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Ontario Baby!

While Rob-tastic was in Europe, we found out we were assigned to the same testing center – Ontario, California, baby! We were glad to get confirmation that we’d be taking the bar exam in the same city.

Reminder: Rob-tastic and I teamed up with Barbri to document and share our stories from studying for the July 2017 California Bar Exam.

If Rob and I were driving to Ontario, CA, we’d get to see part of Joshua Tree National Park.
Image by Ken Lund from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Since Rob was out of town, he trusted me to pick out our hotel . . . well, I booked two rooms and he didn’t object when he got back. We’re both good budget travelers and done our fair shares of staying in hostels, but the bar exam is not a time to skimp on comfort (and control, for me).

Rob and I agreed on three things for the hotel: quiet environment, comfortable beds and it had to be within walking distance of the convention center. I had two more requirements: hot breakfast available on-site and our rooms had to have refrigerators (so we could get pick up something for lunch during the bar exam and keep it in our rooms).

By the way: Rob thinks announcing that we’re taking the bar exam in Ontario is going to lead to an impromptu fan meetup – “6 random lawyers and law students coming by” as he put it, hopefully to buy me drinks which he knows I’ll slide across the table to him.

We also agreed we’re flying to/from Ontario. Once the bar exam is done, neither of us will be any shape to drive five hours to get home.

Undeniable’s Turn to Travel
I’m going to the BlogHer Conference in Orlando, Florida this weekend to speak on the legalities of blogging. Looking at the schedule of events, it’s going to be a fantastic event, but bar studying doesn’t take a vacation. I’ll take the lecture handout workbook with me to watch lecture videos in my room and my goal for the flights is to work on my flashcards. I suspect it’s something I can do in my coach seat without bothering my seatmates. I made close to 1,000 flashcards when I studied for the Arizona Bar. I suspect I will make the same amount for this test.

Yay Studying!

Catching Up is Hard to Do
Rob and I are both still trying to catch up on our respective study schedules. He lost time during his travels and I lost a few days while I was bogged down in motion practice. I’m more diligent about watching lectures during breakfast and getting out of the office earlier in the afternoon, but it’s still hard to do all the assignments.

Rob said his biggest challenge lately is not confusing the federal rules and common law with the exception to those rules in California. There’s no easy pattern or system for remember these things. It’s just a matter of memorizing everything – including rules that we will never use in real life. Who gives their property away as a life estate with a vested remainder in fee simple subject to executory interest?

Neither of us are freaking out about all we have to do and learn. There’s over a month to go, and we both know that we will do 100s of hours studying between now and the bar exam.

That’s all for this week. If you have any questions about what we’re doing or how we’re doing, leave it as a comment below. If you want to send us good vibes via snail mail, that’s always welcome – our stress is kicking up – or send us ice cream. (It was 119 degrees in Phoenix this week.) Send us postcards at Ruth and Rob, c/o Venjuris P.C., 1938 E. Osborn Rd., Phoenix, AZ 85016. (If you have a friend taking a bar exam this summer, send them one too. They’ll appreciate the love.)

Rob-tastic’s Back!

Reminder: Rob-tastic and I teamed up with Barbri to document and share our stories from studying for the July 2017 California Bar Exam.

Statue of Anonymous in Hungary
Photo by Rob McGee

After three weeks in Europe and Asia, Rob is back in the States and back in the office. He walked into the office on Monday upbeat and refreshed from his travels with lots of pictures and stories. Rob’s a history buff, and he said that “Hungarian history is about 75% fighting Turks and Germans, and 25% building statues memorializing those wars.”

He told me about the statue of Anonymous in Hungary, created in honor of the unnamed chronicler (or possibly chroniclers) of the earliest Hungarian history. According to local folklore, if you touch his pen, it grants inspiration and writing ability. Of course, Rob touched it. That seems like a good omen heading into a bar exam.

Rob Went on Vacation and all I got was this Shirt
When Rob was at the INTA conference, one of the vendors was making personalized “.Sucks” shirts for attendees. He had them make a “Studying.Sucks” shirt for me. No one studies for a bar exam because it’s fun.

Thanks Rob!

Side note: I don’t think this vendor’s first language was English. Rob’s pretty sure the vendor thought he asked them to make this tiny shirt for him to wear.

We’re Both Behind on Bar Studying
Rob and I have both been dealing with schedules and circumstances that make it difficult to keep up with the demanding Barbri schedule. Rob was traveling with only one Barbri book and relied on mostly online content to help him study.

