We’ve all been there. A close friend of ours, unfortunately, gets bad news on results day. They’re upset, they feel like a failure, or they’re crying all over the place, and you have absolutely no idea what to do. Here are a few ways that you can help support them during this difficult time.
1. Wait for them to talk about it
Don’t assume that someone wants to have long discussions about their feelings, what they did wrong, what they wish they did better, or anything of the sort. If they want to have that type of conversation, they will bring it up. Further, do NOT ask your friends whether they passed or not! Wait until they reach out to you. My friends and I had a system where we all agreed to simply send thumbs up or down emojis in our group chat with our close group. If someone put a thumbs down, we would not ask any questions or acknowledge it in the group chat in any way. If they wanted to talk more, they knew they could, but that wasn’t something that everyone else needed to navigate without the go-ahead.
2. Don’t assume they’ll retake it
Once your friend has had a few days or weeks to process, they’ll make this decision on their own. For some people who don’t pass, it’s one of the hardest decisions they’ll make, particularly if this isn’t their first time not passing. If your friend tells you they plan to retake it, lend a hand and offer to help them study or let them know that you’ll be around to support them however they like. If your friend tells you they do not plan on retaking it, do NOT show disappointment. They feel enough of that on their own. Instead, show interest in whatever next career or educational steps they tell you they’re planning to take. Read this post if you’re interested in learning a bit more about this.
3. Don’t ask what their score is
When you don’t pass, you do get a detailed report of how your score was calculated. If you passed, you know nothing except that you passed. You may be tempted to ask to see their report. Don’t. If they’re okay with you looking at it, they will tell you.
4. Continue to talk to them about topics other than the bar
For the next few days, don’t simply ask how they’re doing or feeling every single time you reach out to them. Likely, they’re having a hard time thinking about anything else, and being reminded that they have a life and friendships and things to talk about outside of the bar exam will be a welcomed reprieve.
5. Ask them how you can best support them
It’s really not rocket science. Your friend knows how they want to be supported, so let them tell you.
6. Educate yourself on how to approach this with empathy
If you’re completely lost and have no idea how to handle the situation, whether from guilt that you passed or not knowing the grueling endeavor that is law school and the bar exam, here are some resources for you to put yourself in your friend’s shoes:
- FAQ: Failing and Retaking the Bar Exam
- Bouncing Back from Bar Exam Failure
- Practical Aspects of Retaking the Bar Exam
- Dealing with the Emotional Aspects of Failing the Bar Exam
7. If you passed, don’t stop hanging out with your friends who didn’t
Obviously no one does this intentionally, but it can be easy to only celebrate with friends who also passed and to exclude your friends who didn’t out of courtesy. It’s not courtesy. Give your friends the opportunity to say no on their own. When planning group events, you can send a text like, “Hey – a few of us are going to celebrate being done with the bar! I understand completely if you don’t want to go, but we would love to have you there if you’d like!” It gives them a way to politely decline without feeling categorically excluded.
8. Finally, do NOT discuss other people’s scores with anybody but that person
Even then, only discuss scores if THEY want to. If your buddies text you and ask if so-and-so passed, and you know they didn’t, don’t tell them. While not passing the bar exam is not the ultimate failure, it can often feel that way, and your friend trusts you with that information when they’re still feeling extremely vulnerable about it. Don’t break that trust by letting everyone else know what is undoubtedly a very private event.
Most importantly, make sure your friend knows that you’re proud of them and love them for who they are, whether they pass or not. It can feel like three years of studying and work were entirely wasted, but they weren’t. Your friend was capable of graduating from law school, and that is a much more challenging feat than the bar exam itself. They are capable, and it’s your job as their support system to help them remember that!