Western Michigan University Cooley Law School Blog

Passing the Bar Today Requires New Ways of Teaching and Exam Preparation

Getting students ready to pass the Bar Exam is something Professor Emily Horvath takes very seriously. As the director of academic services with the law school, not only does she work to create solid curriculum and programming, she puts in an effort that begins day one, the minute a student steps into the classroom. 

New approach to learning 

New can be good. Change can be good. But when a new change impacts something like the way a law student studies for the bar exam, then the way professors teach is paramount.

Emily Horvath"We know that students coming through undergrad and high school are receiving a very different kind of education than what we received when we went to school,"explained Horvath. "Knowing this, educators need to take a look at the deficiencies and the skills these students bring to the table and figure out ways to tap into best learning outcomes. Not surprisingly these students are very much technology-based, internet-based, where everything comes on screens rather than paper. Their notes are taken on screens rather than on paper."

Studies have shown that the old lecture hall full of students diligently taking notes "just doesn’t work anymore" Students have vastly different backgrounds and educational experience than before. In order to teach students the best ways to achieve their goals as attorneys, Horvath says you need to meet students half way by tapping into their strengths and then develop their weaknesses.

Bar exam skills

The bar exam has changed significantly over the years, but through study and analysis, the law school has narrowed down the skill set required to pass the bar exam, and to be a good lawyer. 

  • Work ethic
  • Discipline
  • Organizing information
  • Ability to outline

Work ethic and discipline are intuitive, but teaching students how to grasp big picture ideas and take them down to detail is a skill learned. 

"It's the ability to parse out information into, what we traditionally call in law school, an outline," states Horvath. "How to effectively outline, how to be disciplined in what you do, how to have that work ethic, all of those things are directly related to your ability to organize the mass amounts of information that you need for the law exam, as well as every day practice as a lawyer.

"It’s about problem solving. It’s about work ethic. It’s about discipline. It’s about doing the job until it’s done. Those are the skills we are trying to build in our students. It's an educational environment that they have never seen before, especially in law school where everything they learn is different from what they have done before. By instilling these skills during law school, when it comes time to take the bar exam, they will have developed the essential skills needed for success on the bar exam."

Teaching yourself

Emily HorvathAccording to Horvath, most students attending law school today come from an educational background where they are "bombarded with standardized testing." Students expect professors to tell them exactly what they need to know so "they can spit it back on an exam." Law school is much different.

"Law school is about parsing out the information for yourself," states Horvath. "Your professor is more of a guide than a source of absolute information. We tell students that much of their learning occurs outside of the classroom. That is your ability to teach yourself, which is an absolute essential skill in which every lawyer must be proficient."

That's something to be instilled, not memorized, states Horvath. Developing the skill of teaching yourself and being able to find the answers for yourself is essential. Lawyers must be able to organize information in an effective manner, then be able to apply that information or apply those rules to the client situation. 

Knowledge. Skills. Ethics.

WMU-Cooley's mission and history can be wrapped up in three words. Knowledge, skills, and ethics. 

"Knowledge is understanding of the black letter law, the substance of it all," describes Horvath. The word skills means the ability to organize, the ability to parse out information, the ability to pull it all together. When we talk about ethics in terms of the bar exam and preparation, we are talking about a work ethic, how hard you are willing to work for yourself, for your dreams, for your clients." 

This is the essence of succeeding on the bar and in practice. Horvath believes if students develop the necessary skills, discipline, and work ethic, they can pass the bar exam, and "become an excellent attorney to the bar community and to represent their community as, at large." She also take pride in the law school's commitment to diversity.

"I think the more diverse the bar is, the better we represent our communities, the better we can represent individuals, and the better the bar looks as a whole," says Horvath. "I absolutely believe that diversity within the bar is one of the most crucial things, and one of the greatest things that WMU-Cooley delivers to the bar as a whole."

Advocate for the Unconventional

February 13