LASTING APPEAL: When it's last call for the bar (exam)

Youve just graduated from a grueling three years in law school. The job market is tough. Youre $100,ooo in debt.

And, oh yeah, before you can actually be licensed to work in your chosen field, you must pass one last test.

Michigans five law schools graduate about 1,000 lawyers a year. Thirty percent of them will fail the Michigan Bar Examination.

Most likely, 100 percent of that group will be devastated.

Theres so much pressure because theres so much riding on the bar exam, said attorney Tim Dinan, who practices criminal law, real estate law, and bar appeals at his Grosse Pointe Park firm of Dinan & Associates. Its hard work to prepare for the test, and if you dont pass the bar, well thats just one more reason why youre not going to pay back the loans. And the markets already hard enough to break into.

Dinan knows first-hand the despair of failing the Michigan Bar Exam. He also knows the joy of winning an appeal.

In 1993, after nervously awaiting the results for three months and getting a job that hinged on passing the exam, Dinan learned he had failed by some two points.

But when he ordered his scores and compared them to the Model Answers from the Michigan Board of Law Examiners, he and others decided he had a good case for an appeal.

It took him 60 hours and three rewrites to appeal five essays, which he submitted according to the concise rules of the Michigan Board of Bar Examiners.

Between the time he submitted the appeal and received the results, he lost his job at the Michigan Attorney Generals Office, forcing him to take a job driving a shuttle bus at Metro Airport to support his wife and two children. He also began studying for the bar exam he hoped he didnt need to retake.

The bar appeal process is great because it gives someone who fails a second bite of the apple, he said. It gives someone a chance to get their license a lot faster than if they waited to take the test again.

When Dinan started his solo practice in 1998, he realized there were few attorneys who were experts in the field of bar education. So he focused on helping people prepare for the test, or appeal the results if it didnt go well.

He teaches bar preparation classes at the Michigan State University College of Law and for Bar Bri of Michigan.

The students bring a lot of energy to class and I have learned a lot from them, Dinan said.

He tutors students, counsels applicants delayed in their application process because of character and fitness issues, and helps young lawyers make the difficult adjustment from law student to lawyer.

The best way to study for the bar examination is to review old bar exams, which are published and released with model answers. The old questions and answers show how the law is woven into the facts of the questions, he said. You get to understand where to start looking at those critical points that will differentiate between a good and great answer.

He also suggests students write their own outlines.

If you just read published outlines, youll know the law, but youll never really own it, he said. So by practicing old questions and making your own outlines, youll truly own the law.

The exam is a high-pressure, time management test, and some people test better than others, he said.

Its the same test for everybody, but some people do better on the test because theyre good at taking tests. They think logically, and it is very much a logic test. So if you do well in applying logic and thinking logically, the bar exam is an easier test. For the rest of us its challenging.

He thinks the exam is fair, but understands why some think its not. Part of the challenge is that the exam is framed in time constraints, and not everyone performs as well under that kind of pressure.

He said grader subjectivity, poor handwriting, fatigue and misreading an answer are all reasons an answer might not get the credit it deserves, or conversely, receives greater weight than would be warranted.

As for those who fail?

Youve got to get over it, said Dinan. If you do flunk the bar, you do have some options. Michigan does not limit the number of times you can take the
test. Most candidates who fail the bar are not sure what to do. I encourage them to at least get their answers and then start thinking about what needs to be done next.

But the exam is offered only every six months in February and July. In any case, he always advises clients to order their scores and type them up, forcing them to face their answers from the test head on and to form their own opinion. He then reviews the results against the Model Answers from the Michigan Bar Examination before estimating the clients chances of passing an appeal.

You have the Model Answers to look at for guidance in preparing a bar appeal, and if you failed by just a few points, thats a good option, he said, adding that it costs nothing to file for an appeal, and the applicant remains anonymous to the Board of Law Examiners.

About 30 percent of Dinans work is related to the interests of bar applicants and drafting bar appeals. The rest of the time he practices criminal defense law, and handles some civil work. He considers himself fortunate to focus his practice in areas of personal interest.

A lot of lawyers do work they hate, he said. I hope Ill never be that lawyer.

For kicks, Dinan hits the trails or his garage. His avocation is restoring bicycles, and riding them. He keeps 15 bikes at his Grosse Pointe Farms home he shares with wife, Julie, and their three children, Tim, 20, Michael, 18, and Claire, 15.

Dinan spent a one-week vacation at a technical school in Colorado learning how to perform the restoration work.

Some people like to be on a beach or a golf course, he said. I was just happy being in a shop.

By Jo Mathis

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