Preparing for the Virginia Bar Examination

by Jamison Koehler on January 30, 2010

In 24 days I will be sitting down to take another bar, this time in Virginia.  The idea, which seemed like a pretty good idea when I came up with it last fall, is that I will be able to extend my criminal law practice from D.C. into Virginia, which is also where I live.

Strangely enough, I have only good memories about the last time I took the bar.  That was in Pennsylvania.  I paid the $2500 or so to take the BARBRI class, and for six and a half hours a day for ten weeks (including class time), I studied contracts and torts and constitutional law and criminal law and property.

Nobody bothered me.  My wife and kids didn’t disturb me in my study.  Shhhhh.  Daddy’s studying for the bar.  I had every excuse to bow out of social engagements.  I would love to but, well, I’m studying for the bar.

And when the bar exam itself came around I felt comfortable and confident.  It was almost an enjoyable experience.

It is completely different this time because, four weeks out, I am feeling woefully unprepared.  For this I blame a friend and colleague who took and passed the Virginia bar in July.  No problem, he said.  I bought myself the Barbri books and I did some outlines and that was it.

I forgot to ask him how many hours he devoted to this.

So I was complacent.  It took me a month or so to locate the Barbri materials on Craigslist and then a couple of more weeks to actually open the books.  Because, after all, there was this distraction of my legal practice going on.

Because my wife has the right answer to everything having to do with the law, I asked her how many hours she thought I should devote to my studying.  Three hundred, she says.  Three hundred HOURS?  Well, she says, only if you want to pass it.

I started with the Multi-State Bar Materials, the general subjects that are tested by every state in multiple-choice format.  And I was feeling good about this because it all came back pretty quickly:  the levels of scrutiny in constitutional law, future interests and Shelley’s Rule in property, the parol evidence rule and collateral estoppel in contracts.  Even the Rule Against Perpetuities came back to me.

So again I got complacent.  And I allowed days and then weeks to slip by.

Recently I opened the Virginia materials for the first time, and was shocked by the amount of material I will need to cover:  trusts and estates, civil and federal criminal procedure, domestic relations, corporations, professional responsibility, equity, commercial paper, agency, partnership, local government law, creditors’ rights, secured transactions, conflict of laws, taxation, surety.

Up until a day or so ago, I didn’t even know what secured transactions are.  They certainly weren’t covered on the Pennsylvania Bar, and I must have missed the day they covered it in law school.

Now I am beginning to panic.  There is no way I am going to be able to cover all this material in four weeks.  And this while I have clients with real-life problems that need to be tended to.  There is no more leave me in peace, Daddy is studying for the bar.

And then I went to the Solosez listserv luncheon yesterday and two women announced that they too are studying for the Virginia bar.  Great, I thought, because misery loves company.  Yes, they said.  The bar in July.

You can be sure that the VERY FIRST THING I will do if I fail the bar, the absolute first thing, will be to come back to this blog and delete this entry.  Because, after all, who needs the humiliation?

Now I’ve got to figure out what a secured transaction is.

More like this:

The Virginia Bar Exam:  How Much Studying is Enough?

Surviving the Virginia Bar Exam:  Reflections After Day One

Applying to Take the Maryland Out-of-State Lawyer’s Bar Exam

23 Comments on “Preparing for the Virginia Bar Examination

  1. If you do happen to fail the Virginia bar, Jamison (and I’m not suggesting you will), you will be in good company. I’m sure you know that John F. Kennedy, Jr. and Chicago Mayor Richard Daley both failed twice. It would be a story you would laugh about someday and tell your grandchildren. My daughter, who just turned 16, failed her driver’s road test the day before her birthday (just the parking portion – they wouldn’t let her on the road after that). All she wanted for her birthday was to be able to drive by herself. Her father told her that he too failed the first time and so she has joined an elite group. Her older sister assured her that one of the smartest people they know, their cousin Laura, who attends an Ivy League institution, failed the driver’s test not once but twice. Believe it or not, this actually made her feel better! She is now hoping not to set a new family record.

  2. I thought it was just me. Doing the same for the NY bar.
    Last time I had a question about the UCC was when I took contracts..

  3. Mary Anne: Thanks for the encouragement. That is in fact news to me about Kennedy and Daley having both failed. I did know that Hillary Clinton — one of the smartest people around — failed one of her bars the first time she took it. So, yes, I guess I would be in good company. I was complaining to my wife about the potential embarrassment. She said, don’t worry about it, nobody even knows that you are planning to TAKE the bar. That’s when I had a pretty good idea that she doesn’t read this blog.

    Frustrated: I feel ya! Thanks for posting. Best wishes.

