Challenging the California Bar Exams

Atty. Flomy Diza - Tau Kappa Phi

When brod Novo sent me a private message on my FB to contribute an article to the newly created TKP website, I asked him of any specific topic. He said, “Anything of human interest.”  Earlier in the day, while on my usual after lunch walk, I took a photo of Mahatma Gandhi’s monument at the Port of San Francisco. Beneath his monument says “My message is my life.”  Well, then maybe I can write something about my life’s journey, specifically how I ended up being an attorney in the United States.

I came from a very remote place in Baggao, Cagayan. We were farmers and we are still are.  While growing up in the 70’s and 80’s, most of the houses in our town had no electricity. We used gas lamps to study at night. We walked several miles, crossed creeks and canals through a slippery bamboo or wood-bridges to reach our elementary school. We walked barefoot through the rice paddies during rainy seasons.

My parents instilled in us discipline and value of hard work. All us their five children were required to help  farm our fields after our school and during Saturdays, Sundays or holidays. My brothers and I all knew how to plow the field with carabaos and eventually with tractors (kuliglig). We all planted and harvested rice, corn, mongo, beans and several other vegetables. We braved the sun and the rain, the floods and storms. I thought that my province life though hard, was simple and inspiring. It  had made me a strong person and molded me of what I am now. So for the most part when I visit the Philippines, I find time to go back “home.” I owe my province life of what I am now.

Atty. Flomy Diza, US Immigration Law Expert | Tau Kappa Phi Fraternity, FEU Law

[Atty. Flomy J. DIza (3rd from right, front row) is a US Immigration expert and has already helped a lot of undocumented citizens in their immigration issues.]

About ten years ago, I left my six years law and teaching practice and business in the Philippines to join my family in the United States. It was a tough decision because law practice requires familiarization with the law and establishing a good and reputable name. I was just starting to take off. But fate had me. I chose family over career.


Atty. Flomy Diza - Tau Kappa Phi

I went into job hunting right away. I said that I have to work in a law Firm regardless of the job offer. I thought that my passion for the practice of law will not diminish if I am immersed with a law Firm. I was lucky to get employment from an immigration Firm after one month. I started as a filing clerk, a messenger, a receptionist and all around- employee. I did not complain as I remember that carabao-plowing is way more difficult than answering a phone or doing file clerk stuff. Besides, being a professor of law or an attorney for 6 years in the Philippines does not count as I didn’t have local experience in the United States.

I applied for a paralegal position to a bigger law firm after gaining about 9 months experience. I was hired as a paralegal and I was ecstatic.  Paralegals are attorney’s assistants who prepare forms, talk with clients and draft declaration and legal briefs. I was doing most of the heavy lifting as expected, and my attorneys just signed my work without necessary corrections. I said I want this job of just signing documents.

Atty. Flomy Diza, US Immigration Law Expert | Tau Kappa Phi Fraternity, FEU Law

(Brod Flomy rose up to the ranks from a mere paralegal to a Named Partner of Reeves, Miller Zhang & Diza, a prestigious law firm in the US. With him in this photo is fellow Tau Kappan, Henry Umil and the latter’s wife.)

Three months after I was hired, I asked my boss if I can take a leave off for one month. I wanted to take and challenge the California Bar. The United States is one of the most generous countries when it comes to accepting professionals. In order to practice someone’s profession from other countries, one needs to pass the bar or board exams given by the State. However, only California and New York States allow foreign attorneys to challenge their bar exams. Other states require going back to law school or take up master of laws. My boss said that I was just new in the country, that one month review is not enough, that I needed at least six months to study. He added that even if I was the smartest guy in my class, I wouldn’t make the CA bar as this is one of most difficult bar exams in the US or the toughest one in the world. I did not know if he was correct or he was just discouraging me so I can focus on my work. Nonetheless, he approved my leave upon my persistence. I took his statements as a challenge.

