Thursday, June 30, 2011

Advice for the July 2011 Texas State Bar Exam Takers

Reposted from June, 2008, but still pertinent.

It's almost July; the exam is coming up in about a month. Some of y'all may be getting stressed, particularly about practice exam/simulated MBE scores. First off - the simulated MBE is to give you an idea of what the exam is like and to kind of remind you that this is coming up. Keep studying your rules of law, and you will be fine.

Remember, the exam is there to test how well you can spot issues, state the rule and apply it (this is your IRAC in action). You have to be able to keep your thoughts organized - take your time and let the answer come out. Don't panic. So long as you've studied, you should be fine. The exam is designed to be difficult, but passable. The idea is that you need to put in the effort to prepare for it. Remember that, and remember that you already learned most of this in law school and you're just refreshing your mind while studying for the bar, and you should be fine. You still need to actually study, though. That part is tough to pass by...

I can't tell anyone "how" to study for the bar exam. Everybody learns their own way. I can tell you what worked for me, if that gives you a launching point for your own preparation after BarBri ends.

Photog and I studied together. We went to BarBri together, then went to the school and studied together. One thing that helped us was that we were able to find a room where we could speak to each other without worrying about disturbing others. This way, we could go over practice questions and exams and discuss the answers to reinforce what we were learning. We actually chose the International Law Society office at STCL because we knew we would be able to study and still have things to take the focus off our stress.

We would start the day by doing about 30-50 multiple choice questions, either from the Barbri software or questions from other exam sources. We would read 10 questions, we would both come up with answers individually, then we'd share our answer. If the answers did not match, then we would "sell" our answer to the other before we checked the answer (on the software we usually did this one question at a time). After we checked our answer, we made sure we understood the reasoning for the answer, particularly if we got it wrong, or if we got it right but only because we guessed the correct letter. Attention to detail counts here. Read each word in the question and answer. Then we'd take lunch.

After the MC questions, we would start on the essays (should be the yellow book). Again, we'd read a question, come up with an answer, explain the rule of law, and support our position. For these, we usually were pretty close with our answers, but our reasoning might differ slightly, except in the situations where we simply had no idea about the topic of the question (this will happen - make sure you make note of it and keep going - don't get bogged down). We would do this for 3-5 hours, usually getting through 3-6 essays (don't worry about speed, which will come, worry about getting the rules down). Then it was time for coffee and coca-cola breaks.

Then, depending on our energy level, we would consider going over the Procedure and Evidence questions - you want to do these a couple times, just to make sure you're comfortable with the questions - there's a limited number of questions that they can ask, so you should have little trouble getting these in your head.

One of the things that we had to do was keep something around to occupy ourselves - we had toy swords and a Nerf ball that we would bat around, and a yardstick we would balance from time to time. I find that I need to keep active while I'm studying, it helps me focus. This is certainly not for everyone and if you are studying with anyone, make sure that your study partner is of similar activity requirement.

Finally, keep your sense of humor, don't get discouraged - you know the information, you just need to practice getting it out. Like I said before - the exam is there to challenge you, not to try to fail you. If you ever need any bad jokes to ease the stress, I may know one or two.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Rewriting History

I have posted once or twice before on the First Amendment, particularly on the concept of religious liberty. It's been some time since I really got deeply involved in the concept, and I'm not likely to do so today, but let's gloss over the basic premise here real quick.

The first Amendment provides that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of Religion, nor prohibiting the free exercise thereof..."

Practically, this means that if you choose to practice a religion in this country, you are free to do so, and if you choose to not have a particular religion or religious doctrine foisted upon, you have that freedom as well. Over the years, this First Amendment has been found to apply not just to the Federal Government, but also to the states, incorporated through the 14th Amendment.

There have been a few Court cases that have provided some (not crystal) clarity on the meaning of the First Amendment, including the oft-cited (by me) Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U. S. 602 (1971) which explains how a proposed act would not be violative of said Amendment: (it must have) 1. a legitimate secular purpose, 2. a pimary effect that neither advances nor inhibits religion, and 3. the statute must not foster an excessive government entanglement with religion.

