The rest of you are not cheering at any news and are filled with trepidation. You have never failed any test in your entire life. Ever. But here you are in excruciating pain, excluded from the jubilant group of passers, and wondering if your last three years were wasted and your hopes to practice the law gone forever. That answer is No! Not at all. You feel completely crushed right now – but really everything can still turn out well, it will just take a little longer than you hoped. Lots of people fail their first bar exam and go on to have lucrative careers.
Famous people who have failed the bar; sometimes more than once. No I’m not talking about your friend’s friend or your drunken uncle. I’m referring to:
- Hilary Rodham Clinton (Yale Law) – she took two bar exams during the same period of time. She passed in Arkansas and failed in D.C. She didn’t tell anyone for decades (it probably embarrassed her). What did she do? She moved to Arkansas, of course! And you can see how that turned out for her. All sorts of people can fail the bar exam for myriad reasons. It doesn’t mean you are less intelligent than your peers and it doesn’t mean you can’t succeed in life. And remember, when one door closes another (sometimes better) one opens.
- John F. Kennedy, Jr. (New York Law School) – he failed the New York bar exam twice and passed it the third time. (Okay, he died before most of you were out of grade school but this is still germane.) After he finally passed, he served as Assistant District Attorney in New York. Yes, his dad was an assassinated President and his mother married a Greek magnate who continued to provide him with privilege and may have landed him the job. But he did land the job. And he did have to take the bar three times to pass. Perseverance is integral to your future success. You most likely need some time to fall back and regroup: take the time you need but don’t take too long. You need to get it together and study your butt off so you’re ready to pass the next bar exam. You can do this!
- Emily Pataki (Columbia Law) – she failed the New York bar exam the first time and passed the second time. Unlike Hilary, Emily hit her failure head-on by sending an email confessing her failure to her co-workers at her law firm. This woman was no loser. She was known by her fellow law students to be very intelligent and hard working. One co-worker attributed Emily’s 1st attempt fail to plain old bad luck. Emily now has a successful career with the Bloomberg association. Not passing the bar exam usually means you didn’t do enough memorization; it does not mean you can’t become a successful attorney in the future. But this means you do need to get back to your Barbri or Kaplan study plan and start memorizing again asap.
You see, not passing the bar on the first go around may feel earth shattering but, in the long term, it isn’t. You will move forward and pass that bar on the next go around. How do you do this?
- Study and memorize. The bar typically takes 2 months of concentrated study. If you can avoid working during the two months – do so. Study like it’s a full time job – 6 to 8 hours a day.
- Sleep. You need 8 hours a day. When you are trying to absorb the massive quantities of new information required for you to succeed on the exam, your brain needs time to absorb this information. This happens when you sleep. Try to develop a strict schedule for sleep and study – come on, it’s only for two months. You can let a lot of life slide by while you study.
- Seek breadth not depth. I know this is a recurring theme, but this is a lot of material that needs to be memorized. The test does not require intense analysis as did your coursework finals.
- Stay on Point. Test takers who overthink and fly beyond the presented fact pattern do not pass. This is a lot like being too smart – don’t get into the “what ifs” of the presented facts. Write your answers based strictly on the facts presented and remember to write out your entire thought process. Use your practice questions to carefully recall the presented facts and, relying on your notes, complete a thorough analysis of only that which is presented. Study the model answers provided and take note of items you added that aren’t included in those answers. If you struggle with comprehension, practice creating concise and cogent summaries by reading the editorials in the local newspaper and writing a 2 to 3 sentence summary of each of them.
- Sustain a time balance. Take practice tests under the pressure of time. Have a roommate or friend time your test and don’t take one minute more than that which will be allowed at the actual exam. Whether you are taking a practice exam or the real thing, get used to wearing, and keeping a close eye on, a watch. You don’t want to run out of time. Leaving questions unanswered on your bar exam can be lethal to your chances for success.
- Say your prayers. Pray for good luck. Sometimes luck turns your life to drama via death, accident, and broken relationships just before your bar exam. Pray this doesn’t happen to you. Pray for smooth sailing and then be prepared for anything that life throws at you.
Now dust yourself off, get out there and pass your test, and discover what great things your future holds for you.