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The Good News

You do not need to do issue spotting on Virginia Bar Exam essay questions in the same sense as you did on law school essays!

On the Virginia Bar Exam, the issue has already been pointed out to you in the question they are asking of you to answer.  Below are some sample question stems that have appeared in prior exams.  For demonstration purposes, we will use the generic name of Sandy in each of the questions.

  • Is Sandy likely to succeed on each of her defenses? Explain fully.
  • What is Sandy’s best defense? Explain fully.
  • On what basis is, if any, is Sandy liable to Bob? Explain fully.
  • Can the Commonwealth make out a prima facie case of first-degree murder as to each of the four defendants? Explain fully.
  • How should the Court rule on Sandy’s motion to sever the charges? Explain fully.
  • Did the circuit judge err in declining to entertain Sandy’s motion to set aside the verdict? Explain fully.
  • Should the Court of Appeals dismiss Sandy’s appeal? Explain fully.
  • What are the respective rights of Sandy and Tom regarding Sandy’s right to use the driveway, and which of them would be likely to prevail in the dispute? Explain fully.

The Virginia Board of Bar Examiners have a hundreds, if not thousands, of questions to ask you.  However, they all ask a very specific and direct question of you.  Each question that is being asked is triggering a specific rule or a set of rules with exceptions (based upon the facts provided).

Here is an example (using a question stem provided above)

Can the Commonwealth make out a prima facie case of first-degree murder as to each of the four defendants?

In the question above, there is no issue for you to spot or determine.  Your job in answering the question is very simple – write out the elements of first-degree murder, look at the facts, and then explain whether based on the elements of first-degree murder a prima facie case of first-degree murder can be made.

The same can be said for the other question stems posted earlier.  There is no issue for you to spot.  Using the CRAC method, you just need to 1) state the rule, 2) apply the facts to the rule, and 3) state a conclusion.

The “Bad News”

Now that you know the good news – here is the “bad news.”  You must know Virginia black letter law, in order to answer the question – period.

You can’t answer a question properly, if you don’t know the rule.  Therefore, it is very important to learn and memorize as much of the Virginia rules.  Knowing a majority of the Virginia rules will result in you knowing exactly which rule is being tested on the essay question.  (As additional reading, here is our article on the notion of “making up rules” in Bar exam essay questions)

To Conclude

You do not need to spot issues on Virginia Bar Exam essays.  However, you need to know Virginia Black Letter Law, in order to realize what rules the fact pattern is triggering and testing.