Bouncing Back After Not Passing the Bar Exam

Bar Exam
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A message to those who did not pass the bar exam: my heart goes out to you.

I failed the bar exam as well. I remember inputing my bar examinee number to get my results and after I hit enter, I got the dreaded words “Your name does not appear on the pass list.” I felt gutted.  My family saw my pain first-hand, they were with me when I found out, and there was nothing they could do about it.

I felt pain, disappointment, and a slew of disheartening emotions. I had put in so much time, effort, and energy.  Still, I did not obtain my desired result. I did not know whether I would re-take the bar exam. A lot of questions started coming up.  Could I gather up all that energy again to go another round? How is this going to affect my current job fellowship? Could I schedule in preparation while working full-time? What if I am just not meant to become an attorney?

As the self-doubt grew stronger, I realized that if I wanted to accomplish something I had never accomplished before, I had to do something I had never done before. I decided that I just needed to breathe and process the situation for several days. I found out my results around mid-November and I told myself I would enjoy Thanksgiving and make a decision after that.

Spending time with family helped. Eating good food also helped.

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After Thanksgiving I put things into perspective and I decided to go another round.  It wasn’t easy but it was the best decision I could have made.  I became the first attorney in my family and have handled extensive trial and appellate work which has provided me with tremendous professional and personal growth.

If you did not pass there bar exam, I want to provide you with some perspective and guidance as you make a decision as to whether or not to get back in the ring for a 2nd, 3rd, or 4th time.

First, my story is unfortunately too common in California.  I want you to remember that you are not alone.  The majority of law school graduates who take the California bar exam do not pass the first (or second) time – especially in recent times. The February 2018 California bar exam saw the lowest bar passage rate (27.3%) recorded since 1951. The February 2019 bar exam was not too different with 31.4% passing the exam.  Putting the potential need for reform aside, you should note that it takes the vast majority of bar exam takers several attempts to accomplish this goal and you should not be to harsh or critical on yourself.

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With that said, it is important that you review your past scores closely.  Review your essay scores, review your MBE scores, review your PT scores.  You can review your scores with your law school, a trusted bar exam coach, or a coach through your bar exam program if they provide that service.

Find someone that will genuinely help you determine what areas you need to improve on so that you can make sure that you do not repeat the same tactical mistakes. Your scores are a key tool that will assist you in adjusting your plan and help you improve your bar exam preparation. They will tell you which of the MBE subject matter areas you need to improve, and they will also tell you whether your writing was strong or not.

Also, while it can be tough to go through and read your past essays, it is important that you review those closely as well.  Most of the time, bar examinees do not pass for 1 of 2 reasons: 1) you memorized a sufficient amount of the law, but you did not practice sufficient essays/PTs and it was difficult to showcase your knowledge in the required structure; or 2) while you were able to understand the required written structure for the essays/PTs, you did not memorize enough details of the rules to get high scores on the MBEs. There are other circumstances, of course, such as experiencing a family emergency or an unexpected health issue, but these tend to be the more common strategic scenarios of why examinees do not pass.

Barring any extenuating circumstances, know that it is possible for you to memorize more law to excel on the MBEs and it is also possible for you to learn the strategies that you need to adequately showcase your knowledge of the law for purposes of the essays.

