Deadly Sins in CA First-Year Law Students’ Essay Exam Answers

In California, all students who complete their first year of law study at a school not accredited by the American Bar Association or the CA State Bar need to take a seven-hour, one-day exam consisting of four one-hour essays and 100 multiple-choice questions in the areas of contracts (including all of Articles 1 and 2 of the Uniform Commercial Code), criminal law, and torts.

The First-Year Law Students' Examination (FYLSE), also known as the CA baby bar, is administered twice each year, in June and October, at Los Angeles and San Francisco locations. For the essay portion of the FYLSE, dispense with these seven deadly sins:

Sin #1:  Poor Issue Spotting:  Unfocused issue spotting comes from using a shotgun approach to scatter issues throughout an answer instead of aiming a rifle at the facts.  When random issues are casually discussed with a stream of consciousness devoid of rules or analysis, the result is an incoherent low scoring answer.  Choose the major issues raised by the facts and discuss them concisely and thoroughly.   

Sin #2:  Careless Communication:  Spelling and grammatical errors not only distract the bar grader, but also demonstrate a lack of care.  Though points may not be subtracted for these types of errors, they affect the overall credibility of the answer.

Sin #3:  Abusive Language:  Sometimes the facts may require an applicant to represent a party in a dispute.  In real life, an attorney injures a client’s case by belittling an opponent.  Being persuasive does not require using disparaging tone. 

Sin #4:  Abbreviations:  Avoid unnecessary abbreviations that waste a grader’s time in attempting to decode the meaning, or having to refer back to earlier text to create a glossary.

Sin #5:  Useless Headings:  Consider a bar grader’s heavy workload in grading bar exams on top of other professional or personal obligations.  Use headings that reflect the call of the question so the grader knows which question you are on.  Put the headings at the top, not the sides so they stand out.  Make headings for issues and elements that match the discussions so a grader does not think you are on one topic when you are actually writing about another.

Sin #6:  Not Knowing the Rules:  The FYLSE measures substantive knowledge as well as analytical and writing skills.  Before launching into legal analysis, completely state all the rules, free of argument.     

Sin #7:  Long Facts Analysis:  While it is important to use every possible fact to show the elements are met or to apply the rules, spending too much time on an issue is counterproductive.  Avoid lengthy explanations that introduce assumptions or facts not found in the question.

To prepare more virtuous answers when taking the CA FYLSE:

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