Hi, here's my situation. At 4:20pm on August 25, 1999 I was sworn in to the California Bar. That was the culmination of almost 5 years of effort. On Jan 27, 1999 I graduated after four years of correspondence study of law through William Howard Taft University . The good news, then, is that it is possible to study law effectively by correspondence. Still it's more fun if you can talk to some other people in the same situation. I took the State Bar Feb. 23-25, and learned that I passed on Saturday May 29.
An internet friend sent me a study method which I have slightly augmented.
Legal Books Distributing (see contacts) is a good source for mail order law materials. If you are into on-line ordering try LawStuff
I use the approach outline from Fleming's Course Reviews. These are well structured to lead you through your exam answer, and so make a good way to organize the subject matter. Other ways would be to memorize the table of contents of Gilbert's or the Black Letter book, or the outline in the Law In A Flash card set. Start each study session by writing out this outline.
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Memorizing the black letter rules and definitions: In my third year I began using the linking ability of my Wordperfect 3.5 (for the Mac) to do this. You'll need a bit of gear so this is not for everyone, but here's how I did it. I began by scanning in the Fleming's Review outline, and then setting up a study section at the end. Where definitions or rules are needed I either use Fleming's or insert them into the outline from other study sources. Then I write study questions like, "What is a valid California Marriage?" in the study section. This question links to the definition in the outline: "A valid California marriage occurs at a witnessed ceremony during which the parties publicly and unequivocally declare their marriage". When I study I split the screen on my computer so that I have an answer window on the right and the outline with study questions in a window on the left. I write out the answer in full then check it by clicking the link if I feel uncertain. This has the advantages of Flash cards, and is personalized. Making links is very easy in this program. The big advantage of doing this is that in the end I have a complete study outline in my computer which I can augment for Bar Review, and use in my practice.
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In rough figures it costs about $2500-$3500 a year to study this way. Figure around $2500 for tuition, $500 for required books, and the rest for memberships, additional study materials and pencils. Of course you also have to eat and have somewhere to sleep.
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By the way these same questions and answers, complete with the older law, can be found in some new review books, so don't fault WHT for passing them on to you.
"As an incentive to students to become involved in a structured review program... [William Howard Taft] University has adopted a program of reimbursement for students completing the Fleming's Baby Bar Review." That's what the deal was when I signed up. Ask and see if it still is.
Legal Books Distributing, 4247 Whiteside St, LA, CA 90063. 213-526-7110, Fax 213-526-7112. Outside 213 area phone 1-800-200-7110. I buy virtually all of my books and tapes from these people. They are quick, and complete.
William Howard Taft University 201 East Sandpointe Av., Santa Ana, Ca 92707-5703. Phone 714-850-4800, 800-882-4555.
I spent the summer of '97 bumming around from law convention
to law convention. I traveled from San Diego to San Francisco to Seattle
for the three 1997 conventions that I graced with my presence. In about
three weeks I met Ralph Nader, worked on a Habitat for Humanity House,
heard the US Marine Band play The Stars and Stripes Forever, heard Supreme
Court Justice Kennedy speak, saw the courtroom of the future, and spent
many hours learning how to select and address a jury as suggested by a
variety of lawyers. It was a wonderful three weeks and very inexpensive
Because the organization is so large, one joins it and then for a small additional annual fee, one joins a "section" like the Law Student Section or the Criminal Justice Section. The ABA publishes a magazine, and so do (most?) sections.
*Cost: $15 per year for law students.
*Cost: Criminal Justice section, Individual Rights &c- $7.50 @ per year.
Publication: The ABA Journal is the monthly magazine. Each section publishes a magazine 4x/yr and a News Report 4x/yr. In August '97 the table of contents of the Journal, and a selection of its articles and features were on line.
ABA Web site
All lawyers regard their calling as socially important, I imagine. The Plaintiff's Bar feels a certain nobility of calling as they protect the weak from the greedy and the careless, and they don't mind telling you about it. As an extension of this nobility there was some socially useful and interesting stuff going on during their convention. I met Ralph Nader (very briefly) at a side panel during their convention. They also sponsored a Habitat for Humanity home, chipping in $50,000 for buying the property and building supplies. Eighteen of us, 6 of whom were students, went and spent 3 hours working on it on afternoon . No other association did anything similar during their convention.
Also impressive: the convention materials (about 1000 pages) were given us to printed and also on a CD-ROM which is (1) cheaper by far to produce, and (2) easier to use. No other association presented its materials on CD-ROM.
*Cost: $10/yr for students.
*Publication: Trial, a monthly magazine. It is also on-line. Go to their website. Also Law Reporter.
*Cost: Student membership is $20 per year. They would like everyone, students included, to kick in another $30 per year for the NACDL Foundation which underwrites scholarships for attending events, helps with indigent defense work, and fights the death penalty. This is not compulsory, but it is printed on the dues notice so you'll see it.