Additionally, we have Justice Black's explanation of the First Amendment in Everson v. Board of Education, 330 U. S. 1 (1947), in which he states,
The "establishment of religion" clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the federal government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another. Neither can force nor influence a person to go to or to remain away from church against his will or force him to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion. No person can be punished for entertaining or professing religious beliefs or disbeliefs, for church attendance or non-attendance. No tax in any amount, large or small, can be levied to support any religious activities or institutions, whatever they may be called, or whatever form they may adopt to teach or practice religion. Neither a state nor the Federal Government can, openly or secretly, participate in the affairs of any religious organizations or groups and vice versa. In the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect "a wall of separation between church and State.
beyond this we have a few other cases that touch on the First Amendment, see e.g. Lee v. Weisman, 505 U.S. 577 (1992), Santa Fe ISD v. Doe, 530 U.S. 290 (2000), and Epperson v. Arkansas, 393 U.S. 97. One of the best resources for studying the history of 1st Amendment Religion Clause history is Kitzmiller v. Dover Area Sch. Dist., 400 F. Supp. 2d 707, which I encourage those interested in Religion Clause issues to read at least once.

Now that I've gotten the brief history that I said I wasn't going to get into out of the way, let's get to the crux of this post. What I'm looking at this morning is a quote by a member of the American Family Association, who has claimed recently that "Islam has no fundamental First Amendment claims, for the simple reason that it was not written to protect the religion of Islam. Islam is entitled only to the religious liberty we extend to it out of courtesy. While there certainly ought to be a presumption of religious liberty for non-Christian religious traditions in America, the Founders were not writing a suicide pact when they wrote the First Amendment."

If we go back and look at the legislative and Court history, we can see very easily how wrong-minded this notion is, but in order to combat untruths like this, we need to explain a lot. This is what makes untruths so dangerous - they are quick soundbites that (may) seem to pack a good amount of information in them but the explanation afterward takes so much longer to get through that people don't want to hear it.

I don't begrudge people their opinions, but before spouting off on those opinions, particularly of Constitutional Matters, I wish people would do their homework.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Abusing Open Records to Attack Academic Freedom

I am a little reluctant to repost this as I don't want to appear as though I'm taking sides or steadfastly agreeing with what he says, but if we presume for the moment that he is speaking the truth, then I agree that using FOIA as a sword with which to intimidate those who by your perception have insulted you is wrong on many levels.
Abusing Open Records to Attack Academic Freedom

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


So I've been back to work for a bit more than a day now. I need to note that I don't particularly mind my work - It's a bit tedious, which is fine for me, and detail oriented, which I don't mind, necessarily - transactional work is more my cup of tea than adversarial work.

However, I do miss an office. I miss having people with whom I can interact. Frankly, I miss having friends, both work and personal. Virtual commuting doesn't do much for cultivating camaraderie, and socially, my wife and I aren't exactly good fits within the local community. While I was already a bit of a centrist, which doesn't always bode well in a solidly red district, my marriage has certainly moved me more to the left (I still am not a Democrat, but I'm starting to wonder if I will end up one). I get a little concerned with some of the conversations I hear in the neighborhood and at the church we had attended for some time. We stopped after the pastor exclaimed his fondness for Glenn Beck on the pulpit - we figured that was a signal that this church and our philosophies weren't a good match.

Anyway, I keep my ears open and look for something else that might pop up, but I think I'm getting to the point where I'm pigeonholing myself. Ah, well. That's what happens, I guess.

Saturday, March 19, 2011


We just spent a week in Washington State for Spring Break. It was nice to get out of Texas for a bit, and while I spent a good portion of the time feeling anxious, stressed, or driving the car with anxiety or stress, it did appear that everyone had a good time.

We managed to take the kids fishing for rainbow trout, which the Boy thought was rather tasty. We also went to White Pass to do some sledding, and I was tempted (a little) to try my hand at skiing again - I went once about 18 years ago and dislocated my thumb, but had a great time. We took the kids to Seattle and saw Pike Place Market, the fishmongers, got some good (or so my wife says) coffee, bought some good smelling tea, went to the Seattle Center, Gasworks Park, the U, and a few other things here and there.

