With Michigan bar exam results coming out soon, we thought this was an appropriate time to start a series on appealing Michigan bar exam scores. Many students who have failed the bar exam by just a few points have asked us, “Should I appeal my Michigan bar exam score?” The answer is different for each student and depends on a variety of factors which will be discussed in this post and the posts to follow.
Note: We have written several successful appeals ourselves. In fact, for the July 2017 Michigan bar exam administration, we 10 of the 11 passing appeals in the state of Michigan. We were the only firm to have written a passing bar exam appeal that administration. We have seen what works and what doesn’t work! There is a lack of advice on the internet for individuals that are looking to write their own appeals. It seems like the options are: (1) Write your appeal blindly with little-to-no advice or guidance; or (2) Pay thousands of dollars to have someone write it for you. This blog post series seeks to close that gap.
1. First Step: Request your bar exam essay answers.
Request your answers from the Michigan Board of Law Examiners along with a certified check or money order. Follow instructions carefully and do this right away. After requesting them, you should receive your answers as well as the questions and model answers promptly. You will get instructions on how to do this when you receive your score report.
Once you have a chance to review your essay answers, you will be in better shape to tell if you were severely under-graded or if you were lucky to receive the score you did! It is a good idea to ask for advice from friends or colleagues. It is easy to be shortsighted and underestimate your answers when it is your bar exam that you have to appeal. Many times, others can see the potential to recover points where you cannot.
2. Calculate How Many Raw Points You Need on Appeal:
UPDATE FOR JULY 2014 MICHIGAN BAR EXAM TAKERS and beyond: Because the Michigan Board of Law Examiners is now using a “converted essay score” to calculate the number of points received, the below formula will not work to figure out how many points you need. Since the BLE is not telling us how essay scores are calculated now, it is difficult to figure out how many points are needed on appeal. We will update this post when we discover a clear way to figure out the number of points needed. The important thing to keep in mind is that if you failed by, say, two points, you do not only need two points on appeal. You may even need four points back to win an appeal.
UPDATE #2: We found an unintuitive way to find out how many points you need – Call or email the Board of Law Examiners to find out how many points you need to pass on appeal! See more in this post about how to figure out how many points you need on appeal! (You can also email them!) This is much better than simply “guessing” at what you need to pass on appeal.
Generally, the amount of points you will need is as follows:
- If your overall score is a 134, you will probably need 1 point
- If your overall score is a 133, you will probably need 2-3 points
- If your overall score is a 132, you will need 4-5 points
We have seen exceptions to this. For example, we have seen those who scored 133 only need one point. That is why you should call or email the BLE to ask.
Here is how scores used to be calculated under the “old system”.
The Michigan bar exam used to be graded using the following clear formula:
[MBE scaled score out of 200 + (Essay Score x 4/3)]/2
You need an overall score of 135 or higher to pass the Michigan bar exam. There is no requisite minimum score for either portion of the exam.
A Look at a hypothetical score:
Thus, if you received a score of 96 on your essays and 138 (scaled) on your MBE, your overall score was calculated (under the old system) as follows: [138 + (96 x4/3)]/2] = 133
Let’s say you get 2 points back on appeal – so your essay score comes to 98. Is that enough to pass? [138 + (98 x4/3)/2] = 134.33. This is still not quite what you need.
Let’s try three points: [138 + (99×4/3)/2] = 135. Three points would get you a 135 exactly.
So even though the above hypothetical person technically only failed by two points, that person will still need three points back on the appeal in order to pass the Michigan bar exam under the “old” grading.
Now the BLE has “scaled” the score according to some undisclosed formula. We had one student who received a score of 133.5 who needed only 2 points to pass on appeal. Another person who we assisted with a 133 exactly needed 4 points to pass on appeal (and got those points, fortunately!)
If you have any questions about how many points you need, please feel free to e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will give you whatever guidance we can to help you out! This is not cut-and-dry, however. What we recommend is that you calculate how many points you need back under the “old system” above. You likely need at least that many points back to win an appeal.