Reviewing for the California Bar was tough. I borrowed old books from the attorneys of the Firm. I also met some friends who promised to give all their review materials if they passed the bar. I bought lecture tapes online and from craigslist just to get a better deal. I only enrolled one month on essay writings during Saturdays and Sundays. Here, essay answers must be broad and extensive, unlike the Philippine bar that requires brief and concise answers.  I thought I was doing good on my review, I was documenting the hours I spent reading and studying. My average hour was 16 hours a day for the whole month before the exams! I was reminded that harvesting rice with bare hands on 80 degrees heat is a way more difficult than 8 hours reviewing in an air conditioned library. I practiced; I memorized and even recited laws and jurisprudence in my sleep.

California laws and the U.S. Federal laws and regulations are completely different from the Philippine laws. If there are similarities, there are but few. Most US bar exams including California are held twice a year, one in February and one in July. The bar exam was 3 days – Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. The first day was the Essay which consists of both federal and state laws, the 2nd day was the multiple choices and the third day was an open book where candidates were given a task to apply the facts, the laws and the regulations. I targeted and took the February 2003 exams. In May 2003, the results came and my boss was right. I didn’t make it. I was devastated yet challenged. In issuing the results, the CA bar notifies the applicant whether he pass or fail. If the candidate made it, he won’t get his grade- just a notice that he or she passed. Interestingly, the Philippine bar publishes the top 10 and the rest are top 11. However, if the applicant fails, he can request a copy of the result. So I did request mine. I was heartbroken because I almost made it! I went back to my boss and asked for 3 months off right away. I planned in taking the July 2003 exams. He said, he won’t approve my leave but he recognized my hard work and offered a deal: promotion to Supervising paralegal, salary increase, and 3 months off for the bar the following year (February 2004). I grabbed his offer.

But in my heart I knew I would make it the next time. I started reviewing for the July 2003, the next bar. I found out that I registered to take the next bar exams, the July one. I didn’t have much time to review because I have to bring my kids to school, work until 6 pm, help my kids with their homework and do my duties as the head of the family. My kids who were 6 and 8 then needed so much attention that they wanted to watch television with their dad and sleep with me at the same time. Lights were off at 10 pm   and I have to wake up at 12 and started reviewing until it’s time to go to work. My hour of study was lessened from about 16 hours to barely 8 hours a day. I asked permission to take 3 days off in July. I said I needed time to go to Las Vegas. I lied. I was taking the bar exams, no one in the office knew about it, even my closest friends. I thought that taking the bar again is a good practice. I have seen and heard Philippine lawyers who never passed the CA bar exams despite many attempts, there were those who persisted but it took them about 3-6 tries. I did not expect to pass.

Another 3 months passed, in November 2003, on a Friday night, I was left alone in the office finishing a deadline. I was aware of the release of the July bar exams. I checked the CA bar website and keyed in my registration number. This was an advance release before it will be in the papers the following day. There was internet traffic; I thought that because there were about 10,000 bar candidates in California were checking the results at the same time. I keyed in my registration and it took about 15 minutes……

“Congratulations, your name appears in the candidates who passed.” The rest is history.

Atty. Flomy J. Diza | Tau Kappa Phi Law FraternityAbout the Author

Practicing immigration law is a very personal profession for him.  He was a practicing attorney in the Philippines from 1996 until he  immigrated to the United States in 2002. He joined Reeves and Associates in 2003 as a paralegal. He  became an Associate Attorney in the Firm’s San Francisco Office when he passed the California bar in 2004. He was promoted in 2007 to a Senior Associate with Supervisor Responsibilities of the San Francisco and Las Vegas offices. He became a partner of the Firm in January 2008 and a named partner in November 2013. He is a Certified Specialist in Immigration and Nationality Law by the State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization.  Having such real-life connections with immigration experience allows him to understand his clients’ concerns and perspective to a personal degree. His many years of experience with all kinds of immigration practice: removal defense, appeals, employment and family- based immigration matters  have provided him with a great deal of knowledge and comfort in representing his clients to an exceptionally high standard.

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