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Professional Troublemaker

 Jonathan Corbett, Civil Rights Advocate

What Are My Rights At The TSA Checkpoint?

tsacheckpointGoing through airport security manned by the TSA is an unpleasant at best, panic-inducing at worst experience, and it definitely helps to know what to expect and what you can do to ensure that you are harassed as little as possible.  The TSA is absolutely horrible at informing travelers as to the procedures they will face (often times declaring that they are “sensitive security information” and therefore cannot be published) and those working the checkpoints often misrepresent the rights and responsibilities of travelers (sometimes to be intentionally difficult, but generally because they were poorly trained).

So, here’s what every traveler should know before they collect their boarding pass at a U.S. airport:

  1. You have the right to opt-out of the body scanners and request a pat-down.  Unless your boarding pass indicates that you are subject to heightened security, which will be denoted by four S’s in big bold letters, you may simply tell the person running the body scanner that you “opt out.”  Try to keep a close eye on your belongings while they find someone to pat you down.
  2. You have the right to take pictures, video, and audio recording.  It can be comforting to many to know that they may document their interaction, especially if it looks like there’s going to be a problem.  You can take pictures, video, and audio recordings of the entire screening process with the following two exceptions: a) you can’t take pictures or videos of the x-ray monitors, and b) you can’t hold your belongings (including a camera) while you’re walking through the body scanner or metal detector, or while receiving a pat-down, but you can have a travel companion who has already been cleared do so on your behalf.  If the TSA ever denies you the ability to record your interaction other than for those two exceptions, please contact me.
  3. You have the right to request the TSA’s video of your experience!  Video from security cameras is almost always a public record covered by the federal Freedom of Information Act or similar state laws.  Generally, the video is in the possession of the local airport authority, so your request should be made to them, but I highly suggest sending simultaneous requests to both the TSA and the airport.  How?  Read about submitting FOIA requests to the TSA.
  4. You have the right to carry medicinal liquids as a carry-on, even if they are over 3 ounces.  Any liquid that you need for a medical purpose must be permitted through the checkpoint.  It does not have to be a prescription, and you do not need a doctor’s note.  If you have diabetes, you can easily justify a bottle of Gatorade.  If you have a baby, you may bring breast milk.  You also need not detail your condition for the TSA; simply take the items out of your bag to be separately screened and let the screener know that the items are medical liquids.
  5. You have the right to fly without ID.  If you forget, or lose, your ID, you may still travel.  They will simply verify your identity by calling in your information.  Leave extra time for the process, but fear not.  Note that if you can, but simply refuse to, show ID, the TSA’s policy is to refuse to screen you, although that policy does not exactly square with court rulings.
  6. You have the right to speak to a supervisor.  Blue-shirted TSA screeners come in 4 varieties, represented by 0 through 3 stripes on their shoulders.  0 = trainee, 1 = Transportation Security Officer (TSO), 2 = Lead TSO, 3 = Supervisory TSO.  If you have a problem and the person with whom you are speaking has less than 3 stripes, ask for an STSO.  If the STSO still gives you trouble, ask for a Transportation Security Manager (TSM), who will be wearing a suit.  A TSM is required to be on duty in the airport; do not believe any assertions that one is not available — they are.  Finally, if the interaction with the TSM is still unsatisfactory, you may ask to contact the Federal Security Director (FSD), who is a regional airport director and may not be on-site but generally has staffers who are.  Another resource is the TSA’s national “TSA Cares” hotline.  While the name is a misnomer, as the TSA certainly does not care, they may be of assistance at (855) 787-2227.
  7. You have the right to make a complaint.  Ask for a comment card on your way out, and the name of anyone who made your TSA experience more unpleasant than usual.  You can also file your TSA complaints online, but it makes them more nervous when you ask for a paper copy.
  8. You have the right to request a police officer supervise.  Did the TSA just ask to conduct an invasive search on your person?  Feel free to request that airport police supervise the situation.  Most, but not all, airport cops understand that the TSA is a disaster and that 0% of the times the TSA has demanded absurd levels of screening has the target actually been a terrorist.  As the saying goes, “‘I just caught a terrorist!’ said no TSA employee ever.”
  9. You have the right to refuse to take off anything but outer garments.  This includes, obviously, your clothes, but also includes any medical devices, prostheses, etc.  The TSA is not permitted to conduct strip searches.  If you are asked to do anything to the contrary, contact a supervisor and airport police.
  10. You have the right to refuse screening.  I cannot stress this enough: if the TSA demands that you continue screening in a private room, you should refuse.  You may miss your flight, but think about it: if the TSA does what you see at the checkpoint in full view of the world, you can only imagine what they will do if they determine you need “private screening.”  And, if you can’t imagine, let me fill you in: they will be touching your genitals with the front of their hands.  Know also that the TSA has not successfully leveled a fine or any other penalty against anyone for refusing screening, and their current policy is to simply escort the traveler out of the checkpoint.  Your airline will almost certainly re-book you at no cost.  It is your body, and your choice — do not let the TSA persuade you otherwise.  Just remain calm and firm.

