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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Summer Bar Review Tours


If you’ve just graduated from law school and are planning to take the bar exam in some state, you are well advised to pay for a bar preparation course (and it’s not cheap). These proceedings offer extensive lecture coverage of all the legal topics (commercial, property, criminal, evidence, torts, etc.) likely to be tested on the bar exam. Typically, the lectures are conducted five times a week, each lasting three hours (with two breaks), with video replays the next morning or afternoon. The students are also provided with study guides of intimidating size. Stir in the panic that graduates in this position feel (after all, their entire career is on the line), and it becomes quite an ordeal. In Florida one year, the bar examiners suddenly announced that only 50% percent of those taking the bar would be admitted to practice (down from 75%)—that first day in Miami was like trying to lecture to horses in a burning barn. On July 10, 1986, Michael Schmidt, one of our OSU law school graduates, was driving his Mercedes-Benz in downtown Columbus when a sinkhole opened up in front of the Palace Theater and swallowed his car. Counselor Schmidt was able to scramble from the vehicle (and the mayor subsequently bragged that Columbus routinely filled its potholes with luxury cars). When asked if he’d ever been through something that horrible before, Mike replied, “Well, there was the bar exam.”

These review lectures are usually given live by expert law professors from the particular fields. I entered into this lucrative sideline in 1975, eventually joined a nationwide bar review course organization, and finally—worn out—quit in 1988. The lectures are given twice a year: in the summer and again in early winter (the times bar exams are administered in most states). I gave five routine lectures: two each on the law of Contracts (a heavily tested subject), and one each on Sales, Commercial Paper (checks and promissory notes), and Secured Transactions (how creditors protect liens). Because the student feedback was good, the company sponsoring the lectures kept expanding my schedule, sending me all over the country, year after year. One summer I hit 15 cities in a month and a half without coming home! Since the lectures were at night and I had days to myself, this travel allowed me to get to know all sorts of cities fairly well: there was always a week in NYC each summer, another in LA, plus others in Chicago, Birmingham, Detroit, San Francisco, Minneapolis, Atlanta, Indianapolis, Tampa, Boston, and many more. I was an Air Force brat as a child, moving around the world, taught at law schools from the University of California Hastings (in San Francisco) to the University of North Carolina, Boston College, as well as three schools in the Midwest, and after I quit the bar review circuit, and stopped giving the lectures Barbara and I set up throughout the USA (267 of these over fifteen years; see “The Woman Who Runs My Life,” May 5), I retired from teaching law. When people ask me if part of the good life for me will be doing a lot of travelling, the answer is a decided no.

I learned a great deal about public speaking from these lectures. In Minneapolis, for example, year after year not only was there the usual camera pointed at me, but there was a monitor close by in my field of vision; for hours each night I couldn’t avoid seeing myself as I lectured. This taught me to stand straighter, to smile more, to be careful of personal grooming, to use gestures to help break up the monotony for the students who were looking at me, and so on. In some locations my voice was amplified, and from hearing it I learned to pitch my tones lower so the sound was easier on the listeners’ ears. All of this was very unlike my usual classroom behavior, where I’m a great wanderer, walking back and forth, up and down the aisles (startling some students, who hurriedly punch keys to turn off the video games, Facebook, or whatever was on their screens other than class notes). When I get close to the students and look them in the eye, they pay more attention, plus I can tell if they understand what’s going on better. Another benefit is that I learn their faces faster, making them into individuals, which always pays off.

In the bar review lectures, I became so immersed in the constant repetition of the same five lectures that I joked you could wake me from a sound sleep, tell me which lecture I was giving, point at the microphone, and I’d take it from there—no preparation required. This actually, accidentally, got tested one year (early 1980s, I reckon). I was spending a week in NYC giving these same five lectures, when a good friend invited me out to Long Island for a party. I went, there was too much drinking, great fun was had by all, but then I remember nothing until I woke up the next morning at the 9 a.m. bar review lecture I was giving in the basement of an Armenian Church, with 500 bar review applicants listening to my every word! THIS WAS TERRIFYING! It’s a scary thing to wake up teaching. Okay, in my life I had had too many drinks before this, but never to the point where I didn’t remember returning to Manhattan, going to bed, dressing, going to the lecture hall, and starting the lecture. Sweat suddenly appeared on my brow, I glanced at my watch, saw it was 9:20 a.m., heard what I was saying (it was the first part of the second Contracts three hour lecture), took a drink of water, and continued talking as if nothing at all was wrong. I then put extra effort into making the lecture as interesting and amusing as I could (though such entertainment was always built into my talks in order to keep the listeners’ minds alive). At the first ten minute break, I sat down behind the lectern with great foreboding—were they about to rush the podium and tear me to pieces while howling for their money back? But no. All I heard were the usual questions about particular points I’d made in the lecture; the students seemed unaware of my dilemma. Routinely at the end of these lectures, the students all fill out evaluations in each city, and they are later sent to the lecturer (after being tabulated at the company) so he/she can learn where improvement is needed. When the huge package of these arrived at my home in Columbus at the end of that summer, I sorted through them with growing dread, finally finding the second Contracts lecture reviews from that fateful day. They looked just like all the others. The NYC students were happy. “Great lecture” was a typical comment.

Ah, well, we were all young once and did stupid things, but I certainly learned my lesson this time. I never again had an alcoholic drink on the night before a bar review lecture (nor have I ever been even close to that drunk since). In 1988, exhausted from these repetitive travels for thirteen years, I turned in my microphone. But I’m pleased to think that thousands of students were more comfortable taking the bar after having sat through the Whaley’s bar review lectures. All over the country, I run into such students quite often, and—now lawyers—they’re still grateful.

Whether they remember the law I supposedly taught them is a different matter entirely.
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Related Posts:
“How I Became a Law Professor,” January 27, 2010
“The Socratic Dialogue in Law School,” January 31, 2010
“Clickers,” March 17, 2010
“The Sexy Promissory Note,” August 17, 2010
"Mortgage Foreclosures: The Disaster of Unintended Consequences," October 27, 2010
" Update: Mortgage Foreclosure and Missing Notes," November 16, 2010
"Women in My Law School Classroom," January 8, 2011
"I Threaten To Sure Apple Over an iPad Cover," April 8, 2011
"The Payment-In-Full Check: A Powerful Legal Maneuver," April 11, 2011
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013

1 comment:

  1. Some of your former students who are currently prepping for the Bar Exam actually have been commenting that we would have much preferred to have you as our professor in the Barbri Contracts lectures rather than the lady they had do it. Some of us found her to be almost unwatchable, whereas you would have been anything but!

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