Let’s say you were taking the July 2014 Michigan bar exam. And let’s say you were answering the Wills question. The first issue was about whether you could recognize a valid holographic will. The second issue was about the effect of stock increases on a bequest. The third issue was about whether a general directive to pay debts would have the effect of paying off the testator’s mortgage debt.
Let’s say that in response to issue one, you got the law, analysis, and conclusion correct. Same with issue two. But for issue three, you stated the general law — you simply misapplied it to the facts and arrived at the incorrect conclusion that the mortgage would be paid (when in fact, it would not).
You would think that a mistake like that would lead to a one or two point deduction. In reality, though, we saw many students receive a three or four point reduction for an incorrect conclusion on just one issue! Why? Because on the Michigan bar exam, conclusions matter.
This is not law school. The Michigan Board of Law Examiners does not usually want you to “argue both sides.” They want you to state the law, apply it, and arrive at a correct conclusion. This means that you should pay very close attention to what conclusion that you arrive at, and that you state your conclusion the proper way.
Below are a few tips to keep in mind when you arrive at your conclusion:
- Conclude carefully by using the facts carefully. Take the extra time to review the questions, the facts, and especially, any quoted language to make sure your conclusion is correct. After you are done writing your answer, go back to the facts and make sure you used them and that you arrived at the correct conclusion!
- Purchase our How to Pass the Michigan Bar Exam book here. In the back of the book, it has several “one sheets” that say how commonly-tested issues are usually resolved on the Michigan bar exam. (Excerpts of How to Pass the Michigan Bar Exam book can be found here.) There is never any guarantee that the issues will be resolved the way they usually are, but they are good “fallback” conclusions if you are not sure of the correct conclusion.
- Use the words “likely” and “probably.” Say, “Defendant will thus likely win” instead of “Defendant will win.” Using words like “likely” or “probably” to qualify your answer is advantageous for a few reasons: First, it makes you look lawyerly (even if you have the best case in the world, you would not tell your client that she would definitely win!). Second, it preserves issues for appeal if an appeal is necessary. (Basically, it is easier for us to argue that you should get more points on appeal if you are not adamant about your incorrect conclusion!)
- Do not draw attention to your conclusion unless you are sure it is correct. We highly recommend that you do not start by writing your conclusion if you are not sure if it is correct. If it is wrong, the grader will immediately lose faith in your answer. Also, do not bold and underline a conclusion you are not sure is correct. Again, all that does is draw attention to what you do not know. On the contrary, if you are sure your conclusion is correct, bold it, underline it, and put it in the beginning of your answer!
Good luck to everyone taking the Michigan bar exam!
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