WHY I WRITE MICHIGAN BAR APPEALS

The short answer is, of course, the money. But if that were the only reason, then I would not have a reason to write them. My practice and much of my favorite work is tied into the Michigan Bar Examination and the Bar admission process.

First, there is a need. Michigan’s 5 law schools graduate, on average, 1,000 lawyers a year who sit for the Michigan Bar Examination. On average, 30% of those candidates will fail. With the new essay scoring scheme in place since the February 2009 Bar Examination, the essays are receiving increased focus by the graders. [If you did not know, Michigan used to admit candidates who scored a 150 or higher without grading the essays. These candidates received a 'cursory reading' to make sure they put forth some effort. This practice ended after the July 2008 Michigan Bar Examination]

Second, anyone who fails the Michigan Bar Examination does not want to take it again. Even if you feel you did not do your best, it is a lot of work and anxiety to sit again. If you have taken the Bar multiple times, it feels like you are continuing to slide down a hill with no way to stop and no end in sight. Michigan’s long-standing process of allowing review by Bar Appeal offers a failed candidate a second shot at the test.

Thirdly, I was amazed by the claims other attorneys made about their abilities and efforts on behalf of clients. Some claim to have never lost; some do not let their clients have a copy of their appeal. Some past candidates shared similar stories of poor service, questionable efforts by the attorney and terrible results despite the promises otherwise.

Lastly, I know how it feels to not pass the Michigan Bar Examination and make on a Bar Appeal. That’s right: not only amI the lead attorney for my firm, but I was its first client. When the letter from the Michigan Board of Bar Examiners arrived in early November, 1993, I felt like the trapdoor below my feet had opened. All the studying, the work and my career just shattered. A 133, two lousy points. I was heart-broken. I did not cry (at least not that day), but I was ready to quit; a bad feeling indeed. I ordered my scores out of morbid curiosity to see how I did. I could barely ready my own ‘crap’ much less the vaunted Model Answers from the Michigan Board of Law Examiners. It took my favorite professor and my sister-in-law to convince me that I had done better than I thought. They insisted that I appeal and that they would help.

My Story

To write the appeal, I had to channel my feelings of self-pity and loss into self advocacy. I had to write better than I ever wrote before. I had to objectify my work and the Model Answer AND prove that I did better that the scores I received. So every night after work, I would close the door to my office, pound some caffeine-laden products, and make legal arguments, logical analyses and prove to the Board, to the world, that I possessed the legal knowledge to practice law. Easier said than done.

I ultimately appealed 5 questions. It took me 60 hours, 3 rewrites and the support of my family and friends. Judge Megan Maher Brennan, then a pracicing attorney, held me to a very high standard. She helped me transcend the barrier between personal argument and focused advocacy. She edited my work and made me work through the details. I taught myself the technique to read Model Answers that I still use today. I learned to make my arguments quickly and succinctly. After all the rewrites and edits, I submitted my Bar Appeal according to the concise rules of the Michigan Board of Bar Examiners; Registered mail, return receipt. I would have gladly purchased a talisman, fortune cookie or any other omen of good luck to support my Bar Appeal.

Between the time I submitted the Bar Appeal and received my results, I lost my job [the day after Christmas - Ho Ho Ho]. With two little kids and my wife still attending grad school, I felt great pressure to study and work. I began my short but illustrious career driving the shuttle bus at Metro Airport – One slice of humble pie, hold the pathetic self pity. I felt good about my appeal and found studying for the Bar Examination to be difficult. Deep down, I felt somehow had vindicated myself on the Bar Appeal. Mind you, my track record for the prior two months did not support this prediction. Every time I cracked the books, I felt like I was wasting my time.

It was a freezing cold February 3, 1994 day when my results arrived. The sun shined but it was probably no warmer than 20 degrees that day. I was an hour out from finishing my shift when the radio in my van went off. The dispatcher called my name. I answered and he told me, “Dinan, call your wife at home. She says it is important.” This is the day before widespread cell phone ownership. I pulled over to a medical clinic at the Detroit Medical Center and anxiously dialed our home number. The phone rang 6 times before Julie picked it up. There was shouting and kids yelling in the background. Julie could barely tell it was me on the phone. I asked what was the problem (assuming the worse, of course) and she screamed, “You passed! Timmer, you passed!” My middle son, Michael, was having his first birthday so Julie’s excitement was picked up by the kids at the house. The best 20 cents I ever spent.

I was elated. I told anyone nearby I passed. The door guard, the nice lady cleaning the building, anyone who I saw. I almost slipped on the ice getting back to the van. One of the finest moments in my life and I was wearing a clip-on tie and a cheap white shirt.

My luck changed that day. I had just accepted a clerking job that became a lawyer’s job by passing the Bar. I was sworn in 10 days later. The sweetest part was doing it myself (albeit with a lot of help). No doubt, it was liberating and enpowering. A wall was erected when I failed; losing my job felt like barbed wire was strung along the top. Passing on a Bar Appeal felt like getting a jet pack to transcend it all.

Practice in the Area of Bar Appeals and Bar Examination Education

I did my first Bar Appeals as collaborative efforts with friends graduating from law school with me. Pay was usually a nice meal out or couple of cases of beer. Some of these efforts were successful and slowly the word got out. I gave informal advice here and there. My first professional efforts were a mixed bag – typical for new lawyers learning their trade. I did it after hours so it would not interfere with my job. I developed ideas such as using a third party editor and a fixed format during this time. I also spoke to classes and groups of students who had failed. I found myself being called here and there for advice and help. One day, someone offered me the opportunity to write their appeal for money. Wow! The idea stuck. A practice was born.

When I went into solo practice, I recognized shortcomings in the Bar education field and with attorneys who claimed expertise in this area. I have been fortunate enough to focus my efforts and find opportunities helping out candidates who did not pass. I devoted more time and effort to understand the test, know the graders and Bar Examiners and availaed myself as an instructor and tutor.

What I Try to Do

When any candidate calls my office, I try to put their achievements and position into context. Most people are fine by the time they call me. But they do need advice. I always advise my clients to order their scores and type them up. That forces them to face the test head on and form their own opinion. I then review their results against my reading of the Model Answer from the Michigan Bar Examination. My interpretation of the Model Answer is different as it my objectification of where specific points are available guides my reading of a candidate’s answer.

From there, I try to give the candidate an estimate of the chances of making it on a Bar Appeal. I always encourage anyone who calls to do their own appeal and explain my process for doing them. Ultimately, I make myself available as counsel to those who want to appeal the test and do not have the time or feel the ability to give it 100%. After an honest review of their scores, I feel like I can guide a failed candidate through this important decision. So the answer to why I do Michigan Bar Appeals: it allows me to help someone else who is in my shoes. I am passionate about the subject and I know I care more than any other lawyer about the results of my client. I value the long-term relationships I have developed and the carefully honed reputation I have earned for honest appraisals.