How I (an Australian Lawyer) passed the July 2022 California Bar Exam ➲ Study Strategy + Free Tools

5/12/2022

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How I (an Australian Lawyer) passed the July 2022 California Bar Exam ➲ Study Strategy + Free Tools

The CA Bar exam has a reputation as one of the toughest exams in the U.S. for a reason. For anyone contemplating a career in the legal profession in California, it represents a significant hurdle. This article outlines how I (an Australian lawyer with no formal USA legal education) passed the July 2022 CA bar. I share my study strategy and the study tools I used, including one free online study (and ongoing legal practice tool) I developed myself.

James D. Ford GAICD

Founder, M.D. & General Practice Lawyer

Contents

A Rare and Unique Opportunity for Foreign Qualified Lawyers

My Motivation to Pass the CA Bar

The Future of the Legal Profession: A Blue Ocean Perspective

To help convey the sheer magnitude of the task of passing the CA Bar for a foreign lawyer

My Initial Approach to Study for the CA Bar ➲ Barbri

Where I struggled with Barbri …

Enter Brian Hahn, founder of MTYLT ➲ Magicsheets and Approsheets

MTYLT ➲ Passer’s Playbook 2.0

Brian’s Advice ➲ The “Tripod Approach”

My adopted strategies for each leg of the Tripod Approach

Tripod Leg 1 ➲ The MBE (50%)

Tripod Leg 2 ➲ Professional Responsibility (~7%)

Tripod Leg 3 ➲ Performance Test (~14%)

Breaking Down Barriers ➲ Recommended Nike Run Club (Mindfulness Run in collaboration with Headpsace)

Law Dojo (developed by Margaret Hagan of Stanford d.school)

Final Preparations in the Lead Up Week

See You at the CA Bar

Australian Lawyer ➲ FAQ

➲ Does admission to the CA Bar mean I can practice as an Attorney anywhere in the US?

➲ Automatic Mutual Recognition for Australian Lawyers in New Zealand

➲ Barriers to Mutual Recognition for Australian Lawyers in the UK

➲ Problems taking the Oath for Admission as a CA Attorney

How I (an Australian Lawyer) passed the July 2022 CA Bar Exam

Note: I took the Admission Oath to the California Bar at the US Consulate in Sydney earlier today.

A Rare and Unique Opportunity for Foreign Qualified Lawyers

A fear years ago I discovered a unique and rare opportunity existed for foreign qualified lawyers to sit the bar in California or New York (without the need to obtain a US law degree).

My Motivation to Pass the CA Bar

In light of my motivations and predictions for the future of the legal profession and to enable Sydney, Australia based Blue Ocean Law Group to expand into the US legal services market, I set myself the goal of passing the California or New York Bar to become a lawyer in the US.

I didn’t set a completion date for my goal as I was under no illusions and understood that the process would not be an easy one and that it could take some time.

The Future of the Legal Profession: A Blue Ocean Perspective

I have made some predictions for the Future of the Legal Profession (for more detail please read my Xmas 2018 Legal Business World article entitled "Charting the Future of the Legal Profession: A Blue Ocean Perspective”.

LBW Article: Charting the Future of the Legal Profession

In the future I foresee that multi-disciplinary, legal tech savvy, multi-jurisdictional lawyers will thrive and be able to deliver more for less.

My vision is to deliver accessible and affordable digital legal services across multiple jurisidictions.

The only way to be able to do this properly is to gain admission to the legal profession in as many jurisdictions as possible, and where this is not possible to partner with lawyers in other jurisdictions who share my vision.

To help convey the sheer magnitude of the task of passing the CA Bar for a foreign lawyer. What are some of the differences between Australian and US/CA Law?

Many might assume that the law in Australia v the USA can’t be that different as both are common law jurisdictions, but there are many new legal concepts to grasp, and even when the concepts are the same the language used varies.

It takes a significant amount of time just to grapple with the language used (Demurrer/Prop8/Motion to Quash the list is a very long one…) in USA/CA law to sink in, as well as the UCC v. Common Law distinction in Contracts, the Bill of Rights and many associated Constitutional Amendments, Diversity Jurisdiction in Civil Procedure to name a few.

All these legal concepts have no equivalent counterparts in Australian Law.

You really have to erase what you think you know about law and start from scratch …

"A distinction between those who perpetually struggle and those who are successful is that they find an approach that works for them and trust themselves more.
One of my readers put it this way:
'Make the bar exam process work with your learning style, not the other way around.'" Brian Hahn

My Initial Approach to Study for the CA Bar ➲ Barbri

Advice from a colleague who had passed the New York Bar at the beginning of his career when he was working at a New York law firm was to use a major bar review provider such as Barbri (as he did successfully).

