the applicant applied. Attorneys admitted in other jurisdictions less than four years must take and those admitted four or more years may elect to take the General Bar Examination."
There are some significant advantages to taking the Attorney's Exam versus taking the General Bar Exam. Most obvious is that you only have two days of testing rather than three. If you tend to score higher on essays/performance tests than on the MBE, then maybe this is for you.
Applicants generally find the writing required on the California bar exam to be more of a problem than the MBE. However, if you've been out of bar study mode for years or you work 60 + hours a week at your firm in some other state, perhaps you might want to pick up a Conviser book and a PaulLaw outline and try to memorize talking points for the written portion.
I took the Attorney's Exam and I found the day in between writing days to be refreshing. When everybody else was in the Ontario Convention Center banging their heads on MBE questions, I was relaxing in my hotel room. reviewing outlines and taking it easy. Removing that middle day stress was huge for me.
Take a Typing Course
I never took typing in school so I was at a serious disadvantage in law school. My speedy hunt-and-peck method of typing only took me so far. On the California bar exam, you need to type fast. The essays and performance tests require lots of writing. I don't care what Adachi and others say - yes, you can write a passing essay that is much shorter but it is a crapshoot to think that writing 1000 to 2000 words less than the people surrounding you is going to lead to a passing score.
Just look at the model answers on the California bar exam website. Some of these answers are mini-books. The truth is the busy lawyer who has 2-5 minutes to grade your essay will look at quantity over quality when pressed for time. The examinee who typed two more pages must know what he's talking about right? Not necessarily. But it does give the impression (however false) that the person is ready to become a lawyer.
Some people recommend software like Mavis Beacon. I found a program for my Macbook called Typist that was decent. Whatever the case, if you can't type quickly, you should spend some time increasing your speed.
Discuss Both Sides
California's bar exam rewards analysis. If law school exams are a distant memory or you have been a practicing attorney for years, perhaps you've forgotten the art of arguing both sides of an issue in essays. This is dangerous. If you have an essay fact pattern where the testator with mental competency issues wrote, then destroyed, then revoked a will, you have to tell the grader from what side you are analyzing the question. You want to argue for and against the validity of the will.
In the same manner, you would want to argue for and against the admission of evidence in a criminal essay. I know this sounds obvious to most people but in the heat of the moment, stressed out with time running out, it is very easy to forget this. I tell my students about the ancient Greek terms, 'men' and 'de', roughly contrasting different conditions. Loosely translating this into English, the contrast is, "On the one hand....on the other hand...." Keep this in mind when you're typing your analysis.