PMBR Infringed NCBE’s Copyright

Though most readers likely took and passed the bar exam some time ago, perhaps this post will be of interest nonetheless.  This may be old news to some, but it was new to me…

On August 22, Judge Fullam of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania entered an Order and judgment on behalf of the National Conference of Bar Examiners, against Multistate Legal Studies, Inc., Robert Feinberg, and Dona Zimmerman, better known to scores of bar-takers as PMBR. The Court found direct evidence of copying (which, for those not familiar with copyright law, is quite unusual in an infringement case) under striking circumstances.  Feinberg took the Alaska bar exam five times before barely passing it on his sixth attempt, and he was caught removing a sheet of scratch paper with notes on it at the conclusion of the afternoon session of his third try at the bar.  The Court concluded that “nearly all” of the 113 PMBR questions challenged by the NCBE as infringing were substantially similar to copyrighted MBE questions, and imposed a variety of remedies including nearly $12 million in damages.

When I took the Georgia bar in 1993, most students took only Bar/Bri.  But when I took the Florida bar in 2005, I quickly discovered that most students took both Bar/Bri and PMBR.  I took the 3-day PMBR course described in the Order and found it useful.  (For anyone planning to take the bar, working as many questions as possible is critical preparation, in my opinion.)  I was of course attracted by the promised similarity between the PMBR questions and what I’d find on the actual bar, though I did view that claim somewhat skeptically.  But when I took the bar itself, I was surprised to find substantial differences between it and the preparatory questions I’d worked.  Not just a lack of repetition; the format of the questions bore little resemblance to PMBR’s practice questions or to the questions released by the NCBE.  And now I know why: in July 2005, the NCBE reprinted the exam because PMBR’s copyright infringement “had compromised the initial version.”

I have no bones to pick with PMBR.  I passed the Florida exam and went on my merry way.  But I do find this story fascinating… And I wonder what PMBR’s enrollment statistics will be for the next bar exam prep period.

3 replies
  1. Mark Hobratschk
    Mark Hobratschk says:

    I hadn’t heard of this ruling and am surprised by it. I passed in July but found little similarity between the MBE questions and those provided by PMBR (or BarBri). The PMBR supplement wasn’t particularly useful for me, with the exception of the cassettes which helped as a refresher in the days before the exam. In some cases, the PMBR answers were even flat wrong and caused great confusion.

  2. Julie Fleming Brown
    Julie Fleming Brown says:

    Mark, thanks for your comment and congratulations on having passed the bar exam.

    I agree with your criticism of some PMBR answers. I’ve been told by people who took the MBE and PMBR in years past that there was great similarity between the PMBR questions and those on past exams, even including some repetition of questions. As I mentioned in the post, that wasn’t the case in July 2005, much to the surprise and consternation of just about everyone I talked with. I suspect it won’t ever be the case again… And that isn’t a bad thing.

  3. mordechai pelta
    mordechai pelta says:

    my personal experience and those of most of my friends who passed the bar exam after several attempts was that despite doing all of the PMBR questions, their MBE scores did not increase and in one instance they decreased, after Andy took the course. thankfully, he is now a lawyer, no thanks to PMBR. what i found increased my score significantly was a combination of using Strategies and Tactics for the MBE by Kimm Walton, The Finz Method, and, the latter source unlike PMBR actually had the common sense to ask the NCBE for permission to reprint their questions! finally, i also found it invaluable for me to order all of the released questions from NCBE and determine for myself why I got the wrong answer — and in some instances why I got the correct answer out of pure luck. but PMBR was always way off base as far as i was concerned, as well as most of my friends who were repeaters. those who did not repeat the exam and passed the first time swore by PMBR. of course if you pass the first time, you have no idea what you did right or wrong. you just know you passed.

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