I started out by watching the Barbri lectures. Whilst much of the advice I have subsequently seen advises bar takers to skip the lectures as you already attended them when you earned your law degree, as a foreign lawyer I needed the learn the basics.

For that reason I found the lectures much more interesting than I assume anyone else would. The lectures are very long. However when the sheer volume of content that needs to be covered is considered I think that it is what it is and the length is actually reasonable.

Of course if you have already studied in the US then I totally understand the need to urgently move on to the next stage of study.

Where I struggled with Barbri …

Everything you need is provided with Barbri and to my mind in hindsight this is part of the problem.

There is so much material to cover it is simply overwhelming ...

All my attempts at condensing the material down to just “the essentials” resulted in frustration and an inability to extract the key points such that I could be confident I had exactly what I needed, no more, no less.

Enter Brian Hahn, founder of MTYLT ➲ Magicsheets and Approsheets

Magicsheets

Apposheets

When I cast the net wider and began searching for a better way, coming across Brian’s products were like discovering gold.

It was all there in a few pages. This was something I could work with. The time and frustration the Magicsheets and Approsheets saved me was substantial. I printed & bound hard copies and loaded the PDF’s into my Notability App on my Apple iPad so I could highlight both the hardcopies and digital copies as I used them.

Whilst the process of creating your own succinct summaries is an extremely valuable exercise that I would not normally circumvent, in the case of the CA Bar I think that an exception applies.

This is no ordinary exam, and the sheer amount of material dictates some creativity in your approach.

Whilst I may have been able to create a summary, how was I to know how good the summary was, and whether or not I had left out something important?

Finally, I could just focus on practising for the exam.

MTYLT ➲ Passer’s Playbook 2.0

To maximise my efforts I also purchased Brian Hahn’s Passer’s Playbook 2.0 which when followed turned out to deliver exactly what it promises.

Passer's Playbook

Brian’s Advice ➲ The “Tripod Approach”

After reading Brian’s blog article "Passing the California Bar Exam with the “Tripod Approach” (Just Triage These Areas)" dated Feb 29, 2020 I turned my primary focus to the three items that are always on the CA Bar Exam.

The Tripod Approach

This didn’t mean I skipped anything.

All topics were thoroughly covered. It just meant that my primary focus was on the Tripod, and after that I still studied everything else.

My adopted strategies for each leg of the Tripod Approach

Below I have outlined the strategies I used from those recommended by Brian to support each leg of the Tripod.

Tripod Leg 1 ➲ The MBE (50%)

Study Resources Used:

Free Trial AdaptiBar

Both Strategies & Tactics for the MBE 7th edition (Hardcopy) + Strategies & Tactics for the MBE 2, 2nd edition (Kindle).

My thinking was that if the MBE is 100% on paper, I should practice primarily on paper.

Both these books provide ample questions to thoroughly practice on….  I did one question at a time (with no time limit) and immediately assessed all the answer choice explanations for quick feedback… I sought to understand the reason why I answered rightly or wrongly.

Whilst waiting for the hardcopy to arrive via international post, I got started with what I could obtain access to quickly (the AdaptiBar Free Trial, and the Kindle edition of MBE 2).

Having access to these digitally was also useful as a backup when didn’t have the Strategies & Tactics MBE 7th edition hardcopy with me (it is a bulky and heavy tome).

The 7th edition includes a short (usually only a few pages) MBE tactics section at the front of each MBE subject chapter.

The MBE tactics sections offer helpful examples and tips about the typical MBE questions that are used to test each MBE subject.

My aim was to seek understanding for every MBE question. As Brian says “Quality, not quantity”.

One MBE question had me stumped. After reading the answer explanations, I could not make sense of the answer and why it was correct. I reached out to Brian … he was responsive and helped me through my mental blockage. After seeing how I had struggled, to clarify this point he ended up making amendments to his Magicsheets to reduce confusion for others in future.

“I believe this iterative process of engaging with students and tweaking the material has made the outlines better than others on the market. But I'm biased.” Brian Hahn

Later, I started timing my responses by setting the timer on my apple watch using siri before I started each question… If I needed more time I took it.

The consistent repeated 1:42 (1 minute 42 seconds) and later 1:30 (1 minute 30 seconds) with my apple watch set to vibrate on my wrist + ring to tell me I was out of time.

This constant repetition helped me to develop a real internal sense of when the time limit was about to be reached…

That is, I either finished early (well before my watch alerted) or literally started to anticipate the alarm a few seconds before it started to alert.

