If you are at a law school that does not require Evidence and if you’re on the fence about whether or not to take an Evidence class, let me set you straight: take it. Start thinking now about when to schedule it, whether or not it’s a required course.
It’s no secret that law school’s standard pedagogical methods don’t translate well to the bar exam or to a law practice, and its emphasis on theory and policy isn’t super helpful on test day. But Evidence is one of the few law school classes that helps you prepare for both the bar exam and for the actual practice of law, whether or not you plan to be a litigator.
Six semesters of law school sometimes feels like it drags on forever, but it’s not a lot of time to fit in all the electives that you might want to take. If you focus on the core subjects tested on the bar, you’ll be able to balance scheduling classes that might enhance your career prospects with those that will greatly increase your chances of passing the bar exam.
Evidence Will Help You Prepare for the Bar Exam
Unless you plan to take the Louisiana bar, you’re going to have to take the Multistate Bar Exam. The MBE consists of 200 questions drawn from seven different subjects, though only 175 questions are scored. Twenty-five questions are drawn from each of the following subject areas:
- Constitutional Law
- Civil Procedure
- Criminal Law and Procedure
Each subject is equally weighted, which means that there are 25 scored Evidence questions on the MBE. That is enough questions to make a huge difference in your MBE score, so you must be prepared for Evidence on the MBE.
And remember that Evidence is considered one of the most difficult classes in law school!
You probably noticed that the first six subjects—torts, property, con law, contracts, civil procedure, and criminal law—are basically the 1L curriculum at most law schools. But despite having taken at least one course on these six subjects, you will still have to study them for the bar because law school often does not adequately prepare students for the bar exam.
When it comes time for bar prep, you’ll want to be refreshing your knowledge as much as possible, rather than learning these subjects for the first time. Believe me, pressures will build up around you as you prepare for the bar exam. You will almost certainly feel like you have too much to learn in too small a period of time.
Evidence Will Help You Prepare for Practice
One trope you will hear from lawyers is that neither law school nor the bar exam prepare you for the practice of law. It’s true! One of the best decisions a law student can make to actually prepare for practice is to take Evidence.
Look, one of the foundations of our legal system is the trial. In our industry, you most often settle disputes at trial, settle disputes to avoid trial, or try to make agreements that will prevent disputes that might go to trial. So almost every aspect of our legal system flows from and is related to the trial.
Obviously litigators need to know the laws of evidence, but transactional attorneys do, too. If you are a transactional attorney your clients might end up in court one day where litigators will sift through miles of documents—evidence—that you helped to create. You’d better know best practices for 1) not creating admissible evidence that is harmful to your client, and 2) creating admissible evidence that is helpful to your client!
Most importantly, a lawyer can’t really practice law unless that lawyer understands the law, and a lawyer can’t really understand the law unless that lawyer understands the basics of the laws of evidence. Evidence sounds intimidating, or boring, with many hundreds of technical rules that won’t affect most lawyers on a day-to-day basis. True.
But the laws of evidence are the framework of how the law works and of how the law thinks. The laws of evidence do more than just announce that the right party ought to win, or that the best argument should win, or that the most just outcome should prevail. The law of evidence does more than that. It demonstrates what the legal system values as proof, how we sort through competing evidence, how rules can protect us from weaknesses in our human nature, and how just process can lead to just results.
When to Take Evidence
This is the tough question and it depends on a lot of factors. If your grades weren’t great during your 1L year, you might want to load 2L year up with classes that really interest you to boost your GPA and so you might not have time for evidence. Or, if you are deathly afraid of the bar exam, you might push evidence to your 3L year so that you’ll have taken it closer in time to the bar exam.
Your school might not offer evidence every semester, or might offer it at times that conflict with other courses you need, or you might have a preferred professor to take evidence with. There are a lot of variables as to when to take it.
But the important thing is that you take evidence. It’s a great class and will help make bar prep so much easier.