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Michigan Bar Exam Results – Clerical Error Led to Score Report Mistakes for 17 Bar Exam Takers

Alexis Smith-Scott, a Wayne State University Law School graduate and JD Advising course student, received inaccurate information that she failed the February 2021 Michigan bar exam.

  • First, her seat number was not on the bar exam pass list, released by the Board. She got this bad news as she was on vacation in New York celebrating Mother’s Day with her family. This was terrible news to receive.
  • Secondly, Alexis called the Board to confirm that she failed the bar exam. They confirmed that she did in fact, fail the bar exam.
  • Third, Alexis’s name was not on the initial list of names of applicants who passed the bar exam.
  • Lastly, Alexis received an official score report stating that she received a failing bar exam score. She would have to take the bar exam again.

Note that this was not just a seat number mix-up. Examinees received official score reports stating that they had failed the bar exam, as well as a complete score report.

Alexis handled it with nothing but grace. Alexis contacted us at JD Advising for the next steps. She also immediately told her employer, who offered complete support and offered to pay for appealing, the cost to retake the bar exam, additional time off, and more.

Unbeknownst to Alexis, a clerical error resulted in results being transposed for 17 persons with the same last names. (Note: All 17 candidates were notified of the error.)

Of the 17 people:

  • 7 were notified that they passed and the score correction did not change that passing status.
  • 7 were notified that they failed and the score correction did not change that failing status.
  • 3 were notified that they failed and the score correction changed their overall status to passing.
  • In sum, 7 of the 17 failed, while 10 passed.

Alexis was one of the three examinees who were told they failed–but had actually passed the bar exam.

Soon after accepting the fact that she would have to retake the bar exam, Alexis was walking through the park when she got a call from Michigan Supreme Court Justice, Brian Zahra. Justice Zahra told her that 17 examinees were affected by a clerical error. Justice Zahra gave her the great news that she actually passed the bar exam.

Justice Zahra then called Alexis’s firm, with Alexis on the phone, to notify her firm that she actually passed the bar exam. This would seem like a prank or a joke to most. However, Alexis did indeed receive an official score report (with very different scores).

While the Michigan Board of Law Examiners made a mistake – one that no doubt caused grief and trauma—to the Board’s credit, they did act with integrity to take immediate remedial measures after discovering the error. These measures included publicly admitting their mistake, personally calling affected applicants, and modifying the list of passing examinees on its website to include the names of the three new examinees that actually, in fact, passed the bar exam.

The error was discovered during the appeals process.

We have not ever heard of a mistake of this magnitude to have occurred.  (Some states have had seat number mix-ups, which would be more expected. But in this case, actual “official” scores were reported incorrectly to 17 applicants.)

We feel terrible for the 17 examinees who were put through a rollercoaster of emotions, even after receiving official results. Alexis ended up with great news, but only after enduring almost two weeks of believing she failed the bar exam. However, other applicants were affected as well. One examinee emailed us after the fact, now finding out they had appealable scores (where initially, they did not). Another truly believed they had appealable scores and then ended up with non-appealable scores once their correct results were given to them. This is a very unfortunate situation for examinees to be in and we feel terrible for these examinees.

Note that all 17 affected examinees were contacted. So, if you are an examinee who failed the Michigan bar exam and you were not contacted, this mix-up did not affect you.

As for Alexis, she is planning to have a large swearing-in ceremony at Wayne State University Law School. Justice Zahra will swear her in.

Note: corrections added to post on 5/22/21. 

3 Comments

    Ashley Heidemann

    I am very sorry you had that experience. Thank you for sharing it with us. We have had students question whether essays were written by them but in addition to seat number, we are able to verify it with the student. I wonder if it was easier to confirm whether essay responses belonged to a student when students handwrote the bar exam. With typing, it is difficult and really would be a he-said, she-said (especially since passing examinees are not allowed to request their essays). I am sorry you had this experience and appreciate you sharing it. We’ll keep our eye out for examinees in similar situations in the future.

