Unless your bar exam doesn’t have a word limit or you’re a competitive typist, one of the most important aspects of your bar essay preparation is likely to be learning how to write succinctly and when to put the pen (or keyboard) down. The answer is to obviously write as much as you need to and stop when you’re done, but what exactly does it mean to be “done?” In this post, I’ll be talking about how to write a complete and succinct rule statement. In Part II, I’ll discuss analyses.
When I review student essays, I read rule statements that state more law than is necessary. The only law that is necessary to mention is the law that is directly applicable to the question. Consider the following hypothetical:
Dan recently left his parents house in State A and moved to State B for a new job as a professional sign holder. Although Dan loves new his job and would really like to stay in State B, he sorely misses his parents and often stays with them on the weekends. Sometimes, Dan sees his friend Perry who lives next door to Dan’s parents in State A. Last Saturday night, Dan destroyed Perry’s $100k fruit basket, while negligently practicing his foxtrot in Perry’s living room. Perry brought a state law negligence claim against Dan in federal district court in State A.
Does the court have subject matter jurisdiction over the case?
While you might wonder whether the court has personal jurisdiction over Dan or whether there could be some basis for federal question jurisdiction, the answer to this particular question will depend only on whether the court has diversity jurisdiction (whether the parties are citizens of different states and whether the amount in controversy is greater than $75k). An analysis of diversity jurisdiction will require an assessment of the Dan and Perry’s citizenship and a brief discussion of the amount in controversy.
Here’s a rule statement that’s way too long to address this hypothetical:
The federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction and may only hear cases that the U.S. Constitution authorizes them to hear. There are two bases for subject matter jurisdiction: federal question jurisdiction and diversity jurisdiction. The courts have federal question jurisdiction when the plaintiff’s cause of action arises under federal law. They may exercise diversity jurisdiction when there is complete diversity (no state appears on both sides of the “v”). Corporations are deemed to be citizens of the states in which they are incorporated and also the states in which their corporate nerve center is located. Individuals are citizens of the last state in which they resided and intended to remain indefinitely. Further, diversity jurisdiction requires that the amount in controversy exceed $75,000. The plaintiff’s claimed amount will only be set aside if it appears to a legal certainty that the claim is really for less than the jurisdictional amount.
This rule statement very eloquently discusses “limited jurisdiction,” federal question jurisdiction, corporate citizenship, and the standard for pleading the amount in controversy, but none of those rules ultimately makes any difference to the analysis. In your analysis, you’ll only be discussing diversity jurisdiction, the citizenship of the parties, and the amount in controversy.
Here’s a rule statement that addresses only what the hypothetical calls for:
Diversity jurisdiction requires that no plaintiff be a citizen of the same state as a defendant. The amount in controversy must be greater than $75k. Individuals are citizens of the last state where they resided and intended to remain indefinitely.
Strategies if You’re Having Trouble
Plan out Your Rule Statement
The best thing that you can do if you find yourself writing rule statements that are longer than necessary is to plan out your answer beforehand and follow your plan. How you plan out your answer is a highly individualistic process, but here’s one way you might plan out a rule statement for this question. Since you were asked about the court’s subject matter jurisdiction, you might note “SMJ” on your scratch paper. Then you might think about which type of subject matter jurisdiction could apply. Realizing that diversity jurisdiction could be appropriate here, you might write “SMJ-Div.” After this, you have to think about what diversity jurisdiction issues apply. Here, only individual citizenship and the amount in controversy needs to be discussed, so you might write “SMJ-Div-Individual, AC” or something to that effect. Don’t worry if you don’t understand the abbreviations. What’s important is that you find a way to plan out your answer that works for you.
Hybrid Technique: Plan and Update
Now, I never touched a piece of scratch paper while preparing for my bar exams and didn’t formally plan out any of my answers. I didn’t even outline any of my papers in middle school, high school, or college. Even when professors told me to turn in an outline, I’d usually just turn in a few pages of disorganized notes in paragraph form and call it a day. I just don’t like this kind of stuff. Nevertheless, the bar exam did force me to use a planning process of sorts because planning allowed me to use my time more efficiently. First, I would read the question and think about what law I wanted to use and how I would argue the facts. Second, I would write out the primary headers to each part of the question on my actual exam answer (no scratch paper). Under each header, I would write a quick issue statement. Third, I would write a very short summary of the basic law that I had thought of immediately following the issue statements Finally, I would write my analyses, but as I wrote, I almost always remembered details that I hadn’t included in my statement of the basic rule. I almost always added these additional details to my rule statement at the same time that I was analyzing those rules in the analysis.
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Did you find this post helpful? Check out some other great articles:
- When and Where I Studied for the Bar Exam
- Tackling Bar Exam Materials Like a Pro
- What You Can Do Now to Prepare for the Bar Exam
- Can Studying Early Help You Pass the Bar Exam?
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