Vanderbilt Lawyer - Volume 36, Number 1

Raising the Bar to 100%

When Elise O'Connell, '06, accepted a position in New York City, she knew she would spend the summer following graduation preparing for the New York State Bar Examination. "It was a huge help to know that I could stay in Nashville while I studied for the bar rather than having to go through the upheaval of moving and prepare to take the bar exam at the same time," O'Connell says. "It was also very low-key - we would stop the video and wait for people if they needed it."

O'Connell, who is now an associate with Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom, is one of dozens of Vanderbilt graduates who remained in Nashville to take the BarBri New York Bar Review course since 2004, when BarBri began to offer the course at Vanderbilt. "Several students had expressed an interest in staying in Nashville to study together while they prepared to take the New York Bar Exam," explains Assistant Dean for Student Affairs Julie Sandine. "When I contacted BarBri, I found that we had more than enough students to qualify as an official location for their course."

This summer, 31 of the 33 graduates who planned to sit for the New York Bar Exam remained at Vanderbilt to study together while taking the course, which met from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. each day, according to program administrator and 2007 graduate Tamara Giwa, who sat for the New York bar exam before starting her job at the Brooklyn Family Defense Project in August. "These students are really grateful that they don't have to uproot before they take the bar exam - they can stay and study with their friends in a familiar environment," Sandine says.

Sandine has also created a free program offered each spring that many graduates tout as enormously helpful in preparing them for bar examinations in other states. "Every state bar exam has essay questions specific to that jurisdiction," Sandine says. "We offer a free seminar on essay writing skills to all 3ls during the semester before they graduate, and graduates who are taking the Tennessee Bar Exam can also take another free course in the summer that focuses specifically on that exam's essay requirement."

Sandine believes the program may have contributed to the high bar passage rate of Vanderbilt graduates. "We had 43 students take the Tennessee Bar in 2006, and they all passed on their first try," she says. "Our goal is to keep that 100 percent pass rate in Tennessee. Our overall passage rate was 95 percent in 2006, and we want to raise that to 100 percent as well."

Christine Rickard, '04, who serves as a clerk for The Honorable Jorge A. Gonzalez Jr., of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida, will teach the Tennessee preparatory course, which will integrate a timed essay, a critique and coaching, in 2008.

Because New York is one of the few states that allows foreign attorneys to take its bar exam, the New York Bar Review program is also a boon to LL.M. graduates. "It's much nicer to prepare for the exam together and to be able to do it here," says Chloe (Ke) Xu, a Fudan University graduate who came to Vanderbilt from Shanghai to study tax law.