Return to my home page

Law study for Correspondence Students

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.

  1. Secret method for Law Study
  2. Correspondence School: What do they give you, what does it cost, what else do you need?
  3. Cost
  4. Contact addresses for Study Materials
  5. Associations of Lawyers & why you should contact them.
  6. Legal Newspapers and Why You Should Read Them.
  7. The California Bar Exam I took Feb. '99
  8. Apprentice tutoring while waiting for the Bar results
  9. Setting up a solo practice
  10. A non-residental internet school

The Correspondence Law Student Secret Method

  • An internet friend sent me a study method which I have slightly augmented.
      1. Listen to a tape outline of the course, and write down notes from it to use as the backbone of your study..
      2. Memorize a review outline of the subject.
      3. Use flash cards or something similar to memorize the elements of the specific rules of law. Law in a Flash cards are very good for this.
      4. Follow the study schedule that William Howard Taft University gives you. This lets you effortlessly tell if you are keeping up.
      5. Under no circumstances fall behind in studying (easier said than done)
      6. Do a lot of practice tests. These are found in the Taft materials, Fleming's reviews (and other review courses), and are sometimes available from the State Bar.
      7. Get the Fleming review materials for the course. Spend the last 60 days of the study year using them on a heavy study schedule.
      8. Notes: Tapes - I've been writing flash cards from the tapes, and augmenting them with LIAF computer flash cards. Fleming review materials are about $60 per course. They include practice tests. Texts: WHT suggests a nutshell, Gilbert's, Black Letter, Case book, and Hornbook for each subject in addition to a tape review, usually Sum and Substance. Add your Fleming materials to this list.

     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.

     Return to secret method


     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.

    Return to secret method


     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.

     Return to secret method

    What do they give you? I just opened my box of materials from Taft for my third year of law study. Here's what I got:
    1. William Howard Taft Student ID card.
    2. Booklet: Student Handbook. School policies, information about requirements of the California Bar for law students, and a special calendar. You'll find this handy for determining when to schedule your finals. You may not take any prior to the 45th week of study (The school assigns you an official start of study date) and you must take one in weeks 49-52 to satisfy the CBE. This matters because it takes Taft about 20 days to grade finals and you can't start the next year until this is done. If you wait until the 52nd week to take finals you'll lose about a month because you won't be able to start the next year on time. I started study in September 94. I finished my 3rd year in December 97. As a consequence I will not take the Feb. '99 Bar because I won't be ready. I'll have to wait till June.
    3. Booklet: A Suggested Approach to Correspondence Law Study. These suggestions are good. I recommend following them. I found it difficult to get into a study groove, partly because I was studying alone. It took me months to realize that these suggestions were more than just "good ideas" . They are essential.

    5. Booklet: For each course. Contains "Required Materials" list, "Lesson Assignments" by week, "Past Bar Questions" (essential for exam preparation), and a "Mid-term exam".

    7. Legal Books Distribution address and order form (see below)

    9. List of Required Materials. The approximate cost of the third year materials is: $650 if you buy them all new. You may be able to find used copies of some books and save some money.
    10. A Recommended Study Schedule: This lists week by week which subject and lesson they suggest you study. If you do it on schedule you will complete the year at week 44 which will give you weeks 45-52 for finals review and taking the exams. Each week's work should take you about 17 hours. Good luck with that.

    12. Study Log: Allows you to list day by day what you studied and for how long. You'll need something like this for the CBE so keep this log faithfully.

    14. Contract with the school, which includes the official first date of the study year.

    16. This doesn't come in the box but Taft students have access through their home computers (and modems) to Lexis-Nexis which is an extensive on-line database of legal materials. This costs quite a bit if you just subscribe - in fact it costs about what the Taft tuition is. It was a deciding factor for me in choosing a school. Oddly Lexis has not been as useful as I expected. But when I wanted it I was certainly glad it was there.

    18. As finals time nears WHT will send you suggested analyses for the Past Bar Questions in your WHT course booklet. These allow you to write trial answers and then check the suggested answers to see if you are on the same wavelength as the Bar. CAVEAT: Some of these answers are decades old I'm pretty sure, and the law has changed. Using the lemonade theory of life the value of old answers is that you will find parts where you answered differently but you are sure you are correct. Go back and double check. Write a letter to WHT about it. Don't complain in the letter, writing the letter is a way to be sure you understand the way the law has changed. Treat it as part of your study.



       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.