Rob and I are like yin and yang this week. He’s energized and I’m exhausted. I’m still a few days behind the Barbri schedule, due to obligations to clients and needing to exercise some self-care. Studying for the bar is a marathon and it wouldn’t do me any good to burn out so early on in this process. I’ve had to take some time to get some much needed rest and relaxation. As one of the members of my mastermind group reminds me, “You can’t draw water from an empty well.”

This past weekend, I studied 8-9 hours each day, trying to keep up and catch up and hit the ground running at work on Monday. By Tuesday, I was exhausted again. I’m someone who tends to use mantras to stay focused, but I was so drained on Tuesday, my mantra was “Don’t throw up, don’t pass out.” Thankfully, by Wednesday morning, I had my mojo back and my mantra was, “Hold my beer.” (No, I don’t drink. It’s just a euphemism for “I’ve got this.”)

On the flip side, I’m working like gangbusters on client projects. Right now, due to all my obligations, I’m trying not to take on any new clients except those that fall into one of my niche areas of practice. For other prospective clients who need help from my firm, but not necessarily me, I pass along those calls and emails to a colleague with more available bandwidth.

The one thing that’s become obvious with this round of bar prep is there’s no time to waste. (Self-care is not wasting time.) There’s so much time and so little to do!

Strike that. Reverse it.

MBE Score: To Look Or Not To Look

The Arizona Bar Exam has three sections.

  • Multistate Bar Exam (MBE): 200 multiple choice questions (6 hours), 50% of your score
  • Multistate Essay Exam (MEE): 6 essay questions (3 hours), 30% of your score
  • Multistate Performance Exam (MPE): 2 practical questions (3 hours), 20% of your score

This is my actual MBE score, still in its envelope.

You have to get a score of at least 410 out of 600 to pass the bar. The results of the exam will not be out until October; however, five weeks after the exam, we received our MBE scores in the mail. It is possible to bomb the MBE and still pass the bar, and it’s possible to ace the MBE and still fail. I decide the stress of not knowing anything was less than the stress I would feel if I opened my MBE score and I wasn’t happy with the result. So, when my score arrived, I put it in a drawer instead of opening it.

A lot of people heard about what I did and couldn’t believe that I had enough self-restraint to not open the envelope. Many of them asked if they could open it or at least hold it up to a light bulb so they could know what it says. These people are all banned from my home until after the final bar exam pass list is posted.

Fortunately, I have significant experience with being academically stubborn. During law school, I never checked my grades after the first semester. After each semester was over and final grades were posted, I emailed the assistant dean of the law school. He checked my grades for me and let me know that I passed and that I was in good academic standing. I never knew what my GPA or class rank were and it made me a happier law student.  My focus shifted to learning the material and my stress level dropped significantly. I have a copy of my final transcript on my computer in case a future employer wants to see it, but I’ve never looked at it.

I decided not to open my MBE score because knowing this information would not give me any definitive answers about my bar score. It’s a bit cruel that the powers that be tell us what 50% of our score is and make us sweat it for another 5 weeks. I’d rather take the bar exam and forget about it until the official pass list is posted.

To anyone who would not react well if they score below average on their MBE, I recommend not opening your MBE score when it arrives.  All that matters is that you get the total score you need to pass.

Bar Exam Wisdom from Legal All-Stars

The bar exam is tomorrow!  I’m praying that what everyone has told me about law school and bar exam prep being harder than the bar exam is true.  I’m ready to kick this test’s ass and to get it behind me.

I have met some amazing legal minds during law school.  I asked a few of them to share some final words of wisdom.

“Don’t try too hard. All you have to do is pass; you don’t have to ace the test.”
Sam Glover, Lawyerist editor-in-chief and ABA Legal Rebel

Bring it on!

