WHY I WRITE MICHIGAN BAR APPEALS

The simple answer is for the fame and fortune associated with it.  But since this area of law offers neither, I have to fall back to my real reason.

A good part of my practice focuses on counseling legal professionals in transition.  This includes teaching bar examination prep classes, tutoring students, counseling applicants delayed in their application process because of Character & Fitness issues and helping young lawyers make the adjustment from law student to lawyer.  I am writing a book to help law students prepare for the examination and am getting ready to write another book on how to open a solo practice.  My own experience becoming a lawyer pointed up the lack of assistance during this transaction and the great need for guidance and advice.  Over the years, I have encountered so many people who needed advice about Character & Fitness, how to reapply for the Bar Examination or simply finding the motivation to retake the Exam.

At first, I began to offer advice to these new lawyers informally.  I mentored as I was mentored.  Generally speaking, this has been how the practice has been taught and handed down – a combination of mumbled advice and presumed osmosis from which we are supposed to base our career.  It was not very satisfying nor helpful.  As our practice grows, there are fewer of the familiar relationships in place that promote open dialogue and sharing.  Toughen up and put your shoulder into it.  Everyone else is fine . . . what is your hang up?  Ah, but I digress.

The thing is that the transition from law student to lawyer is difficult.  The dizzying mix of personal and professional demands is, at best, challenging and causes no small measure of stress that can cause other problems.  Even worse, some people discover that the practice of law is not like the brochures or Boston Legal.  Again, I digress.

No matter what, if you have taken the Michigan Bar Examination and not passed, you may be looking for help and advice.  I fully understand that feeling.  Back in November 1993, I waited for my bar results anxiously as my new job (and my government career) depended upon them.  On November 2, 1993, the carpet was pulled out from under me.  I missed by two points (actually 1.667 points but the Board of Law Examiners rounds up).  No, that was not the news I expected.  I worked hard on studying, sacrificed my summer and put all my chips on the fact I would pass.

I was stunned.  I did not know what to do.  I did not know who to tell.  I did tell my boss who was, at first, kind and understanding, but then told me the position held for me had to be filled by someone else.  I told my family and friends.  I heard all my friends passed and were making arrangements for get sworn in.  I felt like a total loser whose winter months were going to be devoted to studying for the Bar Examination once again.

I spoke to my professors and my sister-in-law who told me to appeal my score.  Appeal?  Appeal what?  I did not even know that was an option.  I assumed it was a test and a test is a test.  Well, it’s right in the Michigan Court Rules and tersely explained in the ‘failure packet’.  OK, now what?  How do I do it?  Can I do my own?  Pen or pencil?  does neatness count?

Thank God for the good advice I received.  With the help of Megan and Prof. Jack, I put my nose to the grindstone and knocked out my own bar appeal.  To say I obsessed over it would be an understatement.  I analyzed, reviewed, read and reread the materials:  my answer, the Model Answer, the directions from the Michigan Board of Law Examiners.  Draft upon draft until I had it just right.  Conservatively, I spent about 70 hours on the whole project.  I developed the basics for the same approach that I use today in writing appeals.  Of course I did not believe I was going to ever do it again.  I thought I would succeed, but after failing the Bar Exam and losing my job, betting against the house did not seem real smart.

The good news came to me two months into my new job driving a cab at the airport.  On a clear February 3, 1994, I received a call from my dispatcher telling me to call home.  As it was the day before cell phone prominence, I pulled over and called from a nearby medical clinic.  My wife answered with the kids screaming in the back ground, “Honey, you passed!””  I told all the strangers in the lobby who smiled and wished me well; a great moment on a great day.  Another bonus was that my new clerking job became an associate’s position that same week.  Not only did I get enough points to pass, I actually received three points more.  I guess I would have preferred to have passed in the first place, but I savored the win.

I shared this little victory with a few others and helped some buddies write their appeals.  My first fee was two cases of Labatt’s Blue beer.  Ah, the sweet taste of success!  About six months later, I was hired to write a Bar Appeal for real money.  I was paid and won it.  A practice was born.

I have to admit that winning feels good.   I wish I could win all of my cases but I simply cannot (nor does any honest lawyer).  Writing Bar Appeals gave me an opportunity to employ and hone my writing skills.  It let me relive the experience of winning again.  Over the years, I learned how to better analyze results and the model answers to tell my potential clients whether they have a chance or not.  More times than not, people who want an appeal will not qualify for a number of reasons.  It is important to know what chances you have going into the process before investing your time and/or money on a bar appeal.  I am just as proud of the fact I can make that call as a trusted resource as I am of the fact I can effectively write Bar Appeals.

Ever since I began looking at bar results, I have never charged for a review.  That’s my way of paying back all of those people who helped me.  It is my recognition of your hard work to enter our trade.  It’s my way of helping people genuinely in crisis (or at least having a bad hair day). 

The reason I write Appeals of the Michigan Bar Examination?  Simple.  I sympathize and empathize.  I have a narrow expertise to share and have helped hundreds make the important decision to write or not write an appeal.  I have written over 100 appeals with success on many of them.  I feel good as a person and a lawyer to combine my passion with my success.  It is rare and wonderful to combine the two.  I am at my best doing what I love doing: helping my fellow lawyer get to where he or she wants to be.