Finally, if you have a negative experience, please don’t keep your story to yourself.  I would love to hear your story and may be able to help you to find resources to help.  Be in touch.  And, please share, print, and distribute to help others avoid TSA assholery.


“Jon Corbett is a civil rights advocate known for filing the first lawsuit against the deployment of TSA nude body scanners, as well as defeating the body scanners live in “How to Get ANYTHING Through TSA Nude Body Scanners.  Presently a law student, he continues to advocate for travel and privacy rights.  Twitter: @_JonCorbett, Web: https://professional-troublemaker.com/

Fighting for civil rights in court is expensive!  Want to contribute to the fight against government assholery? Donate via PayPal, Venmo, Chace QuickPay, Bitcoin, or check

Insomniac Attorney Flat-Out Calls Me a Drug Dealer for Lawsuit Over Medicine Policy

Last May, I filed suit against Live Nation subsidiary Insomniac, the producer of the Electric Daisy Carnival (EDC) music festival, because they refuse to allow OTC medicine into their music festivals and they require festival-goers to “consult” with a “safety officer” to carry Rx medicine, effectively requiring the disclosure of one’s medical condition without any privacy protections.

I wrote previously about how their attorney, Greg Hurley of Sheppard Mullin, has been extraordinarily unprofessional throughout litigation.  But, the filing they just submitted a few minutes ago takes the cake:

“Plaintiff has failed to put forward any evidence that he is disabled or how the alleged policy denied him access. Instead, this entire lawsuit appears to be motivated by a desire to make it easier for him to smuggle illegal drugs into future music festivals.”

This is, apparently, Insomniac’s and Sheppard Mullin’s position on disabled people who need medicine: that they are probably just drug dealers who are faking it.  Their claim of a lack of “any evidence” is belied by the fact that I’ve submitted a sworn declaration to the contrary, and quite simply, Mr. Hurley appears to wish to use the immunity he enjoys when he falsely calls someone a criminal in a court document that, were he to say it anywhere else, would be actionable defamation.

greg-hurley-is-unprofessional

Source Document: Corbett v. Insomniac – Motion for Summary Judgment Reply

TSA Quietly Forcing Some Passengers To Go Through Body Scanner *And* Pat-Down — Even If Body Scanner Says Clear!

tsa_molestation_or_radiation

Image credit: DDees.com

 

When the TSA announced in 2015 that for “some passengers” they were eliminating the body scanner opt-out option, which allowed passengers to be screened via pat-down instead of body scanner, they phrased it as follows:

“TSA is updating the AIT PIA to reflect a change to the operating protocol regarding the ability of individuals to opt opt-out of AIT screening in favor of physical screening. While passengers may generally decline AIT screening in favor of physical screening, TSA may direct mandatory AIT screening for some passengers. … The individual will undergo physical screening if ATR alarms for the presence of an object.”

For those not into TSA jargon, AIT = body scanner, ATR = the software on the body scanner that allegedly detects stuff on your body, and “physical screening” = pat-down.

