Monday, May 28, 2012

Review of BarEssays.com

BarEssays.com found out about by blog (somehow) and asked me to write a review because I mentioned the fact that I had used their services in one of my posts (here).  I agreed to do so, and for the purposes of being upfront and honest, they have offered me some compensation.  But just know that I would be happy to review their services even without the compensation because, frankly, I used it the last time that I took the bar, so I know a bit about the good, the bad, and the ugly of this site.  I hope that all of you out there will find this review to be helpful.

WHAT THEY DO:

BarEssays.com is essentially a searchable database of actual, graded CBX (California Bar Exam) essays. This includes both typewritten and handwritten essays, and it covers many years of the CBX, both July and February bars.

THE GOOD:

I used BarEssays.com during the study period for the final time I took (and passed) the bar.  It was a good experience to be able to read actual exams and try to figure out why, oh why they received the grades that they did.

There are some awesome features that this site offers, and they are as follows:

  • You can search essays by: 
  1. date, 
  2. type of writing style (i.e., typewritten or handwritten essays), 
  3. score, and
  4. legal topic (i.e., Con Law, Torts, PR, Corporations, etc.).
  • They have an outline bank for all subjects.  
  • On the same page where you find the outlines, there are also checklists for each subject.  These checklists consist of single-page outlines of all major issues within a topic.  I personally used all of them.
  • It's only $75 (Note: They have since raised the price to $99, but I still think it's worth it).  This is far less expensive than nearly all other CBX services available.
I find the sorting feature so great.  It's easy and very user friendly.  There's no guesswork in how to navigate this site in order to get the essays you need or want to look over.  (Navigating for other information, however, is slightly less friendly as discussed below.)

I think that the best way to use BarEssays.com is to do so at two points in your bar studies: at the beginning and toward the end.  When I first went on their site, I was just beginning what would be my final studying period for the CBX.  Though it was easy to see the difference between a "55" and a "75" score, it was a lot more difficult comparing my own writing to the graded essays.  I think that people who are re-taking the bar are too pissed off and possibly too jaded to be very objective about their own weaknesses; this was certainly my issue, so perhaps I'm projecting.

However, when I had completed over a month's worth of studying and practice-test taking, I was able to be far more objective.  I would find exams for which BarEssays.com had both good and bad scores, go to the California Bar website (calbar.ca.gov), print out that exam, take it (timed), and then compare my essay to the highest and lowest scores that I could find on BarEssays.com.  Now, THIS was helpful!

Now, BarEssays.com has a new feature, which shows certain essays that have been reviewed by prior bar exam graders.  This requires a premium membership for an extra $50.  It's a good feature, especially for laptoppers (only typewritten essays are reviewed, and note that only some of them are reviewed).  The file needs to be opened with Adobe, and you have to use a browser other than Chrome.  Essentially, though, once you get a "review" file open, by mousing over comment bubbles, it's as though you get to see the reviewers' thoughts as they read the essay.  

THE BAD:

As I mentioned before, one bad thing was within myself in that it was hard to understand at first precisely what I needed to do to reach the higher scores, especially near the beginning of my study period.  However, once I went back to BarEssays.com toward the end of my studies, it seemed a lot clearer, and the grading made more sense to me.

As far as the premium membership is concerned, a significant portion of internet users choose Chrome as their go-to browser.  It's not BarEssay.com's fault that the "review" files don't open properly in Chrome, but this is the case.  The only place to find this information is by clicking the "Essay Search" tab and then the link toward the top of the page that says, "Search FAQ."  It seems like an odd place to have this information; it seems like this information might be better places under one of the two FAQ tabs.

I also thought that finding a "review" file should have been another sorting factor, but it's not.  Instead, after you sort for the type of essays you want, next to each essay, if it has been reviewed, there will be a review button next to the other buttons associated with those essays.

The only other bad thing is that there are no reviewed handwritten papers.  I went through all of the exams myself; it's true.  It seems that, by looking at the handwritten graded papers and comparing them with the typewritten papers, there is a difference as to the leniency with which the handwritten ones are graded.  I would love to see at least one highly scored, handwritten essay and one correlating poorly scored, handwritten essay reviewed.

THE UGLY:

My original review provided the following about "the ugly:" Ok, I'll be honest.  The site isn't the world's most aesthetically pleasing one.  But who cares?!?!  It's an extremely helpful database, and at $75 for all of the above, I would recommend it to anyone.  As for the premium membership, I would recommend it for laptoppers.  It seems like it couldn't hurt hand-writers, but hand-writers may be disappointed with a premium membership since no handwritten essays are reviewed.

However, I recently re-visited the site for fun, and it is MUCH nicer now! :D  Also, please note that they have since raised their prices to $99, but I still think it's worth it.

I hope that y'all have found this review to be helpful! :)  Until next time...

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Networking: Casting Your Net

This is one thing that seems to really intimidate law students, especially the new ones.  I also happen to know many attorneys who just don't know how to network.  We're seldom taught how to do this and why it's crucial to our careers.  I suppose there are two questions that I should address here: (1) how much time should one devote to networking? and (2) how does one network, precisely?  But before we jump into all that, there are some things you should know.

