I Didn't Pass the Bar Exam

I didn't pass the July 2019 Ohio Bar Exam.

Yep. I said that right on the internet for everyone to see. It's not like it's a secret... they publish the list of those who passed on the internet and my name was not there.

Now that I have had a few days to process all of my feelings about this, I wanted to get on here and try to spell it out. I have never shied away from sharing my failures along side my triumphs on this blog and I do not intend to change that now. Part of the reason I blog is to normalize some of the less than fabulous moments as a law student. It is SO easy to get caught up in the highlight reel... the highlight reel is nothing more than a narrowed focus of reality where the ugly is filtered out just like a snapchat filter removes the bags from under your eyes. If no one ever shares the ugly moments, it is so easy to feel alone and defeated when your life isn't filled with perfect 'grams and snap-worthy moments. I make an effort to share the good, the bad and the ugly so that people know about real life. I never want anyone to look at my blog or social media and think my life is picture perfect because it is NOT. I never want anyone to feel alone and defeated when they fail a law school class or get a bad grade because I have been there too. So I write this now for anyone currently in my position or who may be in the future.

So here is my anti-highlight reel: I missed a passing score on the bar exam by just a few points... I may have passed if I had gotten a better score on my Contracts or Civil Procedure essay or if I had answered 3 more multiple choice questions correct. I did not pass despite working my a** off all summer to prepare. I will have to prepare again over the next 4 months to retake the exam in February 2020. It is going to cost me a lot more money. My career is going to be held back another 6 months. It sucks.

Despite my utter disappointment in receiving this news, I decided that I am not going to wallow. Wallowing around wasn't going to change anything. It happened and it's done. All I can do is readjust, move forward and crush it next time.

I think this is something that is missing in the conversations of the legal world. We talk and talk about the bar exam and how hard it is and how scary it is. The law schools start beating it into your skull first year of law school. They prep and prep you for the exam.... but there is zero preparation for what happens if you don't pass. It's not even discussed. It is treated like some taboo subject... the he-who-shall-not-be named of the legal world. Everyone just says "you'll be fine" and hopes that you are.

Well, I am calling bull on the whole thing. Lord Voldemort aka not passing the bar exam on your first try needs to get normalized and talked about. This unofficial taboo on discussing it leads to those who inevitably fail on the first try (because someone always will- that is a fact), to feel alone, ostracized, alienated and like an utter disappointment to everyone around them. Most people who fail on the first try retreat into themselves. I know people who have deleted all social media after finding out they didn't pass because they felt like such a failure that they just wanted to disappear. They are embarrassed and don't want anyone to take notice of their failure. They avoid their old classmates out of embarrassment or bitterness that the others passed while they failed. Some people just give up and find something else to do with their life and career and try to bury their failure.

Some of these feelings flowed through my own mind in the hours after I found out I didn't pass. I was so disappointed in myself. I felt like I had let my friends, family, professors, school and support system down. I felt like I had wasted a whole summer studying my life away for nothing. I felt some rage at whoever had graded my exam and a whole pile of self-pity. I felt confused that I could work so hard for something and it still not be enough. I felt so alone and isolated as I realized all of my close friends passed while I did not. I let myself feel all those things for a few hours... and then I got on Facebook and congratulated all my friends who had passed. Just because I couldn't say the same did not diminish their accomplishment nor my happiness for them. I know how hard they worked and that they deserved it. Being bitter about it wasn't going to make anything better.

My next decision was to put the bar exam into perspective. I have a good family friend who recently underwent a double mastectomy after being diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer.... this came 6 months after losing her husband to suicide... which came 2 years after she lost her mother to colon cancer. In comparison, having to take a test more than once just doesn't seem like that big of a deal. A 6 month setback is nothing in the long run. I watch her handle all these challenges with grace and an ever-positive attitude and I decided that I was going to handle this bar exam setback in the most positive way possible. Because at the end of the day, it is just a test. It is not the end of the world. My life could be SO much worse than taking the bar exam more than once. Many smart, successful people have had to take the exam more than once.... if they can overcome, so can I.

After a quiet day with my outrageously supportive and wonderful husband, a few bowls of ice cream and maybe a tear or two, I started making plans. I laid out my next few months of studying. I canceled some existing plans in favor of studying the next few months. I arranged my bar prep course. I filled out the application to retake the exam. I cleaned off my desk to prepare for some study time. Now, a few days later, I am in a good state of mind and ready to give this test my all... and now I can do it smarter and more effectively because I did it once before and I can learn from my mistakes.

Yes, I failed the bar exam but I am moving forward as best as I know how. I am blessed with a wonderful support network of friends and family to help me through this time. I know I can conquer it the next time around. I refuse to let this small setback derail my dreams and my path. I will walk away from this on the other side more resilient and stronger than ever. I will become an attorney. I am not going to sit here and act like I am 100% okay but I will be eventually because this is just a bump in the road.

This post has a lot going on but I just want to wrap it up by saying 4 things: 

1. If you are a lawyer, help remove the stigma and taboo from not passing the exam on the first try. The people who end up in that position will beat themselves up enough on their own; the profession does not need to further enhance their struggle by pretending it doesn't exist and making them feel isolated.

2. If you are a law student, please don't let this scare you. You will most likely pass- the majority of people do. I unfortunately missed by just a touch but that is not the likely outcome. Work hard, do your best and the odds are in your favor.

3. If you passed the bar exam on your first try CONGRATULATIONS! It is a fantastic accomplishment. All I will ask of you is to check in on your friends who did not. Let them know they are not alone and that you are thinking of them. Not passing on the first try can be very isolating. Treat them in the way you would want to be treated had the roles been reversed. A kind word and a quick text can go SO far when someone is in this position and help them to feel like the world has not passed them by in their time of failure.

4. If you do not pass on the first try IT IS NOT THE END OF THE WORLD. It is just a small setback and a bump in the road. Cry, scream, punch a pillow... and then get to work. Don't wallow. Don't give up. Remember: it is just a test.

I will end with a quote from one of my law school professors that is so important to me right now and anyone else in my position.

1 comment

  1. Wait, did I just write this?! Just found out last night I didn't pass the Feb 2021 exam. Ugh... I graduated from law school 22 years ago, so I knew it was going to be tough. I will regroup and take it again in July. I appreciate your thoughtful words.