We are pleased to welcome Jeff Curl to the Bar Exam Toolbox blog. Jeff talks about his experience when he learned he did not pass the California bar exam. Previously he was an apprentice grader for the California bar exam, and now works as an attorney practicing bankruptcy law at JC Law Group PC. Welcome, Jeff!
It’s been almost eight years to the day that I found out I failed my first attempt at the California bar exam in July 2005. It was a shock to the system. After learning this, I basically went through the Kübler-Ross five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
My first reaction was to enter my user ID three or four more times to check for results. Okay, maybe I did it a dozen times. Surely it was a glitch because the website was overloaded by 8,000 other anxious bar candidates. And of course I checked again the next day after I hoped they fixed the glitch.
The denial was starting to feel a little stupid at that point, and was fully pierced when I received my letter from the State Bar telling me good try, but not good enough. And they sent my scores to prove it.
So bring on the anger. I thought of every stupid person and mouth breather that was in my graduating class at law school. I went through my law school idiot rolodex on Sunday morning when all names are released for those who passed. How could most of these dopes pass? Not very gracious. And I actually did not feel that way, but these poisonous thoughts entered my head.
Then I thought of the proctor who leaned on my laptop and closed it, shutting down my computer by accident — jerk! Some blame went to my bar prep course for its methods. If junior college is the fifth year of high school, I likened this course to an eight week add-on to the third year of law school – screw the boring lectures and dumb mnemonics. Then I focused inward. It was my fault for not attending every lecture in law school, for not studying twelve hours a day, seven days a week, for not being focused, for just not being smart enough.
After my outward blame game and inward attack, I bargained with myself over how I would correct this wrong. I would not sleep, I would study harder, study smarter, memorize every point of law, write 100 point masterpieces that would all be model answers. In fact, the State Bar may as well bind my essays and performance tests into a book of poetry or a funky law review article because it would be perfection. I essentially entered into a bidding war against myself setting artificially high standards I could not and would never meet.
Thinking back, I really was like a puppy chasing its own tail … I just lacked the YouTube and meme-worthy cute factor.
So onto depression. I can mope with the best of them. Cell phone and computer turned off. Blinds closed, sleeping in, ordering food to be delivered, dwelling over what to do with my job offer that was now in jeopardy, not shaving or showering nearly enough. Mom was concerned, friends didn’t know what to do (especially those from law school who did pass), and the girlfriend who did pass the exam was not sure what to do either. I did not make it easy for them to figure out. No drama, but I just wanted to be left alone so I could wallow like a 20 something baby. Add a nice student loan debt on top of it, and I really wanted to dig a deep hole and hibernate. But this pity party gets old.
Acceptance for me was first figuring out what to do with my job offer. I went in to see the partner that extended me the job offer, and I told him I thought it was a fair exam (which I did), and that I just did not do well enough. I said thanks for the offer, but I decided to study full time and he should just find someone else. He was very understanding , if not a little surprised. After verbally telling him that the exam was fair, and I just failed it on my own merits, I felt a lot better. It was a simple, but honest appraisal of the situation.
So what do I do post-failure? I researched bar exam prep courses because I decided repeating the same course was not for me, especially with the prospect of a second dose of the same old, same old. I met with a tutor and also signed up for a writing intensive course. For financial reasons, I went with the course and not the tutor. And, several weeks into the course I stopped going after getting into a dispute with the instructor, which is not what you need when you are already under the gun. But I passed, and I look back at that situation as passing in SPITE of the class not BECAUSE of it.
I’ll save what I did right and what I did wrong the second time around for another blog.
But I learned from my experience and my friends’ experiences in not passing that everybody goes through their grieving and reaction process differently.
Some are just angry, some take it as gracefully as possible, some suppress the bad feeling and wait until later.
I don’t know exactly what is right, but there is a range that is healthy. If you pretend you did not fail, you are out of touch. If you cry into your pillow three months straight, you need professional help. Grieve, shout, cry, ride your bike – do what you need to do to place your mind in a position to attack your next bar exam with full attention.
If you are reading this because you did not pass, it does get better. You made it through the SAT, undergrad, the LSAT, and law school. Plenty of smart people did not pass, but eventually made it over the hurdle. You will too.
Jeff Curl was an apprentice grader for the CA bar exam. He practices bankruptcy law with his wife Jeena Cho at JC Law Group PC.
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Did you find this post helpful? Check out some other great articles:
- Are You Feeling Like the Only Person Who Failed the Bar Exam?
- I Failed the Bar Exam? Should I Try to Take the Exam in a Different State?
- Coming Back After a Bar Exam Failure – Gearing Up to Study Again
- You Failed the Bar Exam, But You Can Still Become a Great Lawyer!