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Surviving the Virginia Bar Exam: Reflections After Day One

Jamison KoehlerLaw Practice

Norfolk, Va. — Before starting law school, I read a number of books on how to survive your first year.  One book dealt with law school etiquette.  Top among its rules was not to discuss an examination with friends afterwards.  There is no point to doing this, the book said.  Both sides – the side that did well and the side that did less well – will feel bad, and the person that did less well will end up resenting the other person for making him or her feel stupid.

Many of my fellow students seemed to have read the same book, because in fact few of them ever seemed inclined to discuss the exam after it was over.  The feeling seemed to be, hey, it’s behind us.  We can’t do anything about it now.  Let’s move on.

That was never my style.  I always wanted to rehash the issues raised on the examination to see what I had done right and where I had missed things.  Fortunately, there was another guy who felt the same way as I did.  And fortunately he took the Pennsylvania bar exam on the same day as I did.  After the exam, we sought each other and went through the exam question by question to get a sense of how well we had done.

Not knowing anyone here in Norfolk for the Virginia bar, I was in a quandary after yesterday’s morning essay section.  I felt that I had done well.  But there was no way to  confirm this.  And the other people milling around after the morning session seemed to approach the exam as most of my colleagues at law school:  You move on.  You talk about the weather.  You talk about everything but the examination.

I struggled more with the afternoon essay session.  Bob Feinberg of PMBR noted in one of his lectures that the bar examiners almost invariably load the afternoon session when you are tired with the more difficult questions.  I felt this was true.

There was one fact pattern involving two neighbors.  One neighbor, Roy, does all sorts of bad things.  You get excited as you are reading the fact pattern because you can easily spot all of his transgressions:  invasion of privacy, private nuisance, trespass.  Then the kicker:  it is not his aggrieved neighbor Jake who brings the law suit, but it is Roy.  And the neighbor doesn’t seemed to have done much wrong apart from building a fence to protect himself from Roy’s malfeasance.  What is the basis for Roy’s suit?  And what is Jake’s defense?

I had to think about this one for a while.  Alright.  What does Roy do?  He probably brings a suit in equity demanding that Jake remove the fence.  What are the grounds? Is there some type of prescriptive easement?  Nuisance?  I don’t know.

And what does Jake do?  I was similarly perplexed.  Finally, after scratching my head for a few minutes and then taking a water break, I came up with the defense of unclean hands.  This gave me the opportunity to detail all of Roy’s earlier transgressions.  But I had no idea if this was right, and I was still stewing about this question as I waited in line to hand in the USB device that contained my carefully written essays.

I struck up a conversation with a woman named Kathryn as we waited.  After we had exchanged a few pleasantries, we broached one question and then another.  The next thing you know we were sitting in the lobby and going through each question subsection by subsection.  We started with the afternoon session because the bar examiners allow you to take the questions home with you so that we still had those questions with us.   After we had finished the afternoon session, we went to the morning questions to the extent we could remember them.

I felt very good after this session with Kathryn, and I am confident that I did well enough on the essays going into my strong suit this morning, the multiple choice questions on the multi-state bar examination (MBE).  I had missed some things she had gotten, and vice versa, but we both felt confident that we had not missed any major issues on  the exam.  She too, for example, had come up with the unclean hands defense in the Roy and Jake fact pattern.

I was distressed that there were no questions on this exam related to commercial paper, secured transactions, or creditors’ rights.  These are subject matters that I did not take in law school and that had not been on the Pennsylvania bar when I took that in 2006.  So these are the areas that I had diligently studied to the exclusion of other areas such as criminal law.  And I was loaded for bear, just waiting for the bar examiners to challenge me in one of those areas.  I was disappointed.

For the record, here are the subject matters that were covered:

  • Question 1:  Contracts/Virginia Civil Procedure
  • Question 2:  Trusts
  • Question 3:  Criminal Law
  • Question 4:  Federal Civil Procedure
  • Question 5:  Contracts/Professional Responsibility
  • Question 6:  Contracts/Domestic Relations/Arbitration
  • Question 7:  Contracts/Real Property
  • Question 8:  Property/Equity/Torts
  • Question 9:  Local Government/Torts