    Return to secret method

    Contact Information:

    Fleming's Fundamentals of Law  949-770-7030. What to get: Exam Review materials, Baby Bar Review Course; Bar Review Course. They have a web site of some 300 pages with more under construction (Sep 1, 99 completion date they say). Contact them also by e-mail at

     "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.

    Associations of Lawyers:

    Well, I hear you say, I'm not a lawyer yet so why look at these groups? Easy. They are very cheap to get into as a student, and their conventions are packed with educational programs which are taught by the leading lawyers in the country. Lawyer members pay hundreds of dollars to attend, you attend free or nearly so. Also, if you are studying by correspondence you need to hang with some lawyers to see how they act and think about doing law. Its important to know with what spirit they practice law. I do think you'll be quite bewildered as a first year student if you go to lawyer's meetings, but you have to learn this stuff somewhere.

     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 education.

    1. ABA - The American Bar Association. The great umbrella organization. Their 1997 convention involved 25 hotels in SF, and there were 2500 meetings and classes. Needless to say this is where I heard the Marine Band. I came home with several thousand pages of materials. The main problem with the ABA is that they encompass everyone and so their presentations lack a certain combative edge because they are trying not to upset anyone. They also end up with sub-groups ("sections") with bizarrely unlikely names like the "Individual Rights and Responsibilities Section."



      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

    3. ATLA - Association of Trial Lawyers of America. These are the lawyers who sue corporations for product liability, and neighbors for dog bites. They are the Plaintiff's Bar. Their natural enemy is the corporate polluter or the manufacturer of dangerously defective products. Oddly, they regard criminal prosecutors as their counterparts in the criminal law, which gives a kind of skitzy feel to some presentations. They have a little bit of the American sales culture ("Yes! I want to boost my career potential by becoming an ATLA Student Member" is the box to check on the application form) in their viewpoint and as a result were the most friendly of the three groups I visited in the summer of '97. They are also more aggressive in seeking law students than any of the other orgs.



       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.

       ATLA website

    5. NACDL - National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. These are the lawyers who defend people against criminal charges. This is by far the smallest of the three groups, and for me the most interesting while as student.  That's because I intended to be a criminal defense lawyer. It is also because their temperament suits me better. Criminal Defense lawyers are mainly either public defenders or entrepreneurial lawyers. They are not grouped into big anonymous firms. So they tend to be much more individualistic - slogan T-shirts and all that. They were not wildly chatty however.



       *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:

       NACDL website

       Note: Contact info is new as of Sep 1, 1997.

    7. CACJ - California Attorneys for Criminal Justice. I don't know if they had an annual convention. They sponsor seminar events. *Cost - Student membership: $30 per year.



       *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.

    9. NLG - National Lawyers Guild. The radical bunch. Lots of California events. The NLG is concerned with social justice issues like police brutality, racism, lesbian/gay, activist issues (where can you leaflet, SLAPP suits ) and other left issues. Their publications are the most interesting of all the associations, if you are into social justice.



       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.

       Return to secret method

      Legal Newspapers

      There are a couple of daily legal newspapers published in California. I imagine that most law offices and libraries get them. Try to bum copies or read them at the library. It won't matter if they are a couple of days old. Most law news will not be of immediate import to you, although the news about the attempts to change the Baby Bar rules were exciting. You should read these papers to get into lawyering. They make good lunch reading. As you get into issues yourself the reports of current decisions become more interesting. By the time you are taking Evidence and Criminal Procedure there are many interesting cases. The Daily Appellate Report prints the decisions shortly after they are issued. Be prepared to be elated sometimes and disappointed sometimes in the quality of thought in these decisions, and finally to break through to acceptance that this is the way it is.

      E-Mail Updates
                   For a year I got daily updates of court decisions in my jurisdiction by e-mail from CAL LAW A click and I can read the full opinion.
                    The coverage includes the US Supreme Court, the 9th Circuit, the California Supreme Court and the California Circuits. It costs $10
                    a month and is not something I absolutely need, but it keeps me in touch with the legal issues on the cutting edge.
                    I try and read a case each day, but I don't always do that.

                    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.

      California Bar Exam

      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 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?

      Apprentice Tutoring

      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]

      Internet School of Law

      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.

      Return to top of page or go to my home page or The Right Organization Home Page

       Send me mail,

      This page is found at Last revised 9 Apr 2000. The opinions expressed here are ED Denson's and are part of his study of the law.