But, new documents I obtained in my lawsuit against these policies (source, pp. 27, 28) show that they lied about a key fact: if you are selected as one of these “some passengers,” you will be screened with both body scanner and pat-down, even if the body scanner does not alarm:

“That does not preclude TSA from determining that security considerations may sometimes justify exceeding the baseline established by the pat-down technique by requiring certain passengers to undergo both AIT screening and a pat-down—two screening methods that provide distinct benefits when used in tandem. … These [redacted] empirical findings supply ample justification for TSA’s decision to require selectees to be screened using both AIT scanners and a pat-down, without the ability to opt for a pat-down alone.”

Further, the pat-down you’ll receive in this scenario has been modified, although the TSA has redacted from the document exactly how (my best guess, based on my research of all documents and the TSA’s past treatment of passengers selected for additional screening, is that your “sensitive areas” will be touched with the screener’s front-of-hand, rather than back-of-hand).

So, who are these “some passengers” that the TSA is subjecting to both a scan and a proper groping?  As discussed in my previous post on this lawsuit: anyone can be randomly selected for this treatment.  If you’re on the TSA’s “we think you might be a terrorist” list, you’ll be a “selectee” every time you fly.  But, if you buy a one-way ticket with cash, or something else the TSA finds to be “suspicious,” or even if you don’t and you just get unlucky, you can now expect blue gloves between your legs.

It is highly troubling that the TSA is demanding invasive double-searches without disclosing their intentions to the public.  And what does this say about the nearly $2B body scanner program, if the TSA feels the need to pat people down after using them?  Clearly it shows that the TSA knows the body scanners can easily be beaten, so why have them at all?

The reason, of course, is [REDACTED] — the best way to avoid being accountable to the people.

Another Day, Another Mental Health Failure, Another Mass Shooting in a “Gun-Free Zone,” Another “Before the Checkpoint” Tragedy

fllshootingAs you probably heard, a man today pulled out a gun in the non-secure area, near baggage claim, of Ft. Lauderdale/Hollywood Int’l Airport (FLL) and shot and killed at least 5 people, wounding several more.

The man was identified by the media as a 26 year old active U.S. Army soldier with no immediately apparent motive.  And I sit here shaking my head, because this brings up not 1 but 3 recurring themes in our society that we simply refuse to address:

Mental healthcare is lacking, especially for our military.  I’ve watched enough of my fairly well-functioning (i.e., hold down jobs) friends let anxiety, depression, or other mental health conditions go untreated or under-treated because treatment is simply too expensive.  But for those without resources — such as the homeless, or those that come back from war injured or deeply traumatized — the rates of untreated mental illness are astounding.  A report from a year and a half ago noted that going to the VA to seek mental health treatment can result in waits up to 279 days, and yesterday the L.A. Times reported that there are 1,200 veterans in that city who don’t even have a roof over their head.  The cost to our society of letting mental illness go treated far exceeds what we would spend on treating it, and when we refuse to provide it to people who go to war for us, we are flatly failing our duty to those people.  I am certain the 13 people with bullet wounds in Broward County today would agree.

Gun-free zones don’t work.  As a Florida weapons license holder, I’m aware that Fla. Stat. 790.06(12)(a)(14) prohibits me from walking into the baggage claim area of an airport with a firearm, essentially making all airport structures “gun-free zones.”  I remember thinking how stupid this was while picking up a friend at FLL airport a couple years ago, because any law-abiding citizen before the security checkpoint is now a target for criminals who know they don’t have guns.  I can’t imagine how infuriating it would be to have left your weapon in your car, out of a desire to comply with the law, while helping mom with her suitcase, only to become the next victim.