*Publication: The Champion - monthly magazine. Runs about 70 pages. An index to articles is on-line at the website.
*Physicial mail address: NACDL, 1025 Connecticut Av NW, Suite 901, Washington D.C. 20036
*Phone: 202/872-8600. Fax: 202/872-8690. Email: email@example.com
Note: Contact info is new as of Sep 1, 1997.
*Cost to attend 1 day Seminar (including lunch) for students $40
*Address: CACJ, 4929 Wilshire Blvd, Suite 688, Los Angeles, Ca 90010.
*Publication: The Forum, published quarterly. Runs about 80 pages. Good solid practice oriented articles.
Mail: National Lawyers Guild, 126 University Pl, NY, NY 10002. 212-627-2656
SF Chapter (I think you join a chapter, not the National): 558 Capp St, SF Ca 94110
*Publication: Guild Notes. (Quarterly?) Printed on newsprint. Guild Practitioner., slick paper, quarterly. The SF chapter publishes The Conspiracy, a tabloid sized newsletter.
Costs: 1997 Convention - law students $20.
Costs: Membership - law students $25/yr.
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I fell off of Cal Law after a year, actually just by accident. The bill
came, I didn't pay it right away and they dropped me. Since then
I have found other similar services. Right now Find Law is sending me daily updates. Versus law will let you read, and do computer
searches of, cases from the past 30 years or so for about $7 a month. More and more law is available free or at very low cost on the Internet
as it should be.
I graduated Jan 27, 1999. About 3 weeks later I sat for the California Bar. It was a very interesting experience, and possibly I passed which would add spice to it for certain. They'll tell us May 28. [ I did pass, somewhat to my surprise. See results for the story].
The exam: I type (and so should you because it allows you to work quicker on the exam) so I took the Bar in the South San Francisco Convention Center which is just off the freeway and almost directly under some astounding high voltage transmission lines. On the second morning it was foggy and the lines crackled and hummed, like a horror movie.
The exam takes 3 days. Each day has two 3 hour sessions, with a 2 hour lunch break. First morning was 3 essays - you get 3 hours to do them and can split the time between them as you prefer. At the end of the session you hand in all 3. First afternoon, a 3 hour performance exam. Second day 100 multiple choice questions in the morning, and 100 more in the afternoon. Third day, repeat of first, only with different questions.
Living advice: The exam is intense. You want minimum distractions, including contact with other people. I stayed across the road at the Travel Lodge, by myself. I drove in Monday (I live 5 hours away) stayed Monday-Wednesday nights, checking out during the lunch break on Thursday. There are other nearby motels, which are more expensive. The idea was to be able to walk to the exams so I could move quickly from my room to the exam site and back. Took about 4 minutes to make the walk. I brought breakfast and lunch with me (I eat the same thing every day for these meals which made it simpler) and ate in my room. For lunch I had Ramen using the coffeepot to heat the water. Dinner was at the IHOP at the motel. It was not very good but there was no delay and it was edible. The idea is to minimize delays and wasted time because you have things to do.
What things? Well, study for one. I was really unclear on 1st amendment issues so I went over them Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday nights after doing my checklists. Thursday morning I did a brief UCC review after calling Fleming's office Wed night and getting a prediction that included the UCC. The UCC was on the exam Thursday morning. Serendipity.
I called my wife each day (after each session actually) and I talked briefly with other candidates while we waited for the door to open, but I didn't watch TV and except for reading a paper at dinner, I let nothing into my mind but law. Fleming recommends against post-session post-mortem and he is certainly correct. It is entirely pointless. No one recalls the questions clearly, and finding out you missed a topic is just going to depress you and cut down your chances of doing well in the next session. Telling someone else they missed a topic just bums them out without doing you any good. Instead we gossiped about Bar Review courses. The Feb. Bar is a repeater bar so I listened to gossip about past bar events, too. Otherwise I tried to spend 30-45 minutes each day just walking around getting a little exercise.
Noise: The typing room had about 160 people in it with a fantastic variety of typewriters. None seemed to be silent. Typing started about 1 or 2 minutes into each session and didn't let up till the end. We method users don't start typing until we've read and outlined for 15-20 minutes so I always wondered what they were typing so quickly. The first couple of typewriters are distracting but after a few more get going it is just white noise and I think it helps you to focus. I bought earplugs at the motel next to the SSF Convention Center but I never used them.
When I checked out of the motel Thursday the key jammed in my car ignition while I was parked just outside the office. I just told them the car would have to stay there until I finished the afternoon session and could call AAA. Luckily they didn't care, otherwise I would have let them tow it whatever. I didn't have time to deal with it, and put it entirely out of my mind during the exam.
