We are pleased to welcome Adam Shajnfeld to the Bar Exam Toolbox blog. After studying for the February 2013 California Bar Exam, Adam swore he would try to make life easier for others by posting the outlines he prepared. He’s here with us today to talk about his background, what he’s doing now, and his bar exam experience. Welcome, Adam!
1. Could you tell our readers a little bit about yourself ?
I graduated from Columbia Law School in 2007. Since then, I’ve clerked for a federal district judge in Miami, and served as a litigation associate at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP, in New York.
About a year ago, my girlfriend asked if I would relocate to California with her, so that she could accept her dream job in Silicon Valley. I obliged, and joined Severson & Werson, P.C., a financial services litigation firm.
2. Could you share with us a bit about your bar exam experience?
I wasn’t thrilled about the prospect of sitting for another bar exam. It had been years since I passed New York’s, and California’s has a well-deserved reputation as perhaps the toughest in the nation. Nonetheless, love trumps reason, so I accepted the challenge!
I was surprised by the sheer volume of material covered on the exam. I decided it would be prudent to spend a full two months studying, on a full-time basis. I took a large, commercial preparation course, though I studied remotely (by internet video). Each day of the first month, I listened to the lecture, while crafting my own outline in the process. After the lecture, I’d review my outline, and fill in the holes—things I missed or didn’t initially understand. I would then review the outline once, and do two to three practice essays, reviewing the model answers carefully.
In the second month, when classes subsided, I worked to commit the outlines to memory, as best I could, and practice essay questions. In the morning, I would painstakingly go line-by-line, trying to recite each rule from memory, only moving forward if I got the item correct (and reviewing and retrying if I didn’t). In the afternoons to evenings, I would do three or four essays, carefully reviewing each answer.
3. Would you change anything about the way you studied for the bar exam if you did it over again?
It’s so hard to assess what was, or wasn’t, necessary. Without knowing by what margin I passed, I don’t know if everything I did was overkill, or absolutely necessary. It is important to take my advice with that grain of salt—I can say that it worked for me, but I can’t say that every item is necessary, or that other methods wouldn’t suffice. Perhaps I passed by a thread. Or perhaps my preparation was overkill, and I passed with flying colors.
The one thing I can say, without reservation, is that if I did this again, I’d focus more on a strategy for managing stress. As expected, the process can be very stressful. It is important to keep sane. I had many moments of self-doubt, and at least one “freak out.” These only distracted from the goal, and could have been avoided with a better plan. Studying is critical, but don’t ignore the importance of maintaining sanity.
4. You have launched a website offering free outlines for the California Bar Exam. What was your motivation to publish your outlines?
The exam can be so stressful, and there is so much material, that I wanted to do my part to help others navigate the process. Indeed, it was a promise I made—if I passed, I’d pass on the good fortune. I feel strongly about this in part because I think that the exam is a somewhat arbitrary measure of one’s “ability” to be a good attorney. I don’t think anyone capable should be thwarted simply because they can’t memorize reams of material and regurgitate it on a single exam. Thus, I wanted to do anything I could to help others—who are willing to put in the work—pass the exam.
5. Who do you think would benefit from studying with your outlines?
I think that anyone can potentially benefit, though I think the outlines are most useful for those who want to create their own outlines, and devise a sensible way to think about and digest the material, but don’t quite know how. These should offer a useful template; I intended them to reflect a logical, coherent, and concise way to structure and synthesize the material.
6. How do your outlines differ from what you can get from a commercial bar review course?
I’m not familiar with all of the commercial material available, but I know much of it is quite lengthy. It is certainly important to start by reading a more lengthy treatment, but to end with something more concise, and which contains the material most likely to be tested. For me, the outlines served that purpose. They are concise, flow logically and coherently, and are readable.
Of course, as a mere mortal, I make mistakes. The outlines are not guaranteed to be free of error, or to contain all relevant material, or to be current. But they should be a good model.
7. We are entering the bar exam season for February 2013. What are your top five tips for bar exam studiers taking the February bar exam?
- You must have a stress-management strategy. This is as important as your study strategy. Make sure to take breaks, have “me” and family/friend time, watch movies, listen to music, stretch, and exercise.
- Create a schedule and stick to it. Plot out what you will do for each day of preparation, from classes to essays to memorization. Once you finish a day’s work, don’t think or worry about the next day. The schedule will also reduce any internal feelings of chaos—if you feel disorganized, look at your schedule, and you’ll realize that there is a method to the madness.
- Avoid Internet message boards in which anonymous users post all manner of myths and hysteria about the exam. It will only stress you. Similarly, on the days of the exam, do not talk about the exam until it’s done. Seriously. Don’t get distracted by another’s assessment of what should, or shouldn’t, have been addressed in an answer.
- Remember that you only need to pass. You don’t need to get a perfect score.
- With hard work, you can do this. You don’t have to be a genius, but you have to work hard. It is a strange beast, for sure, but one that can be conquered.
8. Anything else you would like to add?
I would discourage studying without the aid of a reputable bar exam preparation company or tutor. Don’t guess what might be important, or whether an answer is likely to be sufficient. Other examinees will have the benefit of such experience, and you should too.
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Did you find this post helpful? Check out some other great articles:
- What are the Magic Outlines to Help Pass the Bar?
- Is Reading Sample Answers Stressing You Out?
- Why Do We Have to Write Out Practice Answers?
- The 7 Areas of Bar Exam Preparation