Pre-checkpoint airport attacks are in vogue, and the TSA makes it worse.  Over the last decade, there have been several incidents of violence committed by individuals in airports prior to security screening.  Domodedovo airport bombing (2011), LAX airport shooting (2013), Ataturk airport bombing/shooting (2016), etc. etc. etc.  The TSA, by creating lengthy checkpoint lines that over the last year have often exceeded 1 hour, has created a target that, again, criminals know is unarmed and unable to fight back.  What is the point of putting your blue-gloved hands all over our bodies to ensure that we don’t hurt people on an airplane when any terrorist could just blow/shoot up the checkpoint instead?  To make sure that airplanes aren’t used as missiles 9/11-style?  Because we fixed that problem with re-enforced cockpit doors and changing our mindset from “comply with hijackers so they’ll let you go” to “fight them to the death in the sky, even if it means risking the plane.”  Airport screening should be quick and expedient, looking for the most dangerous items and ignoring your Swiss Army knife, bottle of water, and 10 oz. shampoo bottle, such that there is never a line of more than a few people.  This can be accomplished by adjusting policies, throwing out the scanners (or selling them to fascist regimes where they belong), and putting bomb-sniffing dogs at the checkpoints.

This shooting makes me angry, because it is a perfect demonstration of what we, as a society, are screwing up and refuse to fix.

Jon Corbett Available for Legal Assistant / Research / Paralegal

For the entirety of my adult life, my day job has been in technology.  Now in my third year of law school and having written over a thousand pages of federal complaints, motions & oppositions, discovery requests & responses, and appellate documents in my time as a civil rights advocate (most of which have been posted on this blog), I’m looking to begin my transition to doing law professionally.  I’m available to small firms and solo practitioners on either a full or part time basis.  Naturally, a preference for any firm that does civil rights advocacy (Civil Rights Act, Bivens actions, FTCA, ADA, employment discrimination, etc.), but I’m pretty good with contracts, torts, and consumer rights, too.

Please pass to your lawyer friends and contact jon [at] professional-troublemaker [dot] com.

TSA: We May Force You to Go Through Body Scanners Because… Well… We Can’t Tell You

tsagropeAt the end of 2015, the TSA snuck in a pre-holiday amendment to their body scanner opt-out policy: that passengers may “generally” opt for a pat-down instead of the body scanner, but the TSA reserves the right to require the body scanner.  I immediately filed suit, asking the U.S. Court of Appeals to reverse this arbitrary change made in the face of 94.0% public opposition to the body scanners and the fact that I made readily apparent in 2012: that the body scanners simply don’t work.

A year later, we finally have the government’s position on the matter.  First, I’m reminded that I’m complaining for no reason:

“AIT screening presents no greater intrusion upon passenger privacy than the walk-through metal detectors previously deployed at airport checkpoints”

…which is why 94% oppose them.

Next, I’m told that I shouldn’t concern myself with the matter, because only “selectees” will lose their right to opt-out:

“[T]he challenged AIT screening policy applies only to individuals who have been issued a boarding pass with an “SSSS” notation indicating that they have been selected for enhanced screening.  This notation generally means that the passenger in question is a ‘selectee.’  Selectees are individuals who are ‘[k]nown or suspected [t]errorists’ or who have been ‘identified as [posing a] higher risk’ to airline security ‘based on intelligence [redacted].’  Additionally, as of July 2016, TSA has instituted a policy under which [redacted] airline passengers are randomly designated as selectees for the purpose of a particular trip.”

…but that last sentence is, of course, the problem and, frankly, is what we all already know: that you can be Mother Theresa and still end up with a blue glove between your legs because because the TSA has randomly made you a “selectee.”

But, let’s ignore that for a moment.  There’s a more pressing question: Why does the TSA feel that someone with a higher “risk” level (whether because they are a suspected terrorist, or were randomly selected to be treated like one) should be screened by body scanner rather than a pat-down?

“[Redacted].  Covert tests also suggested selectees could [redacted] opting out of AIT screening in favor of a pat-down.”

Ah, that clears it up.  The TSA, allegedly, found some scenario where it’s easier to beat the pat-down than the body scanners, but doesn’t want to tell us what that is.  But, what about the very real scenarios where the body scanners are easier to beat than the pat-down?  That, of course, isn’t discussed at all.  Once again, the TSA blindly chooses these high-tech, high-price, highly-invasive gadgets when very effective alternatives exist.

The case continues as I get an opportunity to file a reply brief.  I’ll also be asking the court to appoint counsel with a security clearance to review the redacted brief and represent my interests, because hiding the rationale for a policy that is being challenged for arbitrariness from the person challenging it doesn’t exactly lend itself to a fair day in court.