Nothing in your preparation will actually simulate the Bar exam. That room was so intense it was like a meditation retreat (except that everyone was typing). I didn't eat much, and even regulated liquid input to try and avoid having to leave the exam to use the bathroom during the sessions. Total commitment is required. I only wish I had been able to study with that intensity, but I don't know if you can stand it for more than a few days.
How I learned the results:
When you register to take the Bar they give you a registration number. When you actually show up they give you a seat number. Your admission card has both numbers on it. When they release the Bar exam results on their website, some 90+ days later, you can find out if you passed a couple of days before they release the list to the public by using these two numbers. The first actual moment that the Feb 99 results were available was 6pm Friday May 28. I did not go to the site at that time for several reasons. First I figured everyone who took the Bar would be trying to get in and it would be frustrating to try then. Second, I do a radio show on Saturday mornings (I'm a folk music dj) which I put together Friday night. I didn't want to interrupt the show's process by spending time on the net, and I didn't want to do a poor show if I were depressed by not passing. So I put the show together, got up the next morning and drove to the station (KMUD/KMUE - on the web at http://www.kmud.org) did the show, came home, had lunch, and then went to the State Bar's website.
Frankly despite some zen training , and having been through some stressful moments in my life, I was getting anxious. People had been asking me about the Bar for a couple of weeks as they knew the deadline for release of results was approaching. Worse yet they kept saying things like "I'm sure someone bright like you will pass". That sets you up to be really depressed if you don't pass. I was downplaying the exam myself, saying that I might have passed but I was ready to take it again and things like that. Fundamentally I wanted it to be a nice surprise if I passed, and no big deal if I did not. However it was out of my control, people kept saying I had to call them when the results came in. It built up to be a much bigger deal than I wanted it to be.
When the moment came, on the website a form appears. You need to put in your two numbers. So I put in the two largest numbers on my Bar admission card in and the form said no one with those numbers was on the passing list. That was depressing. So I reversed the categories since I really didn't know which number was my registration number. That got the same result. I figured that I had not passed so I went off-line to figure out my new study schedule. After about 10 minutes I looked at the numbers again. One of them was G9902. That really doesn't seem like a very unique number - its the year and month of the exam. How could there be 5,000 variations on that number? So I examined the card more closely and found another, longer number. I decided to try it. It was too long for the first slot on the form, but the second slot accepted it, and then the page came up that said I had passed. I liked that better and decided to stop fiddling with the numbers while I was ahead.
Next I called my legal mentor, Ron Sinoway, to tell him the news. Then I e-mailed the people I knew who were interested. My wife was away at a fiber fair. She called later in the day and I told her. Now everyone wants to put on a big party, but I'm thinking I should hold it until I get the final clearance from the Bar and can be sworn in. What do you think?
California allows students to read for the law by apprenticing with lawyers (and judges I believe). Not many people take this route, and the failure rate on the Bar exam is the highest of any category of instruction. The principal reason, I believe, is that the lawyers don't provide the structure required for the learning. Pacific Law appears to be an exception. Attorney Steven Schectman & some associates have apprenticed 6 environmental activists who they are training to be "the most dangerous lawyers in America" (as quoted in the Wall Street Journal). I have added my assistance in tutoring the apprentices to the instruction the attorneys are giving them. In effect I am doing my own review in 1st year subjects with the apprentices. I really missed working with other students during law school and it is very exciting to sit around a table with a group of people who are quite interested in whether Res Ipsa Loquitur proves duty and breach, or just breach. I'm having a good time, they like it, and it keeps me focused on law while I await the Bar results. The collegial learning, and the serious intent of the lawyers to create a new generation of activist attorneys, may provide the discipline that other apprentices don't get. We'll see in October when several of them are scheduled to take the Baby Bar. If you want to see their pictures, go to the Pacific Law link (supra). [Four of the apprentices took the Baby Bar in Oct 1999. All four passed, which is an extraordinary result. I think that the disipline of the approach I introduced to them - which made heavy use of Fleming's outlines and memorization of mnemonics, and many sample multiple choice questions - was important in achieving this result]
The April 1999 issue of Trial magazine included an article about the Concord University School of Law. Their program seems to combine some of the structured learning and feedback of a residential program with the freedom of learning at home. The cost presently is $175 a credit, and a 4 year course is 96 credits, ($16,800) so I estimate the total cost by the time you buy your books at about $19,000. That's perhaps 50% more than the cost of the correspondence schools like Taft. However the issue is not cost. The issue is passing the bar, and you should consider whether the additional structure of tests, on-line lectures available 24 hours a day, and student chat (students start at the same day, unlike Taft where you start whenever you apply) will make it significantly easier for you to learn the law. It will be interesting to follow this experiment in on-line law study to see if it succeeds.
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