This is an extremely important sense to develop especially for more difficult MBE questions as once your internal alarm rings you know you are overtime and have to make the best call you can on the answer.

Getting caught up on a difficult question and spending way too much time on it is in my view the #1 most costly mistake you can make on the MBE.

When I started to be able to consistently answer most of the MBE questions correctly within 1:30 (1 minute 30 seconds) this helped me to significantly increase my confidence levels.

Tripod Leg 2 ➲ Professional Responsibility (~7%)

Study Resources Used:

Approsheets

Magicsheets

Lawyer Professional Responsibility Checklist ➲ Free

Brian’s advice is that a structured approach is essential to maximise the number of issues spotted in any essay (and as a consequence - the point score awarded by the graders).

I used Brian’s issue flowchart (Approsheets) + the Magicsheets (succinct notes) as a starting point to create an online structured “issue-spotting” tool that I have called the Attorney / Lawyer Professional Responsibility Checklist.

Please feel free to use this online tool to create a “cooked” or DRAFT Professional Responsibility Essay and eventually for each actual legal matter when you start practising as an Attorney.

My intention is to make further improvements to the Professional Responsibility Checklist over time. There was no opportunity to add "bells and whistles" in the lead up to the CA Bar exam.

To make this online tool better for everyone, your feedback is most welcome!

Lawyer Professional Responsibility Checklist
FREE Online PR Essay Approach Tool developed by James D. Ford ➲ Also intended for use in your ongoing future legal practice.

Tripod Leg 3 ➲ Performance Test (~14%)

Study Resources Used:

Performance Test – Workbook 2nd edition by Mary Basick and Tina Schindler

Barbri PT Book

I worked through every example available in the above study resources, step by step…  

On the actual CA Bar exam I replicated Brian’s strategy of doing the PT first in the second session so that I avoided the possibility of spending too long on the 2 essays and not leaving enough left over to do the PT properly.

On exam day, the PT took me longer than 1.5 hours but when I finished the work I felt it was solid and complete.

I was forced to make up the lost time in the final 2 essays. This felt easier to do than trying to rush the PT, which to my mind is the sort of task that when rushed it can never end well!

Breaking Down Barriers ➲ Recommended Nike Run Club (Mindfulness Run in collaboration with Headpsace)

This recommendation is a personal one that I think has the potential to assist with your mindset.

You can download the Nike Run Club App on your smart phone or watch for FREE.  

The extensive library of free coached runs include a range of mindfulness runs produced in collaboration with Headspace.

One specific mindfulness 31 minute run/walk that I highly recommend to anyone taking on the CA Bar Exam or any other major barrier or hurdle in life is called “Breaking Through Barriers”.

Nike Run Club App ➲ Mindful Run Series
Nike Run Club App ➲ Mindfulness Series

Law Dojo (developed by Margaret Hagan of Stanford d.school)

Law Dojo

Margaret Hagan is a lawyer & a designer who is currently based at Stanford University.  She is the Executive Director of the Legal Design Lab, at Stanford Law School. She is also a lecturer at the Stanford d.school.

Whilst some may consider the Law Dojo series of games not serious enough for Bar Review Study, and that it probably correct (there is an MPRE game but nothing specifically designed for Bar Review).  I recommend the app as a low cost and fun way for foreign lawyers to test their grasp of the basics, and to help sharpen up their speed when dealing with USA legal concepts.

Law Dojo ➲ Learn Law Smarter

Final Preparations in the Lead Up Week

Dedicated (uninterrupted) time in the lead-up week of the exam (hotel room) is essential as well as being really comfortable with travelling to and navigating your way around the exam room.

To break up the days in the lead-up week, I attended the site of the exam every day and studied in the adjacent hotel lobby where others were also studying.

By the time the exam sitting days arrived, I was exceedingly calm and relaxed in the exam room and surroundings.

See You at the CA Bar

I hope my notes have been helpful and you are able to takeaway something that will help you tip the balance in your favour on exam day.  

I hope that you take away this thought:

“If some Australian lawyer who started from scratch and was way out of his depth having never studied US law can pass the CA Bar, then I should be able to pass as well. It's just a matter of being flexible enough to adapt my approach to find what works for me!”

Australian Lawyer ➲ FAQ

➲ Does admission to the CA Bar mean I can practice as an Attorney anywhere in the US?

No. You can only go to market as a California Attorney.

You can’t goto market as a lawyer from another state unless you are eligible to sit and have passed the bar in that state.

