man lecturing to students who are sitting next to a table in a library.

Expanding crucial bar support at crunch time

There’s strength in numbers—and motivation, and camaraderie, and by all accounts some excellent breakfast options.

portrait photo of a man smiling.

William MacDonald

That’s one happy result of a UB School of Law initiative this summer to provide extended support to newly graduated students as they prepare for the New York State Bar Exam. The stretch from Commencement to the exam—scheduled for July 26 and 27—is intense and can be exhausting, so the law school is shoring up weary minds and bodies with dedicated space, targeted workshops and the reassurance that we’re all in this together.

“We’ve really tried to use more of the school’s resources to provide a physical study location but also a set of resources to help students feel like they’re being supported all the way through the summer,” says William MacDonald, who as director of academic success has coordinated the effort.

For the past two years bar prep came in the midst of the Covid pandemic, so the students weren’t on campus. “We tried to maintain weekly contact with them, and we hosted online presentations, workshops and Q&A sessions,” MacDonald says. “That had a strong positive effect on students’ performance. And we recognized that the students seemed to appreciate being reached out to.”

With pandemic restrictions easing, administrators reimagined how they might support students tackling their commercial bar preparation courses. During the run-up to the exam, areas of the Charles B. Sears Law Library have been largely restricted to students preparing for the bar, and rooms have been set aside so everyone participating in BARBRI, for example, could watch together, compare notes and reinforce each other’s learning.

“It gives people the opportunity to bounce ideas off each other,” MacDonald says. “They can talk through the hypotheticals, pause the video or do some group study afterward. It makes people more engaged and gives them the opportunity to see different perspectives on all the material they’re learning. That helps them to get it more quickly.”

In addition, MacDonald has offered strategy workshops on different aspects of the test, which comprises both multiple-choice and essay sections. Review sessions on critical areas of law have included one by Professor Christine Bartholomew on evidence and civil procedure. The law school’s library and IT staff have made sure that students have access to the tools they need. And a series of complimentary breakfast and lunch options have brought some good calories into play.

portrait phot of a man smiling.

James Nguyen '22

About 40 students have taken advantage of the on-site services, MacDonald says. “There’s always a good proportion of our students who are diligent about bar preparation, and they’ll pass even if they’re doing it on their own,” MacDonald says. “The people we worry about are those to whom it doesn’t come as naturally, or maybe they’re dealing with some outside circumstances, and it’s these folks who really value the support from the school. For people who might otherwise have trouble engaging fully with their bar preparation courses, it does help them relax a little.”

For many students, simply having quiet space and friendly company makes all the difference. James Nguyen ’22 says the reduced traffic in the library means less interference with the long concentration required for bar prep. “There’s so much more space, so everyone can spread out,” he explains. “Just having that space, with fewer distractions in your peripheral vision, that really helps you to stay focused.”

Not to mention the food, for which he had kind words: “Having that available makes it sustainable to stay in the library all day.”

portrait photo of a woman smiling.

Megan Poynter ’22

“Online at-home bar prep is incredibly isolating,” says his classmate Megan Poynter ’22. “It’s already hard on the ego, just constantly being reminded of the stuff you don’t know. The fact that the school is offering opportunities and incentives to be on campus and be together, it’s really helpful.”

Her law school class, she points out, had just one “normal” semester of law school before the pandemic exiled everyone online in the spring of 2020. So it’s especially sweet, here on the other end, to be able to study in a group, with friends, in a private library room.

“When you’re in law school,” Poynter says, “almost all of your friends are also in law school, and when you’re suffering through bar prep, unfortunately they are, too. Having people like Professor MacDonald and the librarians and IT folks around and so available, that’s just crucial.”