Image by pangalactic gargleblaster and the heart of gold via Flickr

“Trust your preparation.  I had the good fortune of studying for the 1997 New York and New Jersey bar exams with my wife (my girlfriend at the time) who was the smartest law student I knew (and is now the most gifted lawyer I know).  If you sincerely completed all of the practice questions and tests the course required, and trained yourself to respond (correctly as often as possible) within the allotted time, you should pass.  That said, I still remember feeling intimidated after seeing the person sitting next to me smiling widely before the exam began on the first day at the Javits Center.  In response, I lowered my head and simply tried to concentrate on the test.  Block out all distractions and solely focus on your goal of passing.  Then, once it is over, let it go and enjoy some time off.”
Ari Kaplan, founder of Ari Kaplan Advisors and author of Reinventing Professional Services: Building Your Business in the Digital Marketplace

“It is a stupid test. Most of the time, people less intelligent than you pass it. Sometimes people smarter than you fail it. If you pass, you get to be an attorney. If you fail, you cannot immediately be an attorney. Either way, you are a winner of sorts. Eat a decent breakfast and completely wipe the test out of your mind after the last question. Most people use the bar exam as another reason to be unhappy and stressed out. Don’t do that.”
Tyler Coulson, former associate of Sidley Austin, left his law firm to walk across the US with his dog

“Hyperventilating won’t help. Really. The day before the VA bar exam (my first bar exam), I had this mini-panic attack. I suddenly felt the weight of it. However, after a glimpse of rationale thought, I decided that, with less than 24 hours to go, I was better just taking the day easy and letting fate – or rather all of my hard work – take its course. Worrying can be productive but not when it is time to perform.  If you have studied, then simply go out and play your legal instrument. This is one of the last tests of your life where 75-90% will pass. Listen to the symphony in your head and play elegantly.”
Mark Britton, founder of Avvo and ABA Legal Rebel

At this point, there’s nothing more we can do but to walk into the test and do what we know how to do: kick ass.

More Bar Exam Wisdom:

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Bar Exam Wisdom from Arizona Lawyers

The bar exam is a few days away.  All of our work for the last 4 years to get into law school, through law school, and through bar prep will come down to a 2-day test (3 days for some people).

I went to Arizona State University for law school.  Most of my friends and I are taking the Arizona bar exam next week.  In preparation, I reached out to some people who practice law from Arizona, most of who have previously passed the Arizona bar.  I asked them what advice they wished someone had given them before they took the test.  Here’s what they had to say:

Saguaro Sunset

Image by Saguaro Pictures via Flickr

“The absolute worst thing you can do to yourself is speak with any of your fellow test takers about their experience with any portion of the exam.  They will have wax convincingly about seeing issues you did not spot, making you question whether you really studied at all.  Chances are high if you did not see the issue it’s because it was not there.   There is no need to peck away at your self-confidence this way – just turn the subject to something non-exam related, or just walk away.   This is especially good advice after the exam is completed.  Remember, you’ll have long weeks sweating out the results.  There is no need to add to the tension because Billy Bob, who never scored higher than a 72 on any law school exam, uncovered a hidden corporate duty of loyalty issue in that First Amendment question.”
Bill Richards, partner at Bade and Baskin, earned the highest score on the AZ Bar Exam in July 1990

“Before I took the bar, a good friend who had previously taken it told me to trust all of the studying I had done and go in there confident and with guns blazing. That really stuck with me and I took that advice right into the exam hall. I dared this exam to try and stop me from passing! Your state of mind is so very important on the day of the exam. I had people sitting next to me who were completely flustered and wound up missing whole questions on the exam. If you must listen to some arrogant rap music to get your confidence up (Kanye, anyone?). So stay confident and calm (do a yoga class the day before to get centered – I totally did this!) and remember that you worked hard and are ready for this.”
Rachel Rodgers, principal attorney with Rachel Rodgers Law Office

“You will never feel like you’re prepared enough, no matter how much you study. Just accept that! Do your best to remain calm because freaking out just makes you lose focus and forget things. You will, most likely, either run out of time on some questions, or get questions that really throw you for a loop, or both. But remember that EVERYONE is in the same situation, and NO ONE knows the answer to everything. Even the highest scores aren’t ever perfect scores. You only need a D+ to pass, that’s all. Not an A, not a B, not a C. Most of you have never even written C answers in law school, so have confidence in yourselves and know that you can do it! When it comes to the week before the exam, please don’t spend all of your time cramming. At that point you know what you know and cramming will just exhaust you. Focus on your problem areas for one last refresher and try to get out and do some fun things to relax you. The last thing you want to do in the days before the exam is burn yourself out. Lastly, you WILL feel like you failed when you get out of there. It is just part of the process. So don’t be like me and spend the whole night crying and looking into other careers, because chances are you rocked it! Believe in yourself and whatever you do, DON’T talk about the exam when you’re done! You can’t change your answers and usually the people bragging about what they wrote are wrong anyway. Ok, that is all the wisdom I have so good luck and hang in there. It will be over before you know it!”
Jeni Christopher, associate at Schlesinger Conrad, passed the Arizona bar exam in February 2011

“Whatever got you far enough to take the bar exam will see you through it — and allow you to leave the indignity of it far behind.”
David J. Bodney, partner at Steptoe and Johnson 

Good luck everyone!