  4. I feel your pain. I too am taking the VA bar in 4.5 short days and while it seemed like a good idea last fall – not so much as time is drawing near. I am trying to keep it in perspective that failing is not the end of the world. I will be embarrassed and maybe my ego will be bruised – but in the big scheme of things this is not going to make or break my life. Good Luck!

  5. That’s the attitude I’m trying to take as well. Then I tell myself, hey, I’ve studied so hard already. Would I really want to do this again?

  6. As a liscensed Va attorney I remember the Va Bar being one of the most physically/mentally painful experiences of my life–and I’ve endured childbirth 4 times! Childbirth was easy! I thought my bar taking days were behind me until my husband was offered a job in Calif(which is where were both from). I was happy about moving back home until I realized that it meant not only did I have to take another bar, but I had to take the Calif bar. I just it last week and I’m sure I failed. The thought of having to take that exam again in July makes me sick. Maybe I’ll just talk my husband into baby #5–that would be so much easier.

  7. Kelly: Yes, I hear the California bar is grueling. We have a good friend of ours — very bright and a top-notch attorney — who failed it last summer. I wish you all the best — with the bar or with #5, whichever the case may be.

  8. I took the GA bar in Feb and am planning on taking the VA bar in July. I know I’m glutton for punishment! Anyway I am looking to do VA on the cheap and not go through those grueling BarBri classes again. If anyone knows where I can get hold of the filled in BarBri workbook and the VA essay book please let me know, no one seems to be selling them. And good luck to all you VA takers

  9. Gerad:

    You do sound like a glutton for punishment, though I guess it makes a lot of sense to do it this way. After all, you already know the MBE issues from the Georgia bar. Now all you need to do is learn the Virginia-specific material for the essays.

    I do in fact have all of the Barbri and PMBR materials from the July 2009 test, including the filled-in Barbri workbook and VA essay book. But I have already promised the materials to someone else. I’ll let you know if she decides not to take them.

    I prefer some of the PMBR lectures to the Barbri materials. For example, the Dan Fessler lecture on contracts is far, far superior to the “Armadillo eating taco” approach of the Barbri guy.

  10. Dear Jamison,

    Congratulations! I see you passed. I didn’t, with one week to prepare after a last-minute move across the country. Please let me know if you want to sell your materials, because I would like to purchase some immediately. I don’t mean to be insensitive to your victory, but this Feb was my second wrangle with VA (first time I missed by four points in 2006) and then passed and practiced in WA since 2008. Do you have any materials you’re willing to sell or lease to me to prepare for July’s exam? I must start immediately because my sister’s memorial service is the week before the bar, my brother-in-law’s wedding in TX a week before that, and I have hired a tutor and do not need to take a course. I specifically need the big Virginia BarBri outline book and the BarBri Virginia Essay practice question book. I would be grateful if you could accommodate me.

    Best regards,

  11. PS. Virginia is actually the most difficult, despite California’s reputation since it tests more subjects with more intricacy, it requires the highest MPRE score (along with a couple of other states), and it accepts a limited number of lawyers. The pass rate this time was 57.2% – a far cry higher than the 47% it was the first time I took it. It allocates its slots to the July testers and the Feb testers get the leftovers. It’s well-known the July exam is easier as well.

  12. Lisa and Allison: Thank you both for congratulations. Now I’ll have to go check the list myself.

    Allison: I wish I could accommodate you but I have already given my materials away.

  13. Failed twice, third time barely passed! Now I enjoy 245,000.00 minimum annual salary 🙂 HANG IN THERE!!

  14. Jamison-
    Congrats! Now I have need to buy those materials from you! Do you still have them or suggestion on where to get them?

  15. If you know anyone who has copies of materials for taking the esssy portion of the Va State Bar exam. Please contact me.

  16. I would like to know if you were at all successful in securing the essay booklet for your bar exam. I am taking just the essay portion on Feb 26, 2013. If you can fed-x the same to me i would appreciate it. I am willing to pay. I am applying for re-admission and all I have to take is the Essay portion. Contact me at my e-mail

  17. Please time is of the essence. I need the study materials for the Va ESSAY PORTION ONLY.

  18. Mr. Stith: I am sorry but I gave away all my study materials a long time ago. Try Craigslist.

  19. Six days and counting. I need Bar review materials for the VA Essay portion only.

  20. There are only five days left. If I can not get a copy of the essay booklet, can anyone out there tell what to expect from the ten items that are on the exam to make up the tenth exercise on the exam? I need help immediately. What is the tenth item?

  21. I recently decided to move back to VA after law school and take the VA bar exam. (I will also be taking the MD exam next). I came across your blog while doing some research and it has been very helpful. Thank you for your insight!

  22. Rachel: Thank you. My pleasure. And best wishes for both the Virginia and Maryland exams.

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