Here at Bar Exam Toolbox, we provide you with countless strategies for moving on and improving scores if you failed your bar exam. But we don’t neglect the fact that it feels horrible when it happens. All that studying (hopefully), all that stress, and you fail. You feel like your whole career is over before it starts. Are you meant to be a lawyer? Will you accomplish all of your lofty goals?
Of course you will!
Failing is not the end of your story: it’s just the beginning! Having taken the test once before can help you improve your studying and pass the next time. It is by no means a blemish on your professional record. In fact, if you fail on your first try, you are joining a distinguished list of successful lawyers who did the same. From Presidents to law school deans, many famous lawyers have not been stopped by bar failure. Here are just a few prominent attorneys who failed their first bar exam:
Princeton. Harvard Law. Sidley Austin. First Lady. Seems like the path of a brilliant, limitless, lawyer that isn’t fazed by anything, right? True, but there was one thing that initially stumped our former First Lady: the Illinois bar exam. That did not stop her from getting a prestigious position practicing intellectual property law at Sidley & Austin. When she looks back on her life to this point, we promise you she doesn’t think it ended after failing the bar.
Secretary Clinton never passed the D.C. bar exam. Given her long list of accomplishments as Secretary of State and successful public servant, this seems irrelevant. But it’s true: she failed the D.C. bar exam after graduating from Yale Law. She did pass the Arkansas exam, though, and continued down her amazing career path. This included a stint practicing corporate law for the Rose Law Firm. Failing the bar definitely did not stop her from running for president—twice!
Before he was Governor of California, Jerry Brown was the Attorney General of the state. That is the highest legal office in the largest state in the country! Yet, he failed the California Bar exam on his first try. The bar exam was just a small step in his path from attorney, to attorney general, to governor. Like you, he probably thought it was the end of the world when he failed. Look at him now!
If you still have the faintest idea that failing the bar will doom your legal career, just tell that to Kathleen Sullivan. Sullivan failed the California bar exam in 2005 when she was trying to work for Quinn Emanuel in Los Angeles. Fast forward ten years, and she is now a name partner at Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan. Oh, and she was also the dean of Stanford Law School. Talk about the bar exam being just a bump in the road!
And this list just includes famous people. There are thousands of students just like you who fail on their first try. In fact, 21% of first-timers fail the bar exam, according to the National Conference of Bar Examiners. It is not important that you failed the bar exam. What’s important is what you do after you fail.
Yes, you should deal with the disappointment and feelings of failure. They are natural. But getting yourself into an active and positive mindset as soon as possible will help you pass on your next attempt. You did not get through 4 years of undergrad and 3 years of law school to be stopped by one test. Own the next few months of studying and go pass!
Think about your study methods, what sections you need to focus on, etc. How can you better prepare for stress? Do you have enough time to study again? Thinking forward will help you get unstuck from having failed. If Hillary Clinton let failure get in her way, she would have never practiced in Arkansas. Governor Brown would not have been attorney general, let alone Governor! And do you think Kathleen Sullivan would have led a law school? Exactly.
All these incredible lawyers got to where they were because they didn’t let failure define them. You shouldn’t either! Take in the sadness, but then pick yourself up and get ready to pass. And as always, stay on Bar Exam Toolbox to find all of the resources you need!