The Almost Daily Word – The Seven Deadly Sins of Bar Exam Preparation – #7 – Naivete

It’s a naive domestic Burgundy without any breeding, but I think you’ll be amused by its presumption. James Thurber – American author, cartoonist, and celebrated wit.

Thirty-five years of experience with the California Bar Exam has led me to reflect on the seven deadly sins of bar exam preparation – self-defeating traits that predict bar exam failure. Number 7 is:

Being Naive

One common definition of “naïve” is “lacking in worldly wisdom.” A law school colleague offered this cold and, I think, accurate take: “…no experience with adversity… never been called out.”

“Naïve” and “innocent” are commonly used interchangeably, and to be naïve is often considered charming, as in: “Andy had a sweet, naïve look when he smiled.” However, more hard-hearted synonyms may be more appropriate in describing some 3-L’s, 4-L’s and, especially, repeaters: “unrealistic,” “gullible,” or, (we’re talking really cold-hearted here) “ignorant.” I admire the definitional distinction drawn by one person on “Yahoo! Answers:” “Naïve is when you already know. And innocent is when you shouldn’t know yet.”

In my opinion, if you are preparing for the California Bar Exam, you are being naïve if you presume that a commercial bar preparation course alone will suffice if:

– You have taken seven or fewer “bar courses” in law school, even in an ABA school.

The California Bar Exam tests 13 different areas of doctrinal law. All are taught in law school courses that typically last at least one semester. All are also taught in commercial bar review courses that typically last about two months. Seven is a number that I’m picking out of the air. But let me ask you this: How much real thought have you given to evaluating your ability to learn enough about the remaining six substantive bar exam topics in two months to pass the exam?

You may argue that there is a common understanding among law students and commercial courses that some subjects and, within those subjects, even some topics, are less likely than others to be tested. My response, as a former member of the California Committee of Bar Examiners and a former California State Bar Examinations Director is this: Both the Committee and the staff of the Office of Admissions believe that applicants should be prepared to address any topic within the scope of the examination. Ignore this tip from an insider at your peril.

– Your cumulative GPA in bar subjects in law school is 2.8 or less.

At least one longitudinal study has indicated that students at an ABA-accredited school who have taken seven or fewer “bar” courses in school and who have achieved a cumulative GPA in those course of 2.8 or below are as much as twice as likely to fail the exam on their first attempt as their classmates.

If this profile fits you, let me ask you this: If your law school offers bar preparation classes, have you taken all of them? If your law school offers individual academic support counseling, have you taken advantage of it?

If any of the clues to Sin #7 rings a bell with you, are you prepared to adjust your law school study or Bar Exam preparation? If you’re not, are you being innocent or naïve?