You planned the celebration. You had trepidations, but you knew the results would be good news. Then the time came, and the name was not on the pass list. You felt confused, saddened, and a little scared, but it wasn’t your name in contention, it was your friend’s.
Watching someone fail the bar exam is hard. And it’s hard regardless of your role in your friend’s life. Maybe you are completely removed from the legal world, or maybe you sat next to this friend every single day during bar prep, chugging along with them towards the big test. Either way, watching a friend fail the bar is a difficult terrain to navigate.
What Is The Best Way To Handle This Situation?
Let’s start with you personally. Allow yourself to feel disappointed. If you were anything like my friends, you traveled the road of bar study with your bar studying compatriot. You may have lost a confidant or just a drinking buddy during those three months they were studying. Knowing your friend will be out of your life in the same way, if not more so, is challenging. You are allowed to feel disappointed, so don’t beat yourself up if you do. But, don’t let it show to your friend either.
The First Few Days
At first, your friend will feel a dizzying range of emotions. They are likely to feel embarrassed and crushed. Acknowledge their disappointment, and legitimize it. They have every right to feel a large sense of loss and trepidation. In fact, taking some time and going through whatever natural grieving period they feel, may even help them pass the next time.
Don’t give them patronizing assurances of passage on the next round. Just be there for them. Go out that night as if you were actually celebrating. Or, go to the movies so they can take their mind off of it. Insist that you guys do something social together, and, while acknowledging everything they are going through, treat it as a normal fun social event. Let them know that failing the bar is not the end of the world.
Lastly, assure them that people fail the bar. It does not mean they aren’t smart. It does not mean they are not going to be a fantastic lawyer. If you are unfamiliar with the bar exam process, it is as hard as they say. The test is grueling. The studying even more so. Many successful lawyers failed the bar exam on the first, second, or even more tries. In reality, the test has little bearing on whether the individual taking it can successfully practice law.
The Next Few Months
Sitting down to study for the test for a second time can be a demoralizing experience. So being a good friend is even more necessary this time around.
First, tell them that you understand they are going to have to disappear for a while to study for the test. Reassure them that the this is entirely acceptable, and you will be around on the other side to help when they finish taking the test.
Second, don’t actually accept their disappearance. Some of the best support my friends gave me was showing up when I told them not to be there. This doesn’t mean expecting them to hang out with you, but show up. Maybe bring their favorite beverage or snack. Maybe walk to the grocery store to buy study food with them. Or, just go for a short walk around their house. This never failed to lift my spirits and refocused me on the task at hand.
Third, insist they keep being social with you. Even if that means just showing up for an hour during the Friday night hang. Don’t be the friend that expects them to drink or follow you till the end of the night. Don’t even expect them to be fun. Sometimes I’d go out with the friend and kinda just sit there listening to them talk.
Finally, one of the best ways to learn and memorize a subject is by teaching it to other people. There is perhaps no greater service you can give to your friend then letting him or her teach you about the minutia of a bar subject. Seriously, you want to be supportive, let them explain all the different kind of mortgages. I had so many friends who convincingly acted like the little bit of law I was explaining to them was the most fascinating piece of information they had ever heard. And that was a huge help in getting through patches of law that I personally hated studying.
Watching someone fail the bar is not fun. Your friend will feel the weight of the world on their shoulders. However, good friends can provide the right perspective. An attorney who failed the bar 55 times, is still an attorney. The stress and pressure of the test, and their ability to handle it, is no reflection on any other aspect of your friend’s worth and value. So wish them good luck, and don’t forget to show up on their door step unannounced with some tasty treats.