Exceptions:

⚖️ You can have clients from interstate, be employed as general counsel for a company anywhere in the US, and you can file claims or defend claims for your clients in other states if you engage the assistance of a local lawyer or apply to the court for a pro hac vice order.

Here is a sample pro hav vice application for Florida:

https://www.flsd.uscourts.gov/forms/pro-hac-vice-motion-and-order-sample

Here is an example of in house counsel registration in New York:

http://ww2.nycourts.gov/attorneys/in-house-counsel/index.shtml

⚖️ You can also practice in Federal areas of law… such that your location is less relevant ...

Below is an example of providing legal advice in a Federal area of law:

Our FREE U.S. Visa Waiver 🇺🇸 Legal Wizard

It is not like in Australia where we automatically have a right to appear in all Australian Courts even if we are not admitted in those juridictions.

Admission to other Legal Jurisdictions for Australian Lawyers

➲ Automatic Mutual Recognition in New Zealand

If you are an Australian Lawyer, I highly recommend you to take full advantage (I already have) of the Trans-Tasman Mutual Recognition Act (Cth.) 1997 between Australia and New Zealand to be admitted as lawyer in New Zealand.

The legislation represents a highly beneficial mutual uk arrangement whereby all lawyers in Australia are automatically eligible to be admitted as lawyers in New Zealand and vice versa.

➲ Barriers to Mutual Recognition in UK

I understand that as part of a recent post-Brexit free-trade agreement between Australian and the UK, each country has agreed to ensure mutual recognition of professional qualifications aiming to enable legal practice in each jurisdiction without the need to requalify or to conduct additional study.

The deal is nowhere near as straightforward as the one between NZ and Australia, and many “practical barriers” remain.

The final outcome regarding whether any changes will be made to remove the existing rigid requirements are still pending.

➲ Problems taking the Oath for Admission as a CA Attorney

Remote Online Notarization Not Yet Approved in California

Currently, CA does not permit Notaries to conduct Remote Online Notarization. This may change in the future.

Apostille Convention of no assistance

I sought a response from the California Bar whether it was possible to have my oath taken via an Australian Notary Public under the Apostille Convention, and the reply was essentially "No".

They repeated the relevant section of the CA Civil Procedure Code (refer below) which does not mention foreign notaries or the Apostille Convention.

Australian Courts do not offer this Service

It appears that at least in Australia, the NSW Local & District Courts & Federal Court of Austrlia do not provide a service of having a Judge witness your oath.

US Consulate Books Out Months in Advance

Do not leave this to the last minute!

The US Consulate in Sydney and Melbourne were initially fully booked months in advance.

After waiting a few days, it appears I have been lucky as some appointment slots appeared and I was able to book for early December 2022.

Determining a viable option will be crucial, otherwise even though you might have met all of the admission requirement, you will not be able to start practising as a CA Attorney until you find the right official to take your oath.

Supreme Court ➲ Last Resort

If all else fails please try your local Supreme Court.

In the end I cancelled my open request as it was no longer required.

I note that when I cancelled my request I enquired with the Supreme Court registrar whether an appointment with a Supreme Couty judge was even possible.

My request was cancelled with thanks for letting them know, but without answering my question.

If an answer is provided in the future, please let me know so I can update this article accordingly.

If you are overseas then the following CA Civil Code section applies:

2021 California Code
Code of Civil Procedure - CCP
PART 4 - MISCELLANEOUS PROVISIONS
TITLE 3 - OF THE PRODUCTION OF EVIDENCE
CHAPTER 3 - Manner of Production
ARTICLE 2 - Affidavits
Section [2014.]. Universal Citation: CA Civ Pro Code § [2014.] (2021)
An affidavit taken in a foreign country to be used in this State, may be taken before an Embassador, Minister, Consul, Vice Consul, or Consular Agent of the United States, or before any Judge of a Court of record having a seal in such foreign country.
(Amended by Code Amendments 1873-74, Ch. 383.)

Certification of Judge’s Signature under the Seal of the Court

When an affidavit is taken before a judge or a court in another state or in a foreign country, the genuineness of the signature of the judge, the existence of the court, and the fact that such judge is a member thereof must be certified by the clerk of the court, under the seal thereof. (Code Civ. Proc. § 2015.)

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Credits: This blog article was written by James D. Ford Esq., GAICD CIPP/US| Principal Solicitor, Blue Ocean Law Group℠.

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To the extent this article is deemed advertising or solicitation, it is hereby identified as such.  

It is not intended to constitute legal advice; the statements made are opinions about general situations, and they are not a substitute for advice as to any specific matter.

We recommend you always consult a lawyer for legal advice specifically tailored to your needs & circumstances.