WHY NETWORKING IS IMPORTANT (the raw deal):


Networking is important because attorneys are more experienced than you are.  It's true.  If you connect with a few who think that you're awesome, you will inevitably meet them for coffee or lunch every so often.  Then, when you have a tough decision to make down the road, you can call these people (who are now friends) and receive their invaluable pearls of wisdom.

As a bonus, one of these people (now a friend of mine) did offer me a job right before I graduated.  It was just because we got along so well and had sloooooowly built a professionally based relationship.  He saw how I articulated myself because I was on certain committees with attorneys while I was in law school.  How did I get on these committees?  Simple.  I went to the County Bar Association and just asked if they needed any student volunteers.  Wouldn't you know it, they did.

This is also a big part of networking: you must go to it.  You must take initiative.  Do not expect things to land in your lap.  Maybe it's my age, but I've noticed that a lot of the law students who went straight through school seem to have a sense of entitlement, and they act as though others should feel privileged to know them.  As far as I'm concerned, I don't care if you're in the bottom 10% of the class or the top 2%; you should always approach others with a sense of humility.  Further, you must take initiative if you want opportunities.


WHAT TO BRING:

  • Your own business cards.  I found out through my law school career services office that our law school could make us some business cards for a nominal fee.  Make sure, regardless, that these look simple and not flashy or artsy.  You want to make sure that at least the back of the card is not glossy so that any attorneys who take your card can write on the back of it if they want to.
  • A working pen.  If you can spare it, bring your nicest pen.  I ALWAYS wrote two things on the back of every business card that I got: the event where I met that person and the date of the event.  Maybe if there was something nuanced about our conversation, I would write that on the back later.  The fact is that you're simply not going to remember the details of every conversation with every attorney from whom you get a card.
  • A suit.  Seriously, dress professionally.  Do your hair.  Personally, I never wore a black suit, though, because every other law student at whatever event usually wore a black suit.  I wanted to stand out, but not in a bad way.  Hence, I typically opted for a charcoal grey suit, but that's just me.


WHAT NOT TO DO:

Here's a word to the wise about what networking is NOT.  Networking is not supposed to be a thinly veiled plea for a job hook-up.  I think that going into it with that kind of attitude is not only the wrong way of looking at it but, worse, it is something that attorneys can smell a mile away.  If they can tell that this is the only reason you're talking to them, they will not give you a business card; they will not give you the time of day, particularly after the event.  You will be the plague.

Also, never ask for a business card.  If they want you to have one, they will give it to you.  Likewise, never force your card on them.  If they want one, have it ready, but do not ask them to take one preemptively.  Let the attorneys take the lead on this.  This is similar to attorneys never asking their clients for direct business; they let the clients take the lead while attempting to charm the clients.


Now, to those questions:

(1) How Much Time Should I Devote to Networking?

Like many things in law and life, there is no one, clear answer to this.  Personally, I tended to devote quite a bit of my time participating in networking while in law school.  By "quite a bit," I mean that I attended at least the monthly mixer at the local County Bar Association (the San Diego County Bar Association was my hub).  I got to know many attorneys there with whom I still keep in contact.

I also went to other mixers that were held at the law school.  I found these opportunities invaluable.  Of course, you won't stay in touch with most people that you meet, but it would be smart to stay in touch with at least some of them.


(2) How Do I Network?

Well, I'm imagining that a lot of people would give different advice on this front.  But this is my blog, so I'll just tell you my perspective. :P

I am going to let you in on a little secret.  Probably the last thing that attorneys want to talk about when they are at a networking event involving students is the law.  This is probably especially so because law students often act like they know everything in a (feeble) attempt to impress attorneys.

I think that the best way to network is to let your personality shine through.  If you don't have a personality, rent one for the evening.  Honestly, I got more business cards handed to me by talking about dogs and chocolate than by talking about anything else.  People loved it because those are two subjects that I am very, VERY passionate about.  My passion and, hence, my personality shined through.  People dig that, and I got a lot of business cards that way.

Interestingly, after discussing (you guessed it) dogs and chocolate at a networking event with one IP attorney, he told me that he hoped I would be the first woman president.  Can I get an "awwwww..."?  And, note, I did not discuss the law with that person even one bit.


FINISHING TOUCHES

This, again, will be one of those things that sets you apart.  When I found an attorney who gave me his/her card with whom I felt a real connection, I always, always, always wrote him/her a handwritten thank-you card.  There is something to be said for this.  Any thank-you card at all says that you're appreciative, you do not have a sense of entitlement that so many others tend to have, and you are thoughtful enough to send the card.  The handwritten part goes the extra mile because handwriting adds a far more personal touch than typewriting.  Of course, if your handwriting is awful, opt for typewriting. :P

Whenever I receive any thank-you cards, the person who sent it automatically becomes special to me, and I'm willing to spend lots (read: too much) time helping them out with advice and what not.


So, that's my take on networking.  I hope that you find it useful. :)  Until next time...