Watch Me Take The Bar
Watch Me Take The Bar
This blog, originally started as a chronicle of my taking the bar, is now a look into the mind of an attorney in solo practice in Port Clinton, Ohio.
Tuesday, May 24, 2005

What I Learned at the Law School That Was More Important Than The Bar

(BTW, this is not a post along the lines of "Everything I Need To Know, I Learned in Law School." That may be coming, but it'll be later.)

Howdy, everyone. (OK, I use the term everyone liberally. Thus far, it's a few friends I've sent to and some folks searching for PMBR info.)

A bit of a note -- this post is sort of a mixture of what I've put together for the blog and some of my weekly newspaper column, although slightly more detailed.

So, after three days, I sort of disappeared on the reporting from PMBR, and I apologize; I got busy and so I will need to give you more of an update on Robert Feinberg's associate, Steve Palmer, who I believe doubled as the car salesman in " Fargo," and more antics from Feinberg, of course. But, suffice it to say, I have survived PMBR and am in the middle of a two-week block of no classes and minimal studying to relax me and prepare me for the summer ahead.

I found myself back at the University of Toledo College of Law again last Thursday, which may lead some people to wonder whether or not I will ever break free of the place. (No, I promise, I will.) I wasn't there for anything related to law school or the bar exam (OK, I took the opportunity to visit a professor who's being slightly dilatory in reviewing a paper I need completed for my graduation); but rather there to attend a lecture by Lundy Bancroft, who is a well-known speaker and author on domestic violence.

How I came to be there is an interesting story I'm not quite prepared to share completely with you. Part of the story is that I deal with it every day in my employment with the prosecutor's office. The very first case I ever saw go to a jury trial ten years ago was a felony domestic violence case. They are always difficult, always heartrending, always tough to prove.

The other part has involved a journey I've taken in the past several years with a person very close to me (no, I\'m not a victim of domestic violence, thanks for your concern.) I've seen not only what it can do, but how sophisticated abusers can be and how their behavior is sometimes not only excused, but actively aided and abetted, by the justice system. Domestic violence creates a hell on earth for many people, as it has for this person, but in a way, it has been an eye opening experience that is very valuable to me. About that more later, perhaps.

So, Lundy Bancroft. (BTW, for those of you familiar with the University of Toledo, you'll know it sits on Bancroft Street, which led me to suggest the title of the lecture should have been "Bancroft On Bancroft." C'mon, I thought it was good.) He's worked extensively with this issue, as a counselor, trainer and author. He took a wide view of the issue, and pointed out there are reasons society chooses not to confront it, as it brings us face to face with other problems we’d rather not think about (think poverty, roles of men and women and behavior we as a society will tolerate for starters.)

What result? Estimates are that at least three and a half million, and possibly as many as ten million, children are living in homes with domestic violence. (There are eighty million children in the United States.) Not only that, but it’s expensive: The Centers for Disease Control estimates that domestic violence costs $67 billion a year, making it a most costly public health problem.

There’s an easy solution, though, and that’s to leave, right? Not exactly. It’s important to stop looking at batterers as “the husband who hits his wife” and start looking at them as a person whose campaign goes far beyond the physical aspects and far more into the psychological aspects. Batterers are consistently controlling, manipulative people who see themselves as the victim of their partner’s problem. They believe there is an excuse for what they do, hence the common refrain, “I don’t beat her up without a reason!”

It’s probably a good time to take a detour and say a word about who’s doing the battering. Men can be battered, but the overwhelming amount of battering is occurring against women. It’s wrong when a man is truly battered, but it’s worth considering a few things: (a) a man who is being battered will often have fewer ties to the relationship (i.e., worrying about child care (b) a man who is being battered will often have more economic ability to get out; and (c) men are often physically equipped to defend themselves far better than women. Please be aware I believe that, if a man is battered, it’s heinous and just as bad, but while “men can be battered, too,” the problem is affecting women, and their children, disproportionately. All of which is a way of saying, you may notice I refer to women as the ones being battered. I make no apology for that, because, most of the time, they are.

The sense of entitlement and self-centeredness a batterer has leads him to be not just surprised but also angry when his partner leaves the relationship. (Remember, he beat her up for a good reason!) He will retaliate – seeking custody, stalking her, telling others she is mentally ill. In fact, the danger can increase post-separation.

This same sense of entitlement is the reason he will batter “serially.” In other words, it’s not the woman in particular, it’s any woman in contact with the batterer is in danger.

