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Director of Bar Preparation Resources at Texas Tech University School of Law

Studying for the bar exam is awful. It’s stressful, frustrating, and boring as all get-out. What a terrible combination! Here are a few thoughts on getting through this most grueling summer.

Your studying will naturally evolve as the summer goes on.

At the beginning of the bar prep period, students need major review of huge topic areas they haven’t thought about for several years. This can be incredibly overwhelming, as bar prep lectures dive deep into topics students have forgotten about completely or—yikes!—are approaching for the first time.

The massive overview is necessary, though, because it’s the first step in sorting out what material a student already knows and what is left to be learned. This is the time for you to realize that hey, you remember intentional torts or Business Associations pretty well, but you don’t understand the various hearsay exceptions or anything about Con Law! Make mental notes of the topics you’ll have to come back to later. (It’s bound to be a long list—that’s true for everyone!)

As June turns into July, however, it’s time to get serious about plugging the holes in your knowledge and buffing up your essay-writing skills. Study smart: focus on the areas of law you’re weakest in that are also heavily tested on the bar. This is triage. Address your greatest vulnerabilities first.

Use other study techniques that work for you, even if your bar prep company hasn’t given you specific instructions. If you need to talk out loud, or draw maps or flowcharts, do it! Only make flashcards for rules of law you don’t already know. Don’t spend time re-reading the big outlines; use them like encyclopedias, looking up specific subtopics you need to review. (Spend an hour each on mortgages, duty of care, and the First Amendment—those pay big dividends.)

Take the midterm. Heck, take any practice question you can!

Several times a summer, I hear a student make the excuse that he or she isn’t going to take the MBE midterm on the day it’s assigned, because the student just wants to review a bit more first. This makes me want to scream, cry, and pull out my hair, because how do you know whether you need to review more if you haven’t tested your knowledge yet?!? The bar exam isn’t a test of your ability to read an outline—it’s a test of your ability to answer a question about a specific area of law.

The bar exam is a wrestling match. It’s you versus the exam, mano a mano. You’re pretty evenly matched. Same weight class, all that. So, if you’ve got a wrestling match at the end of July, how are you going to prepare for it? By reading books about wrestling all summer? Or by wrestling every opponent you can get your hands on?

That’s what I thought.

Here’s the other thing students sometimes say to me that makes me want to cry: “I’m really struggling with Property, so I’m going to stop studying it and try to bring up my scores on all the other subjects instead.” This is like the wrestler saying that his half-nelson is no good, so he’s just going to work on his dropkick instead. That makes no sense! To pass the bar, you need to be reasonably good at all the subjects.

Do this once.

The only thing worse than studying for the bar is studying for it again. Give it your all and pass the first time. 

Over the course of my first two years of law school, my beginning of the semester preparation changed drastically. As a 0L about to begin my 1L year, I had no idea what to expect and where to begin. I started by buying study aids and I tried to read about the various subjects I would soon be learning. But, this was a very short-lived experiment. I had no basis whatsoever to start learning about the law, nor did I have the patience at that point in time. Next, I attempted the “tried and true” case briefing method, as emphasized by professors, to fully develop my class preparation skills. However, I likewise failed to sustain this practice for longer than a week. Eventually, I simply began underlining and making notes in the margins of the book that summarized each section.

Beyond preparing for class, the beginning of the semester marks an important time to begin organizing your notes for what will eventually become your final exam outline. In this respect, I failed—horribly. I was told to start “outlining” early on during orientation; however, I did not know what an outline was, let alone what to put in it. To make matters worse, I did not use a computer for any of my class preparation or in-class note taking.

At this point, you are probably wondering, why does any of this matter? Well, these relatively minor preparation methods snowballed by the end of the semester. First, a week before exams, I had done nothing to prepare my outline. My first attempt at creating one came during the few days before the exam period began. Second, my semester long practice of taking handwritten notes and not using a computer meant that I still had to transfer everything to my computer to create a concise, readable outline. Consequently, I spent any free study days before exams churning through pages of notes in lieu of quizzing myself or taking practice exams. Ultimately, everything worked out, but I did not learn from my mistakes until a year later when I finally began using my computer in conjunction with handwritten note taking.

My second semester of 1L year was more efficient. By then, I knew what exams were like, and I had enough variety of teaching styles to quickly adjust my methods within the first few weeks of class. Nonetheless, I continued to save my outlining until the very end of the semester. However, I got quicker at doing it. The transition from 1L to 2L is not greatly significant in terms of preparation, but it is critical to plan ahead considering the added extracurricular responsibilities: e.g. journals, club leadership, and moot court. As I mentioned, my most drastic change came in the second semester of 2L year where I began bringing my computer to class and transferring my handwritten notes on an almost daily basis. I can’t say if this substantially affected my exam performance, but it certainly improved my sanity and stress-levels leading up to exams.

Overall, the beginning of each semester is a clean slate. How you tackle it can greatly determine your semester’s ease or difficulty. I made things more difficult than they had to be my first year, but I made improvements over time to my methods of preparing for class and exams. The moral of the story is that your preparatory habits will change as you figure out what works. The biggest changes will likely occur between your first and second semesters. But, if you already know how you best operate, do not change; instead, adapt, and remember the semester is a marathon and you need to keep your eye on the finish line, not just the mile markers.

