I am excited to have Dr. Mary Campbell Gallagher, the founder and president of BarWrite® and BarWrite Press (a bar-preparation company offering classes to help foreign-trained lawyers pass the New York bar exam and publishing study guides), stopping by to talk about all things relating to the bar exam. She is an expert in her field with over 20 years of bar preparation experience. Not only that, she is a graduate of Harvard Law School with a Ph.D. in theoretical linguistics. This interview will be in three parts – check out Part II and Part III.
Without further ado …
Lee: How did you get started working with bar candidates?
Mary: About 20 years ago, a colleague asked me if I would teach a friend of hers to write the bar exam essays, I did, and one referral led to another. I had worked as a lawyer, and I wanted to combine that experience with my experience writing textbooks and curriculum materials. Once I began teaching bar candidates, I found I relished the challenge of helping them boost their scores. What a pleasure. Passing the bar exam in a huge event in students’ lives. I have never looked back.
Does the bar exam require a different skill set than law school?
Yes, indeed, Lee. The bar exam requires thinking like a practitioner, and what practitioners do is solve clients’ problems. In addition to knowing basic law, bar candidates need key skills that are also the basic skills for practitioners, namely, factual legal analysis, organization, and time management. Bar exam graders and law school deans alike have told me how happy they are that my classes and books teach students how to do factual analysis. It is foundational.
How did you develop your own expertise?
Happily, I took time before entering law school to teach, write textbooks, and do graduate work, so I got started early on writing books and articles professionally. I did a Ph.D. in theoretical linguistics at the University of Illinois, which included studying for a year at MIT. Then I attended Harvard Law School, which is enormously stimulating, I worked in law offices with high standards for writing, and I’ve kept on writing for publication, including many reviews and articles in national publications, plus two study guides for the bar exam. Meanwhile, I am involved in opposing skyscrapers in Paris, so I am learning French law, a civil law system. And I am constantly learning from serving on the New York State Bar Association Committee on Legal Education and Admission to the Profession.
When should law students get interested in the bar exam?
If students intend to practice law, they should get interested in the bar exam on the first day of law school. Then they should make sure they take the right law school classes in their second and third years. If they discover that they need help, they should get help right away.
Problems in the first year of law school predict problems on the bar exam.
In my more than 20 years of preparing students for the bar exam, I have found that the biggest cause of failure is bar candidates’ not knowing enough law, or not knowing how to apply the law, or both. Law school is the time to solve those problems. Then, by the time they reach the third year, students are ready to choose bar review courses. One of my most popular free tip sheets is the one on how to choose a full bar review course.
Since law students been taking essay exams for the entirety of law school, why do you think so many students struggle with the essays on the bar exam?
Wherever I go, both in my courses in New York City and when I teach at law schools elsewhere, I find that law school students think they are good writers. That’s often alas because no one ever told them the truth. So the bar exam can come as a shock. They suddenly discover that they have a writing problem or a time-management problem, or both. Then law firm partners may express their own shock and dismay at these graduates’ writing. Paradoxically, once students start to improve their writing, they accept the fact that there was room for improvement all along.
For more information, students can visit us at BarWrite®.com. They can read free reports and articles, they can sign up for two free chapters from my book Scoring High on Bar Exam Essays and updates on programs, and they can sign up for our weekly newsletter with tips on legal writing and speaking. Our blog at BarWrite.com offers numerous free tips on preparing for the bar exam, legal writing, and speaking, as do my guest posts on Lawyerist.com. The BarWrite® web site also explains our longer courses and our boot camps for the essays and the MPT.
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Thanks, Mary! Your insights are appreciated. Tune in this week for more on Dr. Mary Campbell Gallagher’s bar review programs and her suggestions for finding exam success.
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Check out these other helpful posts:
- Part II: How NOT to be an MBE Victim
- Part III: Has Using the Computer Made it More Difficult to Write Concisely?
- Getting an Early Start on Bar Exam Preparation.
- Selecting the right bar exam tutor for you.
- Five tips for studying for the bar exam while working.
- Check out our reviews of various bar exam tools.
Image from BarWrite.