Let’s also be clear that there are myths about batterers that are out there that need to be addressed. First, it’s not just incorrect but offensive to assume that this only happens in homes where there is a lack of education, lack of money or in certain ethnic minorities. Batterers can be of any social strata, economic income or race.

It’s also crucial to not be sucked in to believing that the batterer is “insecure” (in fact, they’re quite secure in what they’re doing…they have a reason, remember?); suffering from low self-esteem (Bancroft said that you can have batterers with self-esteem, and if you repair their self-esteem, you will then have a happy, well-adjusted batterer); or unable to communicate.

In fact, communications skills are often very helpful to the batterer when (and if) they ever end up in court. Having thought through what they have done, and their reasons, they can present what happened in a very logical manner. They’ll even admit to some responsibility. “I went too far, but…” is a favorite statement.

As human beings, it appeals to us when a person is willing to make a mea culpa, which makes us inclined to believe the batterer has learned from his mistakes. Meanwhile, the victim is still living in terror of the consequences the batterer may be threatening (loss of custody of her children, economic harm, physical harm) and appears disjointed, embittered and scared when she deals with the system.

That’s if she maintains contact with the system, which often doesn’t happen due to threats from the batterer. It’s not uncommon for battered women to encourage charges be dropped, so she needn’t cope with the hassles of dealing with the system or the retribution from the batterer. As a result, she appears indecisive or uncommitted to prosecution.

Another reason this happens is that the victim – and the system – may fall prey to the same phenomenon I mentioned a moment ago, in believing the batterer’s apologies and accepting his promises. “This won’t happen again, because…” Watch what happens after the “because” – it’s what sounds like a positive that’s actually an excuse.

This problem is far more detailed than what I’ve just described above, obviously, and the solutions are going to be just as detailed. It’s going to take a demand from society, a response from law enforcement, and heavy education of those in the court system. We’ll need to understand that therapeutic responses have to be detailed, extended and thorough. Two words are key in trying to deal with the problem: ACCOUNTABILITY and CONSEQUENCES.
This is difficult. Batterers are frequently “creators of confusion,” who create many storms around them and then run to watch the fallout. And it’s also difficult because, even in some of the most effective programs, the success rate is incredibly low. This is going to take a societal change and a major expression of displeasure for this problem to change. It’s going to take a commitment to not treat domestic violence as “one more problem,” but one that requires serious commitment.

Some other things that were interesting to me, in no particular order:

  • Sending a batterer to anger management training is a mistake. Anger management is needed when you beat someone up who took the parking spot. Battering is different.
  • Battering programs should, ideally, last up to two years for maximum effect. Sending a batterer to an 8-week program doesn't help, and may hurt, because the batterer now feels he's a graduate of batterer's school.
  • The recidivisim rate for batterers is high.

There was more, but it's not springing to mind right now. Fear not; I will return to this topic in varying forms and ways over the coming weeks and months. As mentioned above, I've recently had the opportunity to do some personal research, and what's going on is frightening.

Anyway, thanks for allowing me to rattle on on this stuff. Expect more on this. And more studying for the bar. :)

(On that subject, btw, my friend Lindsay, one of the smarter cookies in my address book and whose GPA approaches minor miracles says the study schedule Feinberg put forth frightens her. Yikes.)

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

That's Tough! That's Tricky! That's...A Despicable Way To Treat A Meter Maid!

First, I should note that, when I took the torts test yesterday morning (at my apartment...I saw little point in going into the law school to do that which I could do in the comfort of my own home), I got a 24. If you'll recall my post from yesterday, according to Feinberg, if you're getting half at this point, that's really good. So, let's hope that keeps up.

Adventures with Feinberg continued unabated in Room 1013 of the College of Law yesterday afternoon, although, mercifully, the temperature was back to a normal state. The man has two verbal devices I forgot to relate on Monday: "Gang, you need to know your enemies. And your enemies are the national conference of bar examiners. They are trying to make these as tricky as possible. They want to take food out of your family's mouth." Slightly extreme. Better yet, after a difficult question..."That's tricky! That's tough! That's...the Multistate!" He says this so much, the entire room is repeating it with him by the end. It appears to be this guy's intention to create memorization by irritation. I hope it works; else I will just be irritated.

A few other moments worth remembering or forgetting, I'm not sure which: First, if you want to create a collective gasp in a roomful of law school graduates, just announce that last year, 72,000 people took the bar exam and 26,000 failed it. (I haten to note I did not join in this gasp; I look on the bright side, that 48,000 passed it. I guess maybe only slightly more than a third of the class gasped. ;-) )

Feinberg has certain questions where he asks if you picked a certain answer and, if you did, he then proceeds to say what a dumb choice that was, in not so many words. He did that, and people again raised their hands, whereupon, he pointed (from behind his video screen) and said, "That guy's raised his hands every time I've asked the question. Has he gotten anything right?" Heh. Heh.