For the past few years, we’ve been hearing from some of our authors that they have elected to work with a new company called iLaw Ventures to teach online distance education courses in their areas of expertise. So we reached out to iLaw in order to learn more about who they are. It turns out that while iLaw is in some senses a new company, in fact the people who founded it have a very extensive and accomplished history in legal education. iLaw was founded by Ken Randall, former dean at the University of Alabama School of Law. Its mission is to utilize communication technology, and the ABA’s growing support of online education for a small number of course credits, to ensure that law schools who so choose can offer a full range of elective and core courses. iLaw’s distance courses connect faculty with students outside of their own law school using online class management software, through which students can see the instructor lecture, dialogue with him or her, submit assignments, and download lecture notes. iLaw has been quite successful in pioneering this model in the law school space: to date, more than forty law schools have secured iLaw’s services to supplement their traditional catalog. And those of our authors who have participated in iLaw’s program so far have told us they have had a very positive experience.


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In the past year, several more of our authors have asked us whether we are planning something comparable to iLaw, in order to give our authors a new way to reach students. To address this opportunity, I’m delighted to announce that as of this month, Wolters Kluwer Legal Education is now signed up as an official collaborator with iLaw. As a result of this collaboration, many of our authors who want to teach their course via a distance education model will be able to do so through iLaw. (The specific areas in which courses will be offered will be determined by iLaw based on market demand, so not all authors who wish to participate will automatically be able to do so.) Wolters Kluwer will lend our resources and expertise to iLaw to help build the program beyond its current impressive state, and our sales and marketing team will also help to spread the word about how this model can help law schools and law students.


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Since this is a new direction for law schools, I know there may be lots of questions about how this works. Below are answers to a few likely ones.

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Will all Wolters Kluwer authors participate?

No. Only those authors who particularly want to be involved with distance education will do so.  I anticipate this will be a fairly small number at the outset. As the market continues to evolve over the next few decades, perhaps the numbers will grow.

What is the quality of iLaw’s courses?

Because iLaw’s courses are designed by the professors who run them, and because iLaw has been selective in choosing lecturers, the course quality has been quite high, and very much in line with WK values. We look forward to working closely with iLaw to ensure that quality standards remain high in the coming years as the program expands.

Is iLaw intended to replace the law school?

No. iLaw is a service for law schools, and only works with students whose schools have hired iLaw. Law schools have engaged iLaw thus far for a range of reasons. Some are using iLaw to offer higher-enrollment classes in the summer term to students who have returned to their home cities; others are using the program during the fall/spring term to offer classes that had never previously appeared in their catalog. The school lists the class in its catalog, provides credit, and collects tuition, and the digital course experience carries the school’s brand . . . for all intents and purposes, iLaw classes belong to the schools that offer them. iLaw is a service provider, helping make the complex process of administering a course online straightforward.

When can law students take distance-based classes?

The ABA has clear limits on the degree to which law schools can incorporate distance education into their curriculum . . . for instance, students can only take a distance course after they have taken essentially the full 1L course sequence in a traditional mode, and can only take a comparatively small number of distance courses thereafter. But within those limits, we expect that schools will find quite varied ways that distance education can supplement their existing programs.  

Why is WK working with iLaw?

Our mission is to give our authors every option possible for reaching students. Today, that is primarily through the vehicle of the book.  Tomorrow, that may be through books as well as through online lectures. While that future is yet uncertain, we want to position our authors to be able to participate in it, should it transpire. Our collaboration with iLaw gives our authors a path to partake in new ways of sharing their vision. Also, since we are a commercial company . . . the iLaw collaboration gives us a valuable new avenue for driving revenue growth on those of our titles that are assigned by lecturers in the program.

Is iLaw now a part of Wolters Kluwer? 

No. iLaw remains a separate business entity, headquartered in Alabama. Wolters Kluwer and iLaw have signed an agreement to collaborate in the cultivation of new educational opportunities.

Can online distance education be effective?

While this is still an emerging field, there is solid research thus far to suggest that – if properly run – online distance courses can effectively teach students to think critically about the law. In the end, the success of this kind of program rests on the teaching ability of the lecturer. The class can be run poorly or it can be run well . . . as with traditional classes.

What impact will distance education have on law faculty and students?

We believe that distance education opens up an avenue for faculty to connect with more students than they would otherwise be able to reach. This is particularly relevant for courses that are not offered at all law schools, either because they tend to have small enrollments or because they involved highly specialized concerns. Today, many students simply can’t take those courses. Tomorrow, through distance education, faculty with expertise in those areas should be able to reach the handful of students per law school who are interested in taking the class, which could unlock surprising career directions for some of those students and bring a new kind of professional gratification to professors. In general, we see distance education as adding a new optional component to the student and faculty experience on campus, in the same way that clinics and externships have.

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We are very excited to set off on this new promising direction with iLaw, and look forward to speaking with many of you in the coming years to discuss your interest. If you have any questions, thoughts, or concerns now, please do let us know at legaledu@wolterskluwer.com. 

For more information about iLaw Ventures, visit www.ilawventures.com.

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