    99_neverpassed

    The article sheds light on a similar incident that occurred with me with the Michigan bar exam many years ago. The difference is no one believed me and I could not appeal due to the points not being within the appealable range. I never passed the bar to this day and I work an average job that barely covers my student loans. I have not advanced in my career at all. Long story short: everyone thought I passed the Michigan bar; they saw my name on the list. But, I did not. There was a person with the same name as myself, the difference was a matter of the middle initial. The error was caught by a bar mentor after I requested my exam responses but I had no recourse. I was provided the essay responses, multiple scores and score sheet that had my seat number. The bar mentor was through a bar review course (which I will not post here). The mentor was a licensed attorney who also was a bar exam grader in the past. The mentor could not explain why my scores were graded lower for answers that were worthy of majority points. After looking at the list of those who passed and admitted, the mentor realized someone with the same name as myself passed and was admitted to the bar (they took the bar at the same time as I took it). But, the mentor and I never put this together that it could be an error with swapped scores due to the name. Years later, I consulted an attorney for a legal matter. The attorney performed background info on me for the case. The attorney saw a strange resemblance in another person with my name who strangely mimicked my career path and was a licensed attorney in Michigan around the same time I was there and took the bar the same time I took the bar in Michigan. This person sought a degree similar to my degree, joined a similar organization as I had and worked in the same place I interned. The difference was I was in those places far before the other person was. The attorney quickly uncovered that some people thought that the attorney in Michigan was me. I was even accused of being that person. The attorney researched the person’s background and apparently the attorney comes from a political family. Recently, that attorney who has the same name as me had a family member involved in a corruption scandal. Well, that attorney with the same name quietly stepped down from a position the attorney held for many years (in the same place I interned). I do not want to speculate as to why but the average person could read the news and figure out that something was not right. Let’s just say that the attorney’s family member was convicted of corruption and sentenced. Ethically, the attorney was able to keep their license and restart at a nonprofit without issue. As for me, I am still not licensed and never passed. I since moved out of Michigan years ago. I work a 9-5, working my student loan debt off. What those 17 people experienced is not the first time. The difference is they mattered and I did not: I did not have a big company, big position or connections supporting me. BTW, I am not posting my identity due to privacy.

    99_neverpassed

    The article sheds light on a similar incident that occurred with me with the Michigan bar exam many years ago. The difference is no one believed me and I could not appeal due to the points not being within the appealable range. I never passed the bar to this day and I work an average job that barely covers my student loans. I have not advanced in my career at all. Long story short: everyone thought I passed the Michigan bar; they saw my name on the list. But, I did not. There was a person with the same name as myself, the difference was a matter of the middle initial. The error was caught by a bar mentor after I requested my exam responses but I had no recourse. I was provided the essay responses, multiple scores and score sheet that had my seat number. The bar mentor was through a bar review course (which I will not post here). The mentor was a licensed attorney who also was a bar exam grader in the past. The mentor could not explain why my scores were graded lower for answers that were worthy of majority points. After looking at the list of those who passed and admitted, the mentor realized someone with the same name as myself passed and was admitted to the bar (they took the bar at the same time as I took it). But, the mentor and I never put this together that it could be an error with swapped scores due to the name. Years later, I consulted an attorney for a legal matter. The attorney performed background info on me for the case. The attorney saw a strange resemblance in another person with my name who strangely mimicked my career path and was a licensed attorney in Michigan around the same time I was there and took the bar the same time I took the bar in Michigan. This person sought a degree similar to my degree, joined a similar organization as I had and worked in the same place I interned. The difference was I was in those places far before the other person was. The attorney quickly uncovered that some people thought that the attorney in Michigan was me. I was even accused of being that person. The attorney researched the person’s background and apparently the attorney comes from a political family. Recently, that attorney who has the same name as me had a family member involved in a corruption scandal. Well, that attorney with the same name quietly stepped down from a position the attorney held for many years (in the same place I interned). I do not want to speculate as to why but the average person could read the news and figure out that something was not right. Ethically, the attorney was able to keep their license and restart at a nonprofit without issue. As for me, I am still not licensed and never passed. After several attempts the bar took a bar seat. I since moved out of Michigan years ago. I work a 9-5, working my student loan debt off. What those 17 people experienced is not the first time. The difference is they mattered and I did not: I did not have a big company, big position or connections supporting me.

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