There are three things I remember clearly from the day before I sat for the bar exam. I remember committing to a half day of study so that I would not overwhelm myself with too much material before the big day. I then remember overwhelming myself with essentially all my notes on Wills and Trusts, as I aggressively tried to force all the material in my brain, as this was one of my weaker topic areas. Finally, I remember speaking with a friend amidst my throes of panic who put me at ease with one question, “did you know that Michelle Obama failed the bar?” The answer to this question was no. I had no idea that this brilliant, exceptional, Harvard-educated woman, whose advocacy for education, global nutrition and poverty awareness throughout her life’s work and her initiatives as First Lady, failed the bar exam. My first thought at the time was, this can’t be real, but after a Google search confirmed my friend’s statement, I felt peace.
Yes, the fact that Michelle Obama failed the bar exam on her first go around meant that I was by no means guaranteed a passing score, however, despite this anxiety provoking fact, I felt peace in knowing that if I could even obtain a grain of Michelle’s accomplishments after a bar exam failure, I would be ok.
The same goes for all the highly successful famous people who have failed, landed on their feet, reached for the stars and surpassed all the lies we fear a bar exam failure would limit us to. You know the names: Hillary Clinton, John F. Kennedy Jr. and even a current, democratic presidential candidate, Kamala Harris. These are some of the names I thought of during the grueling months of waiting for my bar exam score. However, even beyond the general list of names we all circulate in the legal community for solace, there are so many great lawyers, scholars and community builders amongst us in everyday life who may have failed but persisted and shape our world either within their sphere of influence or on a much broader scale. These are the people I want to shed light on in today’s post.
The law student who may have graduated at the top of his/her class, failed the bar but persevered throughout the shame they may have felt. The paralegal, who has faced immense difficulty in passing the exam but continues to shape their skills throughout this role, knowing that their persistence will ultimately land them a passing score and even the people who never attained the passing score they desired but still used their legal knowledge to impact the world. These are the type of people I want to focus on today. The lesser known people, who failed but survived.
Maxcy Filer, is one of these exceptional examples. Although, I wouldn’t quite qualify him as lesser-known, considering his contributions as a civil rights advocate, his story is one that just came across my radar recently. Mr. Filer failed the bar 47 times before passing on his 48th try. This is the definition of persistence! He did this all while raising seven children and concurrently holding down two jobs most of the time during this period. In fact, one of the jobs Filer held was as a law clerk for his son, who now serves as a Superior Court Judge. Despite these failures, Filer persisted. In fact, much of his civil rights accomplishments were obtained before he even passed the bar, such as serving as the Compton NAACP President in 1965 and authorizing a controversial city ordinance to ban semi-automatic rifles shortly before passing the bar in 1989. In 1991, he finally achieved his goal. He passed the bar and ultimately went on to head his own law practice.
Bruce R. Hopkins
Bruce R. Hopkins is another great example of perseverance. Mr. Hopkins is an expert in the field of non-profit, tax-exempt organizations law. He has his own law firm and teaches as a professor at the University of Kansas School of Law on this specific practice area. In addition to these accomplishments, Hopkins has authored more than 40 books, articles, newsletters, court opinions etc. on nonprofit law. However, before reaching these achievements, Hopkins faced his own struggle with passing the bar exam. He failed the D.C. bar exam three times and risked losing his job if he didn’t pass on the fourth try. However, he passed the fourth time around and can in part owe his current success to his perseverance.
Jeremy A. Roth
If you’ve failed the bar and you have aspirations to practice in BigLaw, Jeremy A. Roth’s story should serve as encouragement. Roth, who is co-president and co-managing director of Littler, failed the bar exam on his first try in 1986. The attorney who has racked up accolades such as 2018 Best Attorney and one of the Most Powerful Employment Attorneys has stated that although failing was “unpleasant with a Capital U” he always encourages other bar examinees that have failed that, “it’s not the end of the world.”
Finally, I want to highlight Sam Goldstein. This law school graduate has failed the bar exam eight times and continues to persevere through these failures, choosing to look at the bright side of his efforts. After failing the July 2018 bar, Goldstein chose to look at the fact that he only missed the passing score by 13 points, which was a vast improvement from his February 2018 miss of 27 points. Goldstein views his improvement as an accomplishment, a mindset that I know will get him to his ultimate passing goal.
If you’ve failed the bar, I mean it when I say that this is not the end. So many people before you have failed and literally transformed the shape of our world and people after you, and including you, can do the same.