Friday, September 16, 2011

BARBRI or "How did I find myself paying for tuition all over again"

Ah, the joys of bar review.  After receiving my credit card bill for the month (not a pleasant sight), vivid memories of tuition payment times come rushing back.  Law school was not a cheap experience.

UPS said that these weigh 9 lbs
I find myself in a curious situation, although given the current economic conditions, not unique by any stretch of the imagination.  I am currently, shall we say, "between careers," and thus, without a steady source of income.  Happily, the last decade or so between bar exams has not been spent on endless binge drinking and visits to that other, more common type of bar.  I had a steady career, managed people, and tucked away a few pennies here and there.  Bought a house a couple of years after taking the California bar, and since it was before the bubble, it appreciated well - not in the triple digits, but nicely.  So, when we sold the house recently, even with the downturn in prices, we made enough of a profit to give ourselves a small cushion.  Moving to Florida also cut back on a lot of expenses (cost of living in Southern California is out of control).

So, since the bar exam is not until February of next year, and BARBRI classes don't start until December, I decided to pay the full tuition up front and get my hands on their many tomes of knowledge (shout out to all D&D fans out there) and get a head start in the review.

For those uninitiated in the ways of bar review (and really, do you find this blog interesting?), it works like this.  You pay a few thousand dollars (no, really, a few thousand dollars) after you graduate from law school for the privilege of learning the material you need to pass the bar exam.  Once you pass the bar exam, you can be sworn in to the state bar and practice law without having to look over your shoulder (no, Board of Bar Examiners, I have never, ever, practiced law without a license...given bad legal advice to those foolish enough to listen, sure, but never practiced law).

Now, you ask, why didn't I learn the necessary information in law school?  By the way, what law did I specialize in law school?  Ah, young Padawan, let me enlighten you in the ways of the force.  My best analogy for law school is this: law school is a foreign language course where you learn Legalese.  You learn to read this foreign language, learn how to speak it and how to write in it.  You learn to think in its devious grammar and obscure syntax.  You learn the demented traditions of the native Legalese population.  Sure, a select few do specialize in Tax Law (an even more obscure local variation of the Legalese language), or Patent Law, or what have you, but 99% of law students (and no, I don't have any factual basis for this number) graduate from law school as generalists, fluent only in standard Legalese.  Any specialization is achieved, by and large, on the job.

As such, we learn the thinking part of the legal practice, and obviously, the bar exam can't have any thinking in it (no, Board of Bar Examiners, I'm not denigrating the bar exam...too much).  The whole point of law school is to tease out the nuances, the subtle ambiguities of the law, the gray areas, the unexplored frontiers.  Therefore, this type of thinking has no place in a standardized test.  The bar exam is all about Black Letter Law, a fiction that does not exist (well, ok, some points of law are so established that they do count and are absolute, true or false issues).  As you might surmised from my aside, Black Letter Law are decided, unambiguous points of law, an answer that if you bubble incorrectly in the bar exam, you will absolutely be marked as "wrong."  There are, of course, essay questions in the bar, and these give you more latitude, but you still have to mention the required legal theories, causes of action, name a few cases, etc., and every correct mention yields you points.

Therefore, a huge majority (pretty much every sane and sound law school graduate) will gladly pay a few extra thousand dollars to enroll in a two month boot camp that starts virtually the day after you pick up your "diploma" (that fake, blank rolled up tube of paper you worked those three of four years to receive - the real one comes in the mail).  You sit for day after day of lectures on the hundreds of points of law that you need to memorize for the test.

Consider the above paragraphs a preview of my many diatribes on the bar review process that are sure to come once the classes begin, by the way.

So, of the many bar review courses out there, BARBRI is pretty much the 800 lb gorilla.  They have fancy lectures, many, many books, give you lots of practice exams, etc.  I took BARBRI the first time around, it worked, so might as well stick to whatever worked last time, right?  We will see how it pans out this time.

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