More Bar Exam Wisdom:

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Bar Exam Wisdom from BarBri Instructors

The bar exam is a few days away.  All of our work for the last 4 years to get into law school, through law school, and through bar prep will come down to a 2-day test (3 days for some people).

Virginia Bar Exam

Image by Philip Larson via Flickr

I reached out to two of my favorite BarBri instructors and asked them to share some final works for wisdom about taking the bar.  Here’s what they had to say:

“Keep your wits about you, and always always put your faith in the curve.”
Douglas Moll, University of Houston Law Center Professor and BarBri instructor

“Bring earplugs – 2 sets.   1 set because you know you’ll be sitting next to someone with tuberculosis and the other set just in case someone ate a burrito for lunch.  Those suckers also can fit up your nose.

“Don’t carb out for lunch unless you want to take a nap in the middle of the afternoon session. Don’t drink a pot of coffee with breakfast unless you want to become a resident of the restroom.  For dinner, eat like a pig.  Carb out like crazy so that you get tired and can fall asleep, despite the anxiety you may be feeling.  In case of emergency, take half a Sominex.

“Bring a pocket flashlight!  True story: On my last day of the California bar, the lights went out during the final performance test for about 2 minutes.  Fortunately for me, someone had told me to bring a tiny pocket flashlight and I did.  Needless to say, I didn’t miss a beat while others around me were quietly cursing me for having one.

“On the morning of the MBE, do 10-15 questions before the test and make your mistakes then.  By the time the exam rolls around you will be properly warmed up.  This advice is gold for those in the parenthetical category.

“Finally, face the bar with a clear mind, a strong will and an open heart (for the hippies!).  It’s just a test.  Beat the living heck out of it.  God bless all of you taking the bar exam this summer, even the non-believers.”
Chuck Shonholtz, BarBri Instructor

Good luck to everyone taking the exam!  As my coach  would say, “Do what you know how to do.”

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Send Love To Stressed Out Bar Exam Candidates

The July Bar Exam is less than two weeks away.  For people who are taking BarBri to prepare, our lectures and classes are over.  We’re at the point where every day we’re given a topic and a simple instruction – “Memorize.”  It’s hard not to let the panic set in.

studying

Image by English106 via Flickr

From what I can tell from my classmates on Facebook, we’re all exhausted, stressed, and reaching the point where we just don’t care about these materials anymore.  My day still starts before 6am so I can workout before hitting the books.  I am studying by 7:30am and I spend most of the day going through my flashcards, outlining essay questions, and going through multiple choice questions.  I end my day by spending an hour writing flashcards for other topics.  My goals are to work efficiently these next few weeks and not burn myself out.

These days anything that takes away from studying or my daily routine, like laundry or errands, is a burden.  I’ve recently become aware that studying for the bar has diminished my ability to do normal things.  When I drive somewhere, I have to triple check that I put my car in the proper gear before taking my foot off the brake so I don’t inadvertently crash into another car.

Studying for the bar has definitely made me more irritable.  Everyone is glad that I have limited contact with the public in general.  The stupidest things annoy me.  My friend says I have crankypants.  My family barely hears from me.  My posts of Facebook and rare phone calls prove that I’m alive.  I made a brief cameo at the 4th of July family gathering and left before the fireworks.  I took a rare study break last week to go to Food Truck Friday in downtown Phoenix.  I didn’t realize how tired I was until I saw my friend and gauged my level of energy against his.

This week I realized that what everyone studying for the bar probably needs is a word of encouragement.  We’re focused on studying and don’t have the time to see our family and friends, but it would be wonderful to hear from you.  Please leave a comment for everyone taking the bar exam this month.  It will do wonders for everyone’s spirits just to know that we’re loved and supported while we’re going through academic-professional hell.

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A Day In The Life of Bar Prep

I’ll admit it – studying for the bar exam is hard, lonely work.   My days are long and boring.   I’m trying to keep my stress in check, and it’s starting to be a challenge.

I initially felt guilty when I banned everyone from house for the duration of bar prep, but now I’m so grateful I did that – and so is everyone else.  I can do my own thing all day without bothering anyone and then I decide when I interact with the world.  It sounds self-centered (and it is) but it’s necessary.

