Whether you are studying to pass your class on Professional Responsibility or are trying to get over the hurdle of the MPRE, think about doing more than just reviewing the ABA Model rules. Of course, memorization is an important technique that should be part of your studies because the Model Rules are the actual source for the multiple-choice questions on the MPRE or those developed by your professor. However, by thinking out of the box when studying these rules, you may actually internalize the concepts stated in the rules more effectively.
When I taught Professional Responsibility, I incorporated a lot of exercises that were meant to get students to think about the rules in a more real-life context. My goal was to force students to push the envelope on what might or might not be an ethical violation. By trying to figure out whether something had crossed an ethical line, the student was analyzing a new situation, much like considering a new hypothetical in class. Simply memorizing the language of the rules may not get you to the same point when you are faced with a question, which is actually a new fact pattern, with 4 possible answers.
Try Something Different:
1. Watch the classic movie “The Verdict,” with Paul Newman. The movie is rife with unethical lawyers on all sides, and a particularly shady judge. Watch with a notepad and a pen. Jot down each incident depicted in the movie you suspect constitutes an ethical violation. I’m not talking about just 10-15 rules. A good cross-section of the Model ABA rules is violated in this movie. When the movie is over, go over your list and figure out exactly which rules and/or subdivisions were triggered by the conduct you wrote down. You will be amazed at how this exercise will bring substance to the language of the actual rules.
While there are more current movies involving shady lawyers, I’m not sure there is another movie that covers the ABA rules so thoroughly. However, a movie based on a John Grisham novel, or the recent “Roman J. Israel, Esq.,” might work as well.
2. Look at published reports about disciplined lawyers. At least in California, the State Bar publishes summaries about the conduct that lead to the decision to discipline a particular lawyer. Ask yourself – what exact rules were violated by this lawyer? Again, this exercise will place those rules in a context of real facts. When completing this exercise, remember to focus on the ABA rules and not the rules of the particular state where the discipline was issued. You might even find that a violation under the state law might not actually be a violation under the ABA. This will force you to see the distinctions between the two systems that might trip you up on the MPRE if you are not careful.
3. If you are a law student, you probably care about current events and watch a lot of cable news. Put that to good use. There are always stories about lawyers in powerful positions. Are they violating rules or approaching the ethical lines? Not convinced? I wrote almost all the essay questions for my PR classes using current events. One was based on the Madoff pyramid scheme and my curiosity about whether attorneys were involved in some way. How about the death of Anna Nicole Smith? Her best friend and “husband” was a lawyer who tried to hide the paternity of her newborn daughter. Or how about all the lawyers who go on cable TV to talk about current cases in the media, then get hired to participate in those cases? Believe me when I tell you, while I changed the names of the people involved, I did not have to change too many facts to make the fact patterns interesting.
Consider what rules are actually being violated or are potentially being violated. Look them up and read the rules again to see if your conclusions are correct.
Studying for the MPRE does not have to be just you and a bunch of flash cards, completing a series of practice multiple choice questions over and over again. You will be living with these rules, or a close version of the rules adopted by your state, for the rest of your legal career. View the rules in the real life way they are meant to govern the conduct of lawyers. They are not meant to be a “one and done” subject you study then never return to again in the future. For this reason, you might as well have some fun, and maybe catch a movie or two!
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