Failed the Bar Exam? Don’t Worry. It’s Going to Be Okay.

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Written by: Scot Goins, Director of Academic Achievement and Bar Success

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.” 

~Winston Churchill

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama, and John F. Kennedy, Jr., all have something in common – they failed the bar exam. The fact of the matter is, no matter how smart you are, how hard you study, or what great things you are destined for, sometimes you fail the bar exam. Sometimes, in fact, you’ll fail it more than once.

The important thing to remember is that this is not the end. Just as success on the bar exam would not be your final step on the path towards being a practicing attorney, failure is not the end nor is it fatal to your chances of becoming a lawyer. Instead, failure on the exam is a momentary setback, but it does not have to, and should not, end your journey. You can, regardless of anything that has happened before this moment, pass the bar exam in the future and fulfill your dream of being a licensed, practicing attorney.

But, let’s take a moment and be realistic. If you are reading this right now, the odds are that you do not feel very good about yourself or your odds for future success. You are disappointed, upset, possibly questioning your life decisions, your study habits, your intellectual abilities, and may also perhaps be facing a whole host of other overwhelming doubts and fears that have been lurking in the dark recesses of your mind as you awaited your results. The notification from your respective board of examiners that you failed the bar exam hurts. It makes you feel like you let yourself down, like you disappointed friends, family members, employers, and all kinds of other people that you felt had some type of investment in your success. Right now, you are likely in a dark place, and it may feel hopeless. You may feel like your dreams are dashed, all hope is lost, and that there is no light at the end of the tunnel. This is natural. This is okay.

However, as I referenced above, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. In fact, the good news is that you aren’t at the end of the tunnel at all. As a specific reference, I’ll tell you about one of the numerous times that I was on the subway in NYC and we came to a halt between station stops. The power then shut off on the train. Darkness was all around us, it felt like I couldn’t breathe, and whether it was seconds or minutes (or once it actually lasted an hour), it felt like time had ceased moving and I was going to be trapped in that moment of darkness forever. 

Guess what though? The train got moving again, and although I was delayed and felt powerless when that subway car was sitting in that dark tunnel, everything worked out and I got to my destination. The same is going to be true for you. You are going to escape this time of self-doubt, anxiety, and worry, and you will be successful on the bar exam. Sometimes a journey does not go exactly as planned, but that does not mean that you will not reach your destination.

I do not have to personally know you to say this. I do not have to know your score, have ever seen a writing sample of your work, or listened to you discuss torts until I want to accuse you of battery upon my ears. It doesn’t matter whether you failed by a few points or by a lot. The fact of the matter is that you can pass the bar exam. 

I’ve seen people fail multiple times, but ultimately be successful. I have seen people on the verge of giving up, who then choose to give it one more try and really buckle down, and then put the time, work, and effort in to be successful. In the end, I have seen it pay off. I have seen them pass the bar exam. You can pass the bar exam as well.

That is what I am telling you today. You can make changes, adapt, work harder, differently, or utilize different techniques. You can study more, do more practice questions, write and review more essays, or work on more performance tests. You are not stuck in this moment. You are merely at a pause, and when you start your journey again you have control of your own success. It is up to you to dedicate yourself to working hard and holding yourself accountable. It is up to you to utilize the resources provided to you by your school and to let the people who care about you assist you, mentor you, tutor you, and guide you. I believe in you.

I also want to make sure that you know that the people at your law school believe in you. Here in Academic Achievement and Bar Success (AABS), we are all here because we are passionate about seeing our students successful, and because we believe that you can and will achieve. The Deans, professors, staff, and alumni all believe in you, and we all want you to be successful. 

Personally speaking, I care about your goals and I am passionate about your legal career dreams. Your ultimate success fuels the fire of the passion that brought me here, and my favorite aspect of being the Director of AABS is when I see someone graduate law school, pass the bar exam, and celebrate all the hard work and dedication paying off. The joy of seeing someone pass the bar exam never gets old to me, and each time a student gets that ‘pass notification’ is equally amazing to me and also makes me appreciate the astounding amount of time, work, diligence, and effort that goes well beyond that individual’s success at that one moment. It encompasses the realized hopes and dreams of families, represents overcoming obstacles, following passions, and is the crowning achievement of your law school career as you transition into your professional role. I want you to feel the joy that comes with passing the bar exam.

Over the next few days, you will be hearing from me personally about assisting you as you prepare for the next exam, but I wanted to remind you today that you are not alone. I believe in you. The school administration, faculty, and our alumni believe in you. We are to do everything in our power and work with you to help you be successful.

Relax and breathe. Prepare to re-dedicate and perhaps try new things that are outside your comfort zone. Take it easy on yourself and realize that you are not alone, even though it often feels that way, and know that someday this will likely be a story you tell to an aspiring law school graduate about how you overcame adversity and this obstacle (and others) to ultimately realize success. Rest now, recuperate, and be prepared to come out with your best efforts for the next round. Your fight isn’t over. Be courageous, and continue forward.

*One final note: sometimes, finding out that you were unsuccessful on the bar exam can be especially overwhelming, and you may find that you need to seek professional help to deal with your troubling thoughts, anxieties, or worries. I highly encourage you to remember that AJMLS has resources, that there are professionals that are only a click or a call away, and that this time of seeming despair will pass. The unfortunate thing getting through something and processing is that it takes time, but everything will be okay. However, if you find yourself considering hurting yourself, please know that you can always contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline (1-800-273-8255), utilize the lawyer’s assistance program in your state, call a friend, or even dial 911 if you are in crisis. The bar exam results in the now do not define your tomorrow, so take a deep breath and know that everything will be okay. I promise.