In case you wanted to know, here’s what a day in the life of my bar prep looks like.

  • 5:45am: Get up, Work out, Shower, Breakfast, Check email.
  • 7:30am: Study – often using the Pomodoro Method.  I turn the French doors into my to-do list every day.
  • 11:15am: Lunch.
  • 12:00pm: Meet up with my carpool group.  The highlight of my day is getting to play with my friend’s dog, Oscar.
  • 1:00pm: BarBri class.
  • 5:00pm: Relax, Dinner.
  • 7:00pm: Study, sometimes in the pool when I need to avoid all distractions.
  • 11:00pm: Bed.

Studying for the bar involves a lot of sitting which results in my body getting all types of sore.  During my study breaks, I often ice my sore back, neck and shoulders.  I’m grateful when my massage therapist, Thomas Porter, runs a special so I can afford him.  I told him that he needs to run one the week before the bar exam.

My one weekly indulgence is still watching Deadliest Catch on Tuesday nights.  It reminds me that studying is nothing compared to working on a crab boat in the Bering Sea.

Every so often I have a mini freak out and I reach out to my lawyer friends who have survived the bar.  Their calls and emails keep me grounded.  They all say that if I follow the BarBri program that I’ll be fine.

Here are my tips for everyone who has a loved one studying for the bar:

  • If you’ve never studied for the bar, you have no idea what this is like.
  • A lot of the time, we’re not in a good mood.  Don’t be surprised if we have a short fuse when it comes to distractions and annoying things.
  • Don’t take it personally if we don’t have time to hang out or even return phone calls.
  • We can be optimistic about passing the bar and not be pleasant to be around in general.
  • If we’re in a bad mood, it’s not your job to make us laugh.
  • When we take a study break, there’s a good chance we don’t want to talk about how studying is going.  We may have nothing to talk about because all we do is study so fill us in on what’s going on in the real world.
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Study Break: Time to Smile

As the semester winds down I, like many of my classmates, find myself exhausted and stressed most of the time.   With finals on the horizon, we’re spending most of our time outlining and studying for our exams, which are the sole basis for many of our grades.  Yesterday, my friend in the law school’s IT department remarked that it looked like I never left the computer lab all weekend because every time he saw me, I was sitting at the same computer, toiling away at my papers.

yip yip yip yip yip yip
Image by It’s Marie the Bee via Flickr

When I’m studying for hours on end, sometimes I need to take a short break to breathe, relax, and smile.  I am very grateful to certain persons and entities who post videos on YouTube who have made me smile during my law school career.  There is a common theme across all these videos:  the main characters are always doing whatever makes sense to them and it works out in the end.  I think along with making me smile, these videos give me hope that if I keep doing what my gut tells me I should be doing, that everything will work out in the end.

Here are my top four entities on YouTube that I watch during a study break:

  1. The Yip Yips – These two martians always make me smile with their innocence and honest perspective.  I have memorized nearly every classic clip of  these two encountering objects for the first time.  If I am ever in Sesame Street’s neighborhood, I will seriously contact the show and ask if I could meet these little guys.  Happy happy happy boing boing boing boing!
  2. FoamyJonathan Ian Mathers is somewhat of a genius for creating this cartoon squirrel that says what many of us wish we could say.  Foamy’s bluntness and honest perspective on everyday life validates many of my views.  He validates the fact that sometimes life sucks and that people often act in moronic ways.  I look forward to every new video of this creature and the rest of the cast.
  3. Tom Green – I watched a lot of Tom Green videos during my 1L year and tried to pick out how many torts he was committing.  There was a lot of infliction of emotional distress.  I like him because he knows that he’s pushing people’s buttons, but it’s always done with an underlying sense that he means no harm.  It’s usually just to be funny and to see people’s reactions to the unexpected.
  4. Where the Hell is Matt – Matt Harding is proof that the American dream is still alive.  He quit his job and took a trip around the world.  He danced a cheesy jig everywhere he went.  He made a video of his dancing.  Stride liked it so much that they paid for him to do it two more times.  One of the things I like about Matt’s work is that there is no underlying agenda.  He’s just a guy who likes to dance – and he does it in some of the most beautiful places in the world.

Thank you to everyone who makes studying for finals a little less painful.  To everyone who loves a law student – we’re not going to be completely human for the next few weeks.  Thank you in advance for being patient, loving, and occasionally giving us reasons to smile.

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