Law students and graduates tend to see the bar exam as a significant obstacle to law practice. Experienced lawyers who must retake the bar exam when seeking licensure in a new state tend to feel the same way: “Ugh, the bar exam.” When to prepare, how to prepare, and for what to prepare, all loom as big questions.
A new book, co-authored by WMU-Cooley law associate dean and professor Nelson Miller and Western Michigan University instructional designer Dr. Doug Johnson, helps examinees adopt a better perspective.
The book, “Preparing for the Bar Exam,” carries the subtitle, “A Comprehensive Guide to Plans, Programs, Content, Conditions, and Skills.” But its bigger contribution — beyond indicating when, how, and for what to prepare — is to re-conceive taking the bar as an enormously formative event. The co-authors’ point is that, when done with the right attitude and behaviors, taking the bar exam, or even retaking the bar exam as an experienced lawyer, makes one a much better lawyer.
“Bar prep is significantly more complex than many realize. That complexity makes a strategic approach critical to success. Passers often look back seeing the key strategies that they followed. We want to help graduates look forward, adopting those key strategies well in advance,” Miller explained.
Co-author Dr. Johnson, WMU’s instructional design research lab director, knows a lot about right behaviors, having provided services internationally to organizations on instructional design, performance management, systems analysis, fluency training, and motivation. His participation in this book project represents yet another benefit flowing from the law school’s WMU affiliation.
Under the supervision of Dr. Johnson and Dr. Heather McGee, instructional design students from WMU’s Industrial/Organizational Behavior Management graduate program are working with law faculty and students to improve learning.
“With a proper understanding of your own behavior, you can arrange your world so that it pushes you to achieve your aspirations. Regardless of how difficult or complex the task in front of you is, it can always be broken down into a smaller set of more manageable tasks,” stated Dr. Johnson.
The right preparation strategies are certainly critical to top performance in any field. Adopting achievable goals, establishing interim objectives, ensuring effective preparation, and striving at full effort are all important activities, as are measuring, assessing, and improving practice performances. Both incremental and comprehensive improvement is also important.
“I am seeing a huge benefit of these teaching strategies already,” said WMU-Cooley student Emily Dykhuizen. “The memorization of terms and elements has made briefing cases simpler, added to my confidence while speaking in class, and helped me tie in the different aspects of the class to different possible arguments to cases.”
Yet the behavioral aspects of taking on and beating any significant challenge are equally important as the strategies that one employs. Lawyers and other professionals need to know how motivation truly works including how feelings, procrastination, and distraction work against it. Masterful lawyers know how to focus, give maximum daily effort, accomplish the immediate in sight of the long-range goal, and prepare effectively to accomplish big things. Learning how to prepare for the bar properly helps make a lawyer masterful in law practice itself.
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