Corbett v. TSA – Appellee Brief (Redacted) (.pdf)

 

Live Nation’s Insomniac Doubles Down on Discriminatory Medicine Policy

medicineIn May, I wrote that I filed suit against Insomniac, the subsidiary of Live Nation that puts on Electric Daisy Carnival (EDC), a 3-day music festival in Nevada that is the largest in the country.  The basis of the suit is that Insomniac prohibits all over-the-counter medicines from entering its festival, then sells the same medicines inside the festival at an inflated price, and additionally requires anyone bringing in prescription medications to show their prescription during a “consult” with a “safety officer” who has no medical qualifications nor any legal obligation to keep your info private.  All in the name of the “war on drugs,” of course.

Insomniac’s attorney, Greg Hurley of Sheppard Mullin, started off our lovely relationship with an unexpected 8:30 AM phone call yelling about how law students don’t know what they’re talking about and shouldn’t file lawsuits.  (Thanks for the tip, Greg!)  The tone of our relationship has continued to this day, with the Sheppard Mullin team refusing to participate in the case like good-faith officers of the court until motions for sanctions or other court intervention is threatened, and even just this month told me I’d be sanctioned for my frivolous lawsuit if I refuse to dismiss it.  (Good luck with that!)

Greg’s hot-headed temper notwithstanding, the interesting part of the legal side of the case is that Insomniac has doubled down, arguing to the court in a motion for summary judgment that what it’s doing is perfectly acceptable, and that if I don’t publicly disclose what my medical conditions are that require medicine (as they have, thus far, refused to agree to any confidentiality), or testify that I’ve never taken an illegal drug in my lifetime, I must just be a drug dealer:

In responses to Defendants’ discovery, Plaintiff has refused to disclose a medical condition impacted by these 2016 policies. Moreover, as Plaintiff has
refused to disclose whether or not Plaintiff uses, or intends to use, illegal drugs, it is reasonable to assume that this is merely an attempt to have a federal court strike a reasonable safety policy designed to protect against deaths from illegal drugs. It is hard to envision a clearer abuse of the ADA statute and the jurisdiction of this Court.

It is simply astounding that after filing suit over them treating those with medicine like drug dealers at the gates of EDC, their attorneys now give me the same treatment at the courthouse.  The Americans with Disabilities Act was designed to protect those with disabilities against being denied full access to public accommodations to whatever extent is reasonably possible.  Confiscating or harassing people over their medication at the festival gate is exactly the kind of thing the ADA prohibits.

I fully expect their motion to be denied.

Corbett v. Insomniac – Motion for Summary Judgment (.pdf)
Corbett v. Insomniac – Motion for Summary Judgment Opposition (.pdf)

Passing the California First Year Law Students’ Exam, a/k/a The Baby Bar, FYLSX, FYLSE, Your Second Year Nightmare

Last week I got confirmation that I passed (indeed, annihilated) the October 2016 California First Year Law Students’ Exam!

The Exam

For those not in the know, this test, cutely dubbed the “Baby Bar,” is required for all California law students who are not in an ABA-accredited law school. As the ABA, being the grumpy old people that they are, refuses to accredit any online law schools, those like me and want to do law school while having a job (or traveling the world, raising a family, or whatever else makes you happy) are stuck taking the Baby Bar.  The exam is taken after you’ve finished your first year. It is offered every June and October, and you must pass within 3 sittings for the exam (e.g., I finished my first year in November 2015, and therefore was required to pass either June 2016, October 2016, or June 2017). If you don’t pass, your law school studies are over until you do, and when you eventually pass, you can receive law school credit only for your first year.

The exam is 100 multiple choice questions and 4 essay questions, allegedly each representing half your grade, at the same difficulty level as the real Bar Exam. The only difference is that the real Bar Exam tests 12 subjects instead of the 3 on the Baby Bar: criminal law, tort law, and contract law. The nice thing about this is that you can use actual past Bar Exam questions as prep for the Baby Bar. The bad thing about this is the pass rate for the Baby Bar is typically in the range of 20% – 25% — the odds are against you from the start. And, the cost to take the exam including all fees is $777, plus travel to Los Angeles or San Francisco if you’re not local.

