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Barbri Depression

Today began week three of the Barbri preparation for the bar exam, and already it seems like forever. The course makes me wish I had internet access on the George Washington campus. (Apparently the lecturers believe me incapable of taking notes on the first go, because every point is repeated at least twice, and on average three times. I really only need to be there one hour out of every three. The problem is, it's not one contiguous hour.)

I walked in late today and found out that the instructor was using Shaggy as a mnemonic.

Frankly, the course has me depressed. It's not just the cotton-candy atmosphere of the lectures. (Though if I'm paying upwards of $2,000 for a set of courses, professors shouldn't try to make it "entertaining." I can easily pay $1,000 for education and use the other $1,000 to invite several dozen of my closest and even not-very-close friends to a Tom Petty concert. Not to say that I could mix black letter law with stand up comedy myself, but I know my limitations and wouldn't try.)

It's not just the endless dull hours of memorization. I went through this same process to pass my exams back in my undergraduate days, so this is nothing new. Rather, the whole process has me down. The last in a series of hoops to jump through in order to get that precious "Esq," there's nothing in this long, tedious journey that makes me a better lawyer. My clients will be no better served by me a year from now because in the next two months I half-crammed a litany of unconsidered [1] rules into my head and vomited them onto paper. Almost every taped lecture includes some bit of advice tailor made for mediocrity: Don't overthink the exam. Don't try to learn everything because you can't. You only have to get sixty percent or so right. You only just have to pass.

My clients would be better served if I were to start work tomorrow and thus be mentored by accomplished lawyers actually doing some law. After all, they wouldn't have to pay hourly rates that support my salary payments that then pay off my bar loan.

And that's the really depressing part of this. Long-term readers of TYoH will know that I'm skeptical of the requirement of professional status for lawyers. Well, sitting in that class every day reminds me that this rather nonsensical confection of a test will, come September, provide quite a dividing line. If I pass, then any advice I give to a client is blessed by the brotherhood and entitled to all the protections that go along with it. If I fail, the same piece of advice--no matter how well-researched, and no matter how little access my client has to "real" lawyers--could make me a felon. The determinant of whether my words are felicitous or felonious? A hopped-up SAT on steroids.

Don't get me wrong. It'll be a little late and a little cramped, but I'll do the work. I'm not cocky: I know there's a real possibility (if not probability) that I could fail, and as the exam nears I'm sure that terror will have a serious motivating effect. But the Alice in Wonderland foolishness of this process means that I get no joy from the work. On the one hand, I'm not learning anything (or at least, anything worth knowing). On the other hand, it's impossible for me to believe that this exam weeds the good lawyers from the bad, thus ensuring the protection of the public.

I'd be much happier if I showed up one morning and one of the taped lectures started out: "Let's be serious, folks. This is a difficult exam that the Bar puts here to make sure that anyone who gets through it gets a fatter salary than they would otherwise. That's why you're here, so let's get to it."

[1]: The rules are not only unconsidered but half-fictional. In criminal law, the professor spent a great deal of time explaining that the multistate bar exam tests common law crimes that have been almost entirely superseded by statute in most states.


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Despite what you think at the time, barbri isn't useless, and neither is the bar exam. It's actually quite useful. It provides an overview of the law, the sort of practical, high-level perspective on the field of law as a whole that you might not have gotten in your Critical Gender Studies class. And it provides a baseline way of looking of the concepts and subjects that you didn't particularly like or study in law school, so that you have some "situation sense" (to borrow from Professor Kahan's chick sexer speech at Yale) even in fields that you weren't exposed to at law school. At the time that I took the bar exam, I thought it was useless and that I'd forget it as soon as the exam was over and I could practice in my speciality. But a year out, I'm already finding that the material that I learned for the bar exam comes in handy on a semi-regular basis. It'll be more useful than you think, I'd bet.
Simon: Thanks for that laugh. You may be the only person ever to suggest I attended a Critical Gender Studies class. ;)

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