The process of studying for the bar exam can seem overwhelming at first because of the vast amount of courses that you’re expected to master in just a few short months. One of the most important tools that you need is a way to make this material more manageable, so you can spend most of your time practicing and memorizing. While there are a number of different ways to tackle these subjects, here’s what I did.
Introduction to the Subject
The first thing to do is to gain an overview of the material that you’re learning. There are a few different ways to do this, but I watched Kaplan bar lectures. These videos are usually several hours long and can be a huge time sink if you’re not careful. I would usually begin my study day with a lecture on 1.5X speed. While the lecture was playing, I would fill in the blanks on the script that Kaplan provided and try to actively pay attention to what was being said. If I was having trouble copying something down or understanding a concept, then I would rewind the video and/or slow down a particular portion.
Review and Outline
The long fill-in-the-blanks exercise that I completed during the lecture served as the basis for an outline that I wrote within 3-4 days of the lecture. But this wasn’t any normal outline that I might use for a law school course. This was an extremely short outline. To give you a sense of just how short it was: my longest outline (constitutional law) was just four pages (to be sure, my outlines contained almost no margins and were written in 10-point font). Let’s take a look at an actual section of one of my bar outlines. This is all that my torts outline had to say about proximate cause, which fell under “Negligence” and followed subsections on “Duty,” “Standard of Care,” “Breach,” and “Actual Cause”:
- unforeseeable extent of injury: D liable for full extent;
- unforeseeable injury type (eating poison, not it exploding);
- unforeseeable manner: subsequent unforeseeable acts of 3d parties cut off liability (not subsequent neg. conduct—liability extends to all injuries sustained by foreseeable Ps like rescuers, bystanders, etc.)
I chose to include this section because it seems easier to understand than some of my other ones. Here, I spelled out most words, using just a few abbreviations like “D” for defendant, “3d” for third, “neg.” for negligent, and “P” for plaintiff. Many other sections contained additional abbreviations that would be completely unintelligible to anyone else but me. This is OK: an outline only needs to be understood by the person writing it. The thing that should really jump out at you from reading this is that proximate cause is really about foreseeability. Accordingly, I could have just written: “Proximate cause: anything foreseeable,” but this is a major topic, so I wanted to cover it thoroughly.
There are really three proximate cause issues: unforeseeable extent of injury, type of injury, and manner of injury. I noted that an injury that is unforeseeable does not pose a proximate cause problem. This is the egg shell skull rule from 1L year. For unforeseeable injury type, I had probably written something not very helpful initially, but replaced it with an example from an MBE question I had gotten wrong and wanted to make sure to get right next time. Finally, for unforeseeable manner, I emphasized that unforeseeable acts of third parties that go beyond mere negligence cut off liability and added a note about rescuers and bystanders after I got an MBE question on this wrong.
Memorize and Update
I did two things when I finished an outline. First, I made sure to continue reading over the outline periodically as I was writing other outlines. This was an active reading. As I read a rule, I would try to repeat it out loud without looking. Eventually, I would see a subsection header and be able to run through all or most of the rules without looking. Second, I practiced a lot of MBE questions and essays (I talk about practicing in another post). As I missed concepts, I would write a short note in my actual outline, so that I wouldn’t miss a similar question again. This also gave me concrete examples from which I could analogize in order to understand the law better. When I reviewed my outlines, I would memorize these examples along with the rules.
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