My First Attempt

In the spring, I was getting ready for the test and taking practice exams, and from what I could see, my scores were in the passing range. Confident, in June I went to Oakland and sat for the Baby Bar exam, which felt pretty good upon taking it. The exam takes 45 days to grade, and in early August I got my results: failed by 1 percentage point.

I was disappointed and a bit surprised (although with a pass rate of 20% – 25%, not passing the first time is not exactly unexpected), since all the practice exams said that I was doing great on the multiple choice and ok on the essays. When I reviewed the written score report, the answer became clear: the Bar’s curving of the exam effectively made the essays count significantly more than the multiple choice.  My multiple choice received nearly a perfect score, but the bar examiners did not like my essays. This was frustrating since the State Bar specifically published that the sections would be given “equal weight:”

An applicant’s total score on the examination is the sum of an applicant’s converted scores on the multiple-choice and essay sections.  This step gives these sections equal weight in determining the total score.

The State Bar lies!

I tried appealing my grade to the State Bar since it would clearly have been passing had they weighted equally as they had promised, but they wouldn’t hear it.  So, it probably won’t surprise you, if you’re a long-time reader, that I’ll be filing a small lawsuit to get my exam fees back since the exam I was given was not the exam advertised. 🙂  But, I digress…

My Second Attempt

To fix my essay writing, I did two things:

First, during the previous sitting, I hand-wrote the exam rather than typed it.  The Bar charges an extra fee for the “privilege” of typing your exam, and I figured it was better to rely on pen-and-paper and avoid any technical issues that day.  But, quite simply, I can type more words per minute than I can hand-write, and on this exam, you need to be working as fast as possible.  I think if I had typed the June sitting, I probably would have passed (being 1% away from a passing score, pretty much any improvement at all would have made the difference!).  Seriously, do not hand-write this exam!

Second, I spent time going through several past exams, writing out the answers, and comparing them to the model answers that the State Bar published to figure out what I had missed.  This also gets you a feel for how the State Bar likes to see answers presented to them.  There’s a pattern, and it seems that following it may be a good idea. 🙂

The end result was that my multiple choice score stayed about the same, but each essay increased in score by, on average, almost 15 percentage points.  I could have actually written my 4th essay on “why it’s important to advertise the correct scoring methodology when you’re giving exams to law students” and taken a 0 and still passed.  (Actual essay questions for October 2016 FYLSX).

Study Tips

Here’s what I recommend for practice (these products are what I actually used and I receive no compensation for listing them):

1) PMBR Audio Lectures. PMBR is a company that, before they were bought by Kaplan, produced awesome bar review lectures. If it’s not on the Bar Exam (and thus not on the Baby Bar exam), it’s not covered, allowing you to focus on only the material that you need to know. Their criminal, tort, and contract lectures total about 14 hours and are by far the best use of 14 hours spent on reviewing substantive law. The easiest place to find their CDs is on eBay or Amazon.com (search “pmbr contracts audio,” or torts, criminal), as they don’t seem to offer the CDs as a stand-alone product anymore.

2) Fleming’s Baby Bar Review. Prof. Fleming runs one of the very few courses that targets the Baby Bar specifically. He has take-home materials, but for about $300 you can take a 3-day, in-person workshop where you’ll review substantive law, practice writing essays in exam-day conditions, and are given the opportunity to take home 6 practice essays which Fleming’s will grade for you, along with detailed feedback, for no additional charge.

3) AdaptiBar. Adaptibar licenses official Multistate Bar Exam questions from the National Committee of Bar Examiners (NCBE) and allows you to practice the multiple choice section on their Web site. The NCBE doesn’t actually write the questions for the Baby Bar, but they are substantially similar. Great for both getting an idea of how you’re doing and for learning what you need to study more of.

4) The Famed 1980 Exam. While the California Bar releases every Baby Bar’s essay questions and answers, they have only released one multiple choice exam ever — from 36 years ago! To be perfectly honest, this is because they are lazy and re-use questions from year to year, so if they released every exam, they’d have to re-write them. But, if you take the 1980 exam as practice and then take the next Baby Bar, it will astonish you how many questions they still re-use with only minor variations. You’d think for $777 per test taker they’d be able to afford to come up with fresh material.