But, by far, the most memorable was the story of the meter maid. Now, this takes a little explaining. In New York Times vs. Sullivan, the Supreme Court made it very difficult for public officials (think the President, the governor, the mayor, et cetera) to sue people for defaming them unless you can show actual malice. The idea is this will make people feel free to criticize the government. Well, there was a question about a letter that was sent about a police officer and the question had to do with whether or not he was, as a public employee, a public official.

"Well, that's not true!" Feinberg bellowed, "otherwise that would mean every meter maid was a public official. They're not public officials! They're public nuisances! I ran into one of them a few weeks ago." I sensed a major detour that was going to put me no closer to passing the bar. "I had parked somehwere for a few seconds and I came back and here's this guy writing me a ticket.

"So, I said, 'Please, I'm just leaving,' but he said he'd already started writing it. So I said, "OK. Let me ask you a question. Do you have kids? He said he had two, ages seven and eleven. And I asked him, 'When they do, what does my daddy do, are they proud to say their daddy's a meter maid?'" We all gasped at how nasty this guy was. He must have known we were going to do that, because he moved quickly to the next question.

At the end of the day, he laid out what he said should be our study schedule; although, judging from the reactions of the class, it is unlikely many folks are planning to follow it. When the Barbri class starts in a few weeks, he suggests we go to the Barbri class from 9-12; then from 1-5 studying the outlines given in the particular topic lectured on that day by Barbri, PMBR and Conviser. From 7-8:30, we should do fifty questions in that area, and then from 8:30-10, review the answers. People reacted with some horror to this idea. Although it may not be as bad, because I've been getting through these questions pretty quickly.

Speaking of which, I'm off to do evidence!

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

I Meet Professor Robert Feinberg, And The Encounter Is Not Wholly Satisfactory

I began to feel better about my score on the Crim Law practice test as I sat in the forum (which is the common area of the law school) waiting for the next session to start. I was hearing others saying they didn't do too well -- to wit, they got scores like mine. In law school, it's not so much whether you're smart, but whether you're smarter than everyone else, or at least, not dumber than everyone else. It was appearing, from the discussion of my classmates, I had reason to believe I was at least not dumber than everyone else.

I returned to Room 1013 to find the heat problem had not abated in the least. (They did tell us they turned off the heat, which was darned nice of them, considering it's May 9!!!!) Things were actually, I believe, worse, which is to say warmer.

Anyway, Mr. Inoffensive PMBR Rep began the DVD. That this DVD is being played at all may be a source of surprise to you, but PMBR will, of course, find it incredibly effective for them, as they only have to pay one guy, a videographer and Mr. and Ms. Inoffensive PMBR Reps across the fruited plain to put in the videotapes of said guy. Meanwhile, we get to sit in sweltering rooms watching these videotapes. Think of it like a really bad movie in a theater with no a/c. Trust me, all, this is not the type of movie you want to bring a date for.

So, Guy on Videotape is Robert Feinberg, who I later would find out when I Googled him is the founder and CEO of PMBR. (In a way, this is comforting; I always like knowing where my $750 is going.) Anyway, Feinberg is a slightly-alarmed looking, professorial type with a beard.

"Now, I want to say a word about the scores," he said, and we all breathed a collective sigh of pleasetelluswedidn'tjustgothroughlawschooltodiscoverwe'retoodumbforthebar. "If you got around twenty of the questions right, you're doing just fine." This provoked huge sighs of relief. "If you got half right, you're doing very well." Judging from the laughter of my classmates, very few were doing particularly well.

Later on Feinberg returned to the issue of scores, and how he intends to raise them. As part of taking the class, we received 2,000 multichoice questions. By doing fifty of these a night, we should progress to getting about 60% of them right by the end of June and 65-70% of them right by the time of the bar exam, in late July.

PMBR boasts (or claims) a 97% pass rate for students in Ohio who take its class. As a result, I am reluctant to quarrel with his methods, but he does have some verbal instincts that make a person want to scream. First of all, I don't think he passed talking about a question without referring to his unseen audience at least once per question as "Gang." "Question 7, Gang..." "This is only spring training, Gang." "By game day [also known as the bar exam], Gang..." I realize there are people who think lawyers are all a bunch of crooks, but calling us a gang when we don't even have the degree (nay, we don't have physical possession of our diplomas!) seemed slightly unreasonable.

