Legal Writing Matters: Preparing Students for the Bar Exam

By Sabrina DeFabritiis and Kathleen Elliott Vinson

While July means fireworks, barbecues, and beaches for some, for recent law school graduates practice readiness and bar passage are the focus this time of year. At the end of July looms the biggest hurdle for these graduates – the bar exam. While their stress level is understandably high at this point in the summer, understanding common pitfalls and having a clear strategy for success can help them succeed on bar exam.

Good writing is a critical ingredient to pass the bar; one day of the multiple-day exam is devoted to testing organization and analytical skills through essay questions.

Essay writing, for some, may be the least favorite part of the bar, but it is a big component, so we make it a big part of the preparation.

Essay writing is a skill that takes a significant amount of practice. When students begin preparation for the bar, some of the biggest problems are lack of practice, lack of structure, and lack of discipline. Focusing on writing is one of the smartest uses of time and the right kind of practice.

To monitor strengths and weaknesses of essay-writing skills, we give the students frequent writing assessments. We also encourage students to practice essay writing in all of the subject areas tested on their state’s bar exam. They must take the time to critically read the facts presented in the often times lengthy questions. Rushing through the fact pattern will only result in missed issues. Missed issues will result in missed points. Students should use the facts to determine the issues they need to analyze in that essay. Having read the facts and identified the issues students need to engage in one more essential step before the writing begins – organizing. A strong essay not only analyzes the correct law, it does so in a clear fashion showing the examiners that the student has identified the issues, knows the applicable rules of law, and has effectively applied the material facts to support her arguments.

Students should not approach bar essay writing with a one size fits all mentality. Different subject areas require different approaches depending on how many issues a student must address in a limited amount of time for any one essay. In order to strengthen their essays writing skills students must commit to practice. Tracking progress in writing performance keeps students focused on the importance of writing in order to pass the bar.

Having such a clear emphasis, structure, and focus on writing gives recent graduates confidence on their success, not only on the bar exam, but also in their legal practice.

Kathleen Elliott Vinson is a Professor of Legal Writing and Director of Legal Writing, Research and Written Advocacy at Suffolk University Law School in Boston. Sabrina DeFabritiis is a Professor of Legal Writing and teaches bar preparation courses.

For more on Suffolk’s legal writing program, visit

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