HK Pic

I became homeless on August 29, 2005.  Hurricane Katrina flooded our little house on the Mississippi Gulf Coast that Monday, and without flood insurance, we were left feeling a little bit overwhelmed.  The magnitude of the destruction around us only intensified the feeling.

At the time, I felt as if I wore three hats – the family hat (husband/father), the job hat (pastor of a local church), and the community hat (president of our local Habitat for Humanity affiliate).  I was overwhelmed on all three fronts.  My family was suddenly homeless, a full one-third of my church was homeless, and, of all things, our Habitat for Humanity affiliate was trying to eradicate poverty housing from our community – we were suddenly going backwards!

The shock wore off more quickly than you’d think, probably because of the sheer size of the work staring us in the face, and we rolled up our sleeves in the Mississippi heat and got after it.

Somewhere in the weeks that followed I had an epiphany (I get those from time to time).  Out of nowhere, it instantly became clear to me what my goal needed to be for all three groups for which I felt responsible – my family, my church, and my community organization.  Survival.  That was the goal.  Not excellence, or perfection, or any other grandiose term.  Just survival – that was plenty to shoot for, and truth be told, it was a pretty lofty goal.

It may not surprise you that I found a lot of connections between Hurricane Katrina and studying for the bar since both apparently qualify as traumatic experiences!  These were the two times in my life when “overwhelmed” was a word I thought about several times each day.

So it stands to reason that I think my life goal in 2005 is a decent goal for you to adopt ten years later.  It is unlikely that you will ace the bar exam and that really shouldn’t be a thought in your mind anyway.  No, you’ve got a lot coming at you, so just commit to something else that is rather impressive in its own right.  Be a survivor.  Get up each day, face the daunting pile of work, give it your best for the day, and then get some sleep.  Rinse and repeat.

Before long, you will see that you have done it – survived.  That is an accomplishment for which you will forever be proud.

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Overwhelmed: THE Official Word of the Bar Exam

I once attended a “clickers” presentation delivered by Professor McNeal. In it, he cited a study done by Michael Hunter Schwartz on learning retention. I once had the chance to sit next to Professor Schwartz on an airplane, and I relished the opportunity to pick his brain. He is considered by many to be the leading expert on “learning” in the legal education community and is now the dean of the law school at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

This study claims that you remember 30% of what you “see” but 90% of what you “speak and do.” I’ll emphasize the “do” part more than the “speak” here, but the bottom line is that you remember much more from practice than from simply studying outlines. In the last few years, studies confirming this concept were published in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.

You say, “I made it through law school without practicing that much!” True, but you are now asked to do something different, at least in one respect: You are asked to prepare for twelve finals at once (with admittedly less depth of knowledge required) instead of taking one at a time.

Think about it: It makes sense that the word that kept playing in my head when studying for the bar was “overwhelmed.” It makes sense because my normal way of studying could not conquer the bar like it could conquer a law school final – in fact, given my way to study, I should be overwhelmed.

Let me explain a little further:

My typical law school outline for a single course was about 25 pages. If I did that for the 12 bar subjects, then I would have to memorize about 300 pages of outlines for the bar! I could never do that (which is why I limited my normal outlines to 25 pages — that was about my limit). Let’s say I cut down all the bar subjects to bare-boned 10-15 page outlines so that I only included rules I needed to know, factors, etc. – that would still be 150 pages of outlines!

So, here is the good news. All the bar review companies know this is too much for rote memorization, which is why they design their programs to have so much practice. Practice is the big dog in memorization world. You really do retain significantly more if you “do” than if you just “see” outlines and flash cards.

Now, an important caveat: Practice is only helpful if you spend quality time reviewing the practice tests to figure out what you did right and what you did wrong. That is when the learning/memorization takes place, and the learning/memorization that takes place in that review is simply more “sticky” than reviewing outlines and flash cards.


If it makes you feel better (and it did me), then create a little bit of extra “review” time where you approach studying a subject as you did in law school. You have permission!!!

But don’t back off on the practice essays and MBEs. That is where you defeat the bar exam monster.

Hang in there, my friends. Reach out to me whenever.

Yours to count on,

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Been There, Remember That

There is a VERY familiar question that dominates the bar-studying mind at just about this point each summer.  The question is: When do I actually learn all this stuff?

Sure, the lectures tell you exactly what you need to know, but that is still a lot to learn – per subject.  Then, you are given multiple choice sets to complete, and essays to write, and at least several of us start wondering – When do I get time to process it all?

Here is my advice:

1. Follow the program.  It is tempting to tell yourself that you need to “learn it first” before doing the practice questions, but that would be a big mistake.  Trust me when I say that practicing is very important in the memorization process.  You should follow the program, do the practice sets and essays, and make sure to thoroughly review your answers once you are finished.  Every reputable bar review company has you do lots of practice for a reason – it is a time-tested process that works for those that take it seriously.

2. Use your “review” time wisely.  This is the big question – what to do with the “review” time in your daily calendar.  My suggestion is to decide early on if you prefer using outlines or flashcards (or something else?) to summarize all you plan to know – prompted by the lectures – for each subject you are responsible to learn.  Then, after a lecture, use the review time to assemble your outline or set of flashcards that summarize what you need to extract from the lectures.  Eventually, once you have composed these study aids, you will use your review time to work through them and continue toward the goal of memorization.  (I should also mention that you will continually tweak your outlines/flashcards throughout the summer as you take practice tests and discover bits of information you did not originally include.)

3. Remember the myth of the leaky bucket.  A friend of mine told me that studying for the bar feels like your head is a bucket with twelve holes in it.  You feel like you start to “get” a subject, then you move on to others, and when you return to the first subject, it feels as if everything you learned has leaked out!  This is exactly what it feels like, but it is simply not true.  Instead, studying for the bar is more like adding layers of paint to a wall.  The first time through, you get a layer.  Next time through, you add another layer.  If you keep following the program, by summer’s end (which is your destination), you will discover that you have added many layers of memorization and are amazingly ready to test on a wide variety of subjects.

So, to answer the original question – When do I actually learn all this stuff?  Surprisingly, you already are.  Keep following the program, start composing the study aids that will help you the most, and in time you will discover that you have added plenty of layers necessary to pass the bar.

Please feel free to stay in touch with me all summer.  You can post questions/comments on the Facebook group, on the blog, send me personal emails, come see me, or give me a call at the office (x7695).

I am rooting for you all.

Yours to count on,


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Bar Exam: What 3Ls Should Know (2015 Version)

What 3Ls Need to Know

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Updated for 2015: Registering with the State Bar of California

The cost to register as a law student with the State Bar of California is $113.  Click HERE to register.

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2015 MPRE Dates & Deadlines

Click HERE for the link.

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Updated for 2015: Summary of Costs Associated with Bar Admissions

$113: Register with State Bar
$80: MPRE
$25: Fingerprinting (approximate)
$525: Moral Character App
$645: Register for Bar Exam
$146: Laptop Fee (optional: can handwrite)
$600: Hotel & Meals (approximate)


???: Bar Review Course
???: Living Expenses? (summer rent/utilities/food, etc.)

* Funding options include:
1. Starting early and budgeting;
2. Working (although this is VERY difficult to do while studying for the bar and not advisable)
3. Family
4. Bar loans

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