3. Next Step: Decide Whether it is Worth it to Appeal
The Michigan Board of Law Examiners does not release statistics on the percentage of appeals that are successful, the average number of points awarded, or anything else. Based on my experience assisting with appeals and tutoring students who are in the process of appealing their exams, this is what I have found:
- Those who only need 1-2 points: If you’re in this range, you may be in luck. In fact, the major appeal writers in the state will probably fight to write your Michigan bar exam appeal (if you choose to hire someone)! We have a very high success rate with clients in this range when we write appeals. However, needing 1-2 points does not guarantee that you will pass on appeal. I have seen students hire firms or write appeals themselves and not pass on appeal. Usually this is because their essays really truly have no appealable issues or they do not write a good thought-out appeal, or they simply have bad luck. The bottom line is that if you are in this range, it is definitely worth it seriously consider appealing your score.
- Those who received 3-5 points: I have seen individuals who need 3-5 points pass on appeal. This is getting dicey though. I have seen plenty of people unsuccessfully ask for these points. We have won four and five point appeals. It is definitely possible – just much dicier!
- Those who received 6-9 points: You are fighting an uphill battle. We have received seven points back on appeal before (for the July 2015 administration) — however, the stories of this happening are few and far between. Many of these stories come from several years ago when the appeal graders were more lenient. It may be better to gear up for the upcoming bar exam unless you have good arguments to receive several more points on essays that appear severely undergraded.
- Those who need 10 or more points: I would probably not recommend an appeal unless there was a clear grading error (that is, for example, a score was recorded as a “0” or a “1” and it looks like it should have been a “10”). It is extraordinarily rare to get such a large number of points back on appeal.
4. Decide whether you will write your appeal yourself or have someone write it for you.
- Option One: Write your Michigan bar exam appeal yourself.
You can write your Michigan bar exam appeal yourself. An appeal takes many hours to write. It requires a lot of research. You have to analyze the model answer next to your answer and research the law and make creative arguments. It can be quite grueling.
A major downside (besides being a lot of work) is that it also takes away from studying for the next exam. For February-takers: If you get results back mid-May, then spend the better part of a month writing an appeal, you are already cutting your study time in half. If your appeal fails (which you may not find out for a few weeks), you have left yourself with very little time to study for the July bar exam. The best route would be to pretend like your appeal will not pass and continue to spend a lot of time preparing for the upcoming bar exam. July-takers have more leeway as they have will have a little more time to prepare for the February exam if need be.
The upsides to writing your appeal? First, you will not have to pay the high amount it costs to have someone write it for you. Second, even if the appeal does not succeed, you will likely have a good idea of what the Board of Law Examiners is really looking for should you have to take the bar exam again. Third, if the appeal does succeed, it will be a sweet victory knowing that you did it yourself.
If you are considering going this route, we recommend that you read our other posts about Michigan bar exam appeals. This will make you as knowledgeable as you can be when you sit down to write your appeal.
- Option Two: Hire someone to write your Michigan bar exam appeal for you.
The major Michigan bar exam appeal writers charge between $4,500 and $6,500 dollars. We charge in this range as well. We also put in the maximum time and effort we can to write the best appeal we possibly can! Our appeals are sometimes upwards of 100 pages — we like to make our point and make it well! And we do — for the July 2017 bar exam administration, we wrote 10 of the 11 passing bar exam appeals.
The downside of hiring someone is that it is a huge cost. Some students find it worth it given that (a) we have experience writing appeals; (b) we (and other appeals writers) have every incentive to succeed as we keep track of our success rates; and (c) you can save a lot of time and you can begin studying for the next exam. Even if you do not decide to go the route of hiring someone, many of the major appeal writers (including us!) will look at your essay answers for free and advise you as to whether you have a good chance at appeal.
If you are looking for assistance writing your bar exam appeal, click here. We only take on a very limited number of appeals each term. (It is done through the Heidemann Jabbori Law Firm, owned by myself).
- Option Three: The In-Between Approach:
You can write your Michigan bar exam appeal yourself and send it to a trusted person to review and give you suggestions. If you have reliable friends from law school with good legal minds who are willing to help, it may be worth it to ask for their assistance and suggestions. We also assist students who are looking for a second set of eyes to review their appeals. We generally only recommend this approach to students who have practical experience with legal writing and who really do not need too much assistance.
Looking to Pass the Bar Exam on Appeal?
Check out our information on Michigan bar exam appeals here. JD Advising founder and her partner founded the Heidemann Jabbori law firm, which wrote all of the passing appeals in Michigan for the July 2018 Michigan bar administration.