When writing essays on the bar exam, it’s important to use good presentation to make it as easy as possible for the graders to consume.
It’s a test of empathy.
In fact, you should treat the graders as your “clients.”
I received an email from Max, a reader who took this perspective at least a step further. I particularly love that Max phrased it as preparing someone else for a presentation, because in the “real world,” your job is indeed to make your boss (a “client”) look good to their boss (whether their own superior or client).
Max mentions that he started doing better on the essays when thinking about essays in this “preparing” manner, rather than a more self-centric approach where you’re showing off your knowledge. He categorizes three different levels of preparing your client.
I felt that his insights were wasted to be archived in my inbox, so here it is (edited only to generalize for non-California readers).
I hope this gives you a helpful perspective on how to treat essay writing:
I wanted to share how I got more comfortable with the process of writing essays, in part because of your posts, by changing how I thought of the task. I was struggling when I thought of it as “show why you know the answer,” and started succeeding when I started thinking about it as “totally prepare my *eager beaver* team leader for a board presentation where her audience includes some smug know-it-alls who will be grilling her.”
Who is the eager beaver client? She’s smart but knows zero law. She’s also not briefed on the facts of this situation at all. She just got back from vacation and is about to walk into the meeting to brief the board on the situation: the rules, the facts, and how they build to the likely outcome. I have to prep her very quickly. She doesn’t know what the board members know about the law or facts, and I’m not going to be there to bail her out if I haven’t told her everything. She absolutely must give a competent presentation, should look prepared during follow-up, and ideally will look like a rockstar by being able to answer any conceivable question.
So how can I judge my performance?
Competent: Eager beaver says, “If you do nothing else, at least logically walk me through to the right answer for my main presentation. There are some no-nonsense guys in there, and I’m going to start by concisely explaining what the answer is and why. Walk me through all issues *necessary* to get to the conclusion. Give me all the rules why, give me the most relevant facts, let me connect it for a P1+P2+P3=C format. The no-nonsense guys will appreciate this. But if you make me look like an idiot for forgetting something crucial, you’re fired.”
Max mentioned that this would be the equivalent of 60-65ish in California (a score that would put you on track to pass the exam assuming all else similar). A “passing” score.
Prepared: Eager beaver continues “Prepare me for the grill session after my main presentation. Some of it will be legitimate, but there are also a lot of smartass mansplainers in there who went to law school fifteen years ago. I can guarantee you I’m going to get several people spouting legal mumbo jumbo to look smart, like: ‘Well actually, did you even consider whether they’re going to raise the best evidence rule?’
Make me look like I thought of everything. Walk me through every issue that could plausibly come up in this situation and all plausible counterarguments, even if I don’t need them in my initial presentation because they’re not going to impact the conclusion. Let me answer Mr. smug-know-it-all by saying ‘Actually yes Bob, we did consider that and either discounted it or decided that, while it may come into play, it probably won’t be dispositive. Here’s why. I think you’ll agree that because of the relevant rule and applicable facts, if they raise the best evidence rule here, they’ll have egg on their face.’ Get me ready to do that, and lunch after this meeting is on me.”
Max mentioned that this would be the equivalent of 65-70ish in California (a solid score).
Rock star: Eager beaver concludes “Try to find a way to include every fact our team learned that could plausibly apply to all this analysis. Remember, I just got back from vacation and I don’t know anything you know, including what you think is not crucial. Even if a fact is not making it into my main presentation, find a way for me to know how it plausibly applies to one or more of these issues that you walked me through. The guys in here may actually know some of these facts, and they’ll certainly ask me what it is my team knows and doesn’t know. I want to be in a position to say ‘Here’s what we know and why it matters’ and maybe in some cases ‘Here’s what we don’t know but need to know and are investigating.’
You don’t have to tell me totally irrelevant facts, because if someone brings those up I can say ‘that couldn’t possibly matter.’ But on the other hand, please do not force me to say ‘I agree that’s a potentially important fact to know. I’m not sure if my team knows the answer. Let me check with them.’ Remember, this is your last chance to fill me in on everything the team knows. If you can do all that, I’m giving you a raise!”
Max mentioned that this would be the equivalent of 75+ in California (a great score).
Thanks again for your great site (and the discount to Baressays.com)!
Additional note from Max:
I tend to think systemically / algorithmically, jumping to the conclusion with a bullet-pointy understanding of how I got there but without the full rules in mind. This makes it very difficult for me to “show my work” without a clear framework for why doing so is an important part of my task, rather than just getting an accurate answer. I’m sure others may have similar mental roadblocks. Again, your blog and materials have been instrumental in explaining how I need to view the California bar exam.