5) Past Essay Exams. Take the questions, write them in an hour each, and compare your answers to the practice answers. They’re showing you exactly how they want it done. Do it that way.

…and finally, make sure you pay the laptop fee and type the exam, and if your typing is slow, learning how to type faster should be a part of your studies (you’ll need that as a lawyer anyway!).

Two Years In at NWCU Law — Updated Review & Tips for New Students

I started law school on November 16th, 2014 at Northwestern California University School of Law, one of the few online law schools thanks to California’s relatively progressive stance on legal education. I wrote a review a few months in, noting that all seemed well so far. Now that I’ve passed my 2nd year final exams in my 4 year, part-time program and thus broken the half way mark, I think an update is well-deserved.

Some thoughts on the experience:

First, if you expected that online law school would be easy, you’ve miscalculated. Each course, taken over the full length of the year, requires about 2,000 pages of reading and comes with several assignments to be completed. At 4 courses per year, you’re looking at about 8,000 pages, or 22 pages per day (roughly an hour — there’s no speed reading law school texts!) if you study 365 days per year. It’s very easy to fall behind, and to be perfectly up-front, about 70% of students who start their first year at NWCU do not make it to their second year. This is an online degree with no required class time, and there is no one there to let you know that you need to pick it up a notch until it is too late. You must pace yourself, as the difficulty of the final exams is on par with the difficulty of Bar Exam questions for the relevant topic, so there’s no softball testing.

Second, although there’s no requirement to attend online classes (you could read your casebooks and outlines and pass, if you learn well by reading), they exist and are useful. You can pick and choose from several time slots that cover the subjects you’re taking, and there’s no requirement to attend every week. Come when you can, no penalty when you can’t. There are also discussion boards for each subject where you can interact with other students. Also not required, but extra credit is given to those who regularly contribute in online classes and in the forum. You want that extra credit — it makes a big difference.

Third, start with the understanding that you don’t know how to write an essay for law school. You can’t simply read the instructions on the midterm or final exams and start typing, expecting to produce the results necessary. This applies even though I know quite well how to write legal briefs in the federal court system: law school writing is a different style altogether. If you want to pass, in my opinion you must complete the “How to Write an Essay” activity that the school offers in the online forums, as well as review passing answers for similar essay questions to get a feel for how they look (see below). This is not required by the school, but it very much should be, because you won’t pass otherwise.

Fourth, the goal of the school during your first year is to prepare you for the California First Year Law Students’ Exam — the “Baby Bar.” The Baby Bar is taken by students in California non-ABA law schools (as every online law school is) who have completed their first year, and you are, essentially, required by the state to pass it within a year and a half of the end of your first year. It is the same difficulty level as the real Bar Exam, but only covers 3 subjects — those you are studying in your first year — instead of 14. The NWCU midterm and final exam questions track the Baby Bar questions fairly well (I’d say the NWCU questions are actually slightly more difficult), and California publishes the essay questions and answers from past Baby Bar exams. The pass rate for the Baby Bar is typically in the range of 20% – 25%, so keep in the back of your mind that you’ve got to not only retain, but enhance, all of your first year knowledge even after you finish your first year, until you take and pass the Baby Bar. (A separate post about the Baby Bar is soon to come…)

So, prospective students: don’t start if you’re not 100% committed, because you will fall behind and waste your time and money when you can’t finish your first year. But, if you can stay on top of things, NWCU is the best value in legal education by far: I’ll have a law degree for less than $15,000 total, while traditional schools charge more than that per semester.  Current 1L students: really really learn how to write essays, as that is 100% of your grade at NWCU and roughly 60% of your grade after grade scaling for the Baby Bar. Do the “How to Write an Essay” activity, review past Baby Bar answers, and make sure you write at least one practice essay (while timing yourself — 1 hour!) for each subject. NWCU offers a practice grading service for a really nominal fee, which is very much worth it.

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