But beyond that was his singsong application to certain words, most particularly knowingly. "To commit this crime, you must act *tuneless tune* knooow-eeeeng-leeeee." Trust me, sit through this a few times and it's going to get old quickly. Not, apparently, to Bob, who also likes to emphasize his points by gushing...."I want to highlight it in yelllll-owww. I want to underline it in redddddddd. I want to circle it in black." Please, by all means, do it, and leave us in peace.

At one point, Professor Bob referred to someone who was in the alleged audience watching him live give this presentation. I don't want to call Professor Bob a liar, but I tend to believe we would have heard them, because we were all laughing at him. Note, I did not say we were laughing with him.

He also discussed the fact that two people who are relatively casual acquaintances have no responsibility to save the other one from bodily harm when they don't cause it. "So," he said, "if you walk out of here today and there's some who goes flying off his bicycle and lands in the gutter, breaking all his limbs and blood gushing from a head wound, and as he lays there in the gutter [gutter added for dramatic effect, I suppose], he looks at you and says, 'Please help me,' you can say, "Get out of my way, kid, I want to go home and study for PMBR." My friend Laura has identified said moment as the way they take the conscience out of lawyers.

We spent three and a half hours watching Professor Bob caterwaul and caper in a manner similar to what I've just described, and sweltering. He finally released us, and the rush from Room 1013 was something to behold.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Was It Just A Dream?

I've been telling all my friends today:

You know, over the weekend, I had a wonderful dream. You were in it. I dreamt we graduated from law school. There was a graduation ceremony. It was a great ceremony, it was over in under an hour; we all wore caps and gowns and got hooded by Dean Closius. They took our pictures. We laughed. We cried. We took pictures.

Afterwards, family and friends gathered for lunch. We ate. We drank. We celebrated.

And was either a dream, or we're the biggest idiots in the world, because here we are, back in the law school we ostensibly just graduated from at 8:30 on a Monday morning.

No, wait. That wasn't a dream at all. In fact, I did graduate from law school, and in fact, there I was, at 8:30 on a Monday morning, in the University of Toledo College of Law. How bizarre!

And this, I am told, is the beginning of a journey which will hopefully conclude with my becoming a lawyer. The defining moment of said journey will be 78 days from today, when the Ohio bar examination starts. I figured a chronicle of this journey would be somewhat interesting to someone, if to no one else than to me. It may also explain to friends who will visit who are not fellow travelers on this journey, "Where the hell is Michael, and why the hell is he so crabby when we find him?" I'm not saying I'm going to be crabby, but then again, I've got seventy-eight days of studying for a three day test I'll be doing here. What would your mood be like?

Anyway. There are two major classes offered for taking the bar exam, PMBR and BarBri. I'll explain the functions of these classes in a later post more in depth in a later post, but for now, suffice it to say, PMBR is dedicated to the 200 (yes, 200) multiple choice questions I will answer. The class runs from Monday to Saturday, 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM, and some genius decided it needed to start today, two days after graduation.

Sound hellish? It is, and it was, and it was quite literally. The room we entered this morning was not warm, it was hot. While I love the University of Toledo College of Law dearly, I'd like to find the leprechaun, gnome, troll or convict who runs the heating/ac system and shake him. A few weeks before exams, the heat was on in the whole building and it was 75 degrees outside. This was most unpleasant. Today, the saunalike conditions were limited only to Room 1013, which was the room (of course) we were in. I apologize for the lengthy discussion of the temperature, but you would be complaining, too.

The proctor, a completely inoffensive young man in a completely uncomfortable looking white shirt and khaki pants, told us all to begin, and we started in on fifty questions about criminal law. I found myself sitting next to Jeremy Levy, a friend of mine. A few years ago, Jeremy and I were both on the same team for the oral argument competition at our school, and we captured the top prize. Jeremy's a good guy.

The exam took me about an hour to complete, and I walked out of the oven of Room 1013, and outside, into a much more hospitable climate. The answers to the exam were in the back of our books, so I was able to self-grade . I was alarmed to discover I got twenty questions out of fifty right. Visions of other careers in other fields once again danced in my head. (It has, after all, been two years since we dealt with criminal law or any of the first-year subjects taught on the bar exam.)

I spent some time grading my answers and reading the explanations for the ones I got wrong, then headed up to the computer lab to check my email. By noon, it was time to return to Room 1013 and meet (virtually, at least) Robert Feinberg, the founder of PMBR and, I believe, an aspiring singer. But for now, I'm going to check out and head to the new Borders, so more on the eccentric Mr. Feinberg later...

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