The wife really wants to move back up there. I'm not quite as enthusiastic, but inasmuch as I love my wife, I'll go where she wants. There's pretty good fishing and hunting up there, and my friends are all still there, as well.

I did have quite the bit of fun showing the posse a little bit about wine, and they seemed to have a good time with it as well.

Now we just need to get the wife a job up there (Bruce, Microsoft needs more admins), and maybe find a way to finagle admission to the UW MBA or LLM program for myself so I can look attractive to area employers.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Pro Union

(Cross-posted at Vim and Vinegar)

I was born in Michigan. I have family members who have worked at various points in the past with various different Unions. While I would not call myself a "Union Man," I do believe that I have a sympathetic ear to Unions.

I remember reading about the AFL-CIO, Samuel Gompers, and all sorts of information regarding the creation of Unions in school, and I always took it as a given that the presence of Unions was a good thing. I have believed, and still believe that there is an inherent benefit to the strength of our country that is provided by a strong Union infrastructure.

I am writing this in Ulysses-style, so I doubt I will make a terribly coherent, compelling argument in support of my position, but I'll shoot for it nonetheless.

in the 1800s, we saw the age of Robber Barons and tycoons. We saw a whole lot of money and opportunity go towards the richest of the rich while the poor, the immigrants, the women, and the children would toil for 12-18 hours a day for subsistence rations. It was a vicious cycle wherein the rich got richer while the poor could barely stay afloat.

With the advent of collective bargaining, Unions created a situation where individuals could negotiate for improved conditions - standard workweeks, more pay, benefits, job security, etc. The result was an era of unprecedented growth for America. Productivity soared. More people had more money, the rich were still fabulously rich, people were able to start doing things such as take vacations, buy luxury items, which further drove our economy, creating more wealth. We became the industrial power that was the standard for the world in the 20th century. It strikes me as no coincidence that the areas that saw the strongest growth in the 20th Century were the ones that had the strongest Union presence.

Now, while I believe that a strong Union is necessary, I believe that a Union can be too overbearing. I think that there have been times in the past few decades where Unions have made demands more to justify the continued presence of the Union than to protect against an actual or potential harm. Such overreaches can weaken the benefit Unions provide by providing an argument against the existence of said Unions. So, to a certain degree, I believe that Unions need to be a strong, silent presence, except when truly needed (a difficult task, I'm sure).

We're in a position now where I think the benefits of Unions can be made apparent once again. We have seen an increase in income gap between the richest Americans and the middle class (whose salaries have grown in relation to inflation in 30 or so years); we're seeing record numbers of families below the poverty line, we're seeing politicians and pundits arguing in favor of stripping/scaling back benefits for the majority of Americans (see Social Security) while arguing strongly in support of continuing tax cuts that disproportionately benefit the wealthiest Americans.

Corporate America has the bullhorn. They control the message, and they shout it loudly and often. I am pro-Union, because I believe that the working American needs a collective voice for the long-term benefit of our country and our way of life.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Misinformation Central

Disclaimer - I don't dislike Bill O'Reilly. I think he's about as fair as you get on Fox News, and he admits to a conservative bias. I'm not particularly a fan, and I don't regularly watch his show, but I saw this link on and checked out his interview with Glenn Beck, who I do not like. I'm amazed that people follow this guy's ramblings, or that he has any fan base whatsoever. Everything in the world is tied to some socialist/communist movement designed to take down our countries, even here in America.

Now, the one source Beck provided in this interview was to what he termed the "One Nation" movement, which he claimed was a collection of the Unions and all the socialist (or was it Communist?) organizations in America trying to bring Fundamental Change to our way of life. The link he stated on the interview was to here. I took a chance to check out the link, and it turns out this website is "English for the Children," an organization in favor of Proposition 227.

I just don't understand this guy's draw.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

I'm Still Here

But I'm mostly Blogging at my friend Just Wondering's site, Vim and Vinegar anymore.

Just not having the same dedication to run my own blog anymore.