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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

On bar prep and taking bar subjects during law school

I have just under 4 weeks left until the bar exam, and now that I have studied for a month, I have made a few observations about subjects that are worth taking in law school. (Warning: This post is probably only going to be interesting to you if you are going or considering going to law school. Maybe not even then.)

My general advice in terms of looking ahead for the bar exam is to try to take as many bar subjects as you can in law school. Law schools tell you not to focus on that (so that the peripheral stuff can get some love too). But the reality is that you can take all the bar subjects and still have plenty of room left to take electives. I took all but one of the bar exam subjects in my jurisdiction, and still had time to get a certificate in intellectual property law, which is not a bar subject. So if you can take them all, do so. But if you can't, here are the classes I'm glad I took, wish I'd taken, and wish I hadn't taken:

Glad I took...

Criminal Law (substantive, not procedural)

I am not going to practice criminal law at all, even though I can't get enough of watching crime shows and reading about psychopaths. But I am glad I decided on a whim to sign up for substantive criminal law in law school. It is much more complicated than one might think, and having a full semester background in studying mens rea, the different types of murder, and defenses which mitigate versus defenses which exonerate really makes the bar prep in this subject easier.

Article 9 Secured Transactions

This is the area of law that deals with creditors, debtors, and the offering of personal property as collateral to secure loans. It gets tricky when you have multiple creditors claiming a security interest in the same collateral, and then the debtor defaults on one or both loans, and then the creditors have to battle it out to determine who has priority to the collateral, and what happens after foreclosing on the collateral. Although the class was probably more of a headache in law school than the subject will likely be if it appears on the bar exam, the details are not terribly intuitive, so having background knowledge to launch from during bar prep is helpful.

Wish I HAD taken...


This is the one bar subject I did not take, and I really wish I had. I am not planning on litigating at all (if I can help it), so I didn't feel it was super necessary to get all down to the nitty gritty on this subject during law school. Plus, I've seen Perry Mason and Matlock and A Few Good Men. How hard could it be? Well, it's pretty hard sometimes, actually. Hearsay is especially crazy. Hearsay is "an out of court statement offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted". Generally hearsay is not allowed to be admitted into evidence in court. But there are quite a few exceptions and exemptions that almost swallow the rule, and they can be hard to remember if you haven't done the background casebook study of the subject to ground the rules in fact scenarios. Plus, identifying hearsay is hard sometimes. Something that would be hearsay if used for one purpose may be completely non-hearsay if used for another purpose. Character evidence is also a tricky area. Usually, you can't offer evidence of a person's character to show that they are more likely to have committed a crime or civil misdeed. But if the defendant's character is already in issue, like in civil defamation cases, it can come in. Or if the defendant "opens the door" to his character by having witnesses testify about his reputation or their opinion of him first, then the prosecution can offer rebuttal character evidence. But it's a very detail-oriented analysis, and I wish I had worked through some of this stuff prior to bar prep.

(Emphatically) Wish I HADN'T taken...

Administrative Law

Oh my god, is this subject dry. That's saying a LOT when talking about law, because it's all pretty dry. But admin is the most boring thing I ever subjected myself to for 13-14 weeks. This is the area of law that deals with agencies -- things like the EPA, FCC, FTC, etc. They are part of the executive branch of government, set up to execute laws, but they kind of have hybrid legislative and judicial functions, because they make rules and perform adjudications when rules are broken. They are also kind of like the police, because they do investigations and perform inspections (like health and safety code violation stuff). It sounds kind of exciting when you describe it all like that, but it is NOT. It is the opposite of exciting. It is horrible. I am lucky that my professor had a very liberal non-attendance policy -- we could skip or not be prepared for up to 10 classes and still sit for the final. You better believe I took advantage of all 10. And it was still painful. So here's the thing: admin is not that hard. The bar coverage is much more cursory than the horrible detail you will go into in class, and it is not counter-intuitive. So I actually recommend against taking this subject, unless you are, say, going into environmental law, and anticipate dealing with the EPA a lot, or something. Even then I just don't know... it's too awful.

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