I took the July 2012 Michigan bar exam, and used BarBri for my bar prep course. This post is some of my general observations regarding the pros and cons of the course.
Background about the Michigan bar exam
Bar exams – the test you need to take to be admitted to be a practicing lawyer in that state – happen twice a year: once in February and once in July. Some states, like Wisconsin, don’t require that a lawyer pass the state’s bar exam if they go to school in that state. Michigan is not one of those states.
Michigan’s bar exam is a 2-day test (July 24th and 25th). (Some states’ tests last three days.) The exam itself is split up into two parts: 15 20-minute essays on one day (nine in the morning, six in the afternoon), and 200 multiple choice on the next day (100/100). These scores are basically added up and divided by two (it’s more complicated than that, but that’s besides the point). If your final score is 135 or higher, you pass; if not, you fail and try again at the next session.
It used to be that, if you received a 150 or higher on the multiple choice (aka Multi-state Bar Exam, or MBE) then your essays wouldn’t be graded. You automatically passed. But, that’s not the way it is anymore. You must pass each part with a 135 or better. Again, that’s roughly how it works. The calculations are more complex than – the scores are scaled and so forth – that but that’s a basic rundown of how it works.
The July 2012 exam had about a 55% pass rate. So, after going through three years of law school and shelling out all the money for tuition, books, living expenses, etc., deciding which bar review course to take is an important decision. Don’t think you don’t need to take a review course either – chances are, you do. There’s a few different options out there: Themis, BarBri, Kaplan, etc. Hopefully my thoughts on BarBri will help make your decision a little easier.
- the resources;
- the organization;
- the schedule; and
- the MBE.
I can’t speak on the other available programs since I didn’t use them, but I can say that BarBri’s resources are great. Basically, all of the material you want to help you study is there. They have all the law you need. They have, I believe, every essay that has been used on the exam for at least ten years. They have a ton of MBE questions in various formats (with answers) to go over. They also have an online program (I forgot the name) that’s designed to help you learn the material, too, which I liked.
Also, they packaged the material in small outlines all the way to in-depth books with case citations (although if you’re looking up citations you’re doing it wrong). They gave you fill-in-the-blank handouts that you’d fill in as you listened to the lectures. I’m a big proponent of learning through listening, writing it down, and using it constantly. BarBri does great there.
They also schedule your bar preparation for every single day from May through the day or two before the exam in July. They tell you what to read, how much to read, how many practice questions to do, what you want to score on them, etc. It keeps you on track, which is especially helpful since you’re dealing with two or three months of preparation. It’s easy to go off track, but they keep you focused.
Finally, with all the material, practice questions, etc., they do a great job preparing you for the MBE.
- the price;
- inattention to the essay portion; and
- they nickel-and-dime you for something that should be included.
The second-biggest drawback to BarBri is the price. It’s pretty expensive at $3,000. You’d think for that kind of money they would have an actual instructor teaching in front of you, and at some locations they do have actual, live classes. But, more likely than not, you’ll be watching a video recording instead. Also, all the instructors do is read through the outline you’ve been given that you’re filling out anyway. They say you can email the instructors or what-not, but what’s the point of that? To debate the law with them? Don’t waste your time on that.
The biggest drawback to BarBri was the inattention to the essay portion. They do a great job on the MBE, but there’s not much attention spent on the essays (which means learning Michigan law). Sure, there’s a few classes on the topics, but they felt rushed. You generally re-read old essays and work through them. While that is helpful, they don’t go too in-depth into those subjects. I don’t know how to exactly describe it, but I believe more attention should have been spent on the essay portion.
Generally, it’s usually justified because most people have difficulties with the MBE and handle the essays well. But, there has been some discussion online that the reason why the July 2012 pass rate was so low (about 55%) was because of a change in the essay grading. I have no idea what happened or why, but, again, I believe more time should have been spent on learning that material.
As far as the final con goes, BarBri offers a service where you write three essays under the 20-minute constraint, submit them, and they grade them while giving you feedback. All is well and good, and it’s a helpful exercise. But, they also prompt you that you can get two more essays graded for an extra $150 or something like that. At $3,000, you’d think something like grading two extra essays would have been included. They also sent out an email saying that if you wanted all the material a little early that you’d have to pay another $100 or so. This also seemed in bad taste.
In sum, BarBri has its own pros and cons like any other bar prep course on the market. Am I happy with BarBri? Yes, I did pass the bar after all. Would I use them again? Yes, I would. Should you? I have no idea. Hopefully what I’ve said above gives you some help in deciding what to do.
A good idea is to – as a 1L, 2L, or perhaps even a 3L although you should know what you’re going to do by now – go to Amazon.com and buy an old Michigan barbri book or two.
Why? Well, there’s a couple good reasons why. First, it gives you an idea of how they’re put together, their content, etc. It’s a cheaper way to see if you like the materials. Second, you can start skimming through them once in a while and learn little bits and pieces of the different MBE and Michigan subjects. (No, I’m not saying to study them, just skim them.) The material won’t really be outdated; it does take the law a long time to change, after all. Third, practice multiple choice and essay questions help you not only with the actual bar exam, but also in your current classes too.
(Note: I am not in any way, shape, or form, being paid for this review or anything like that by BarBri, nor am I telling you to use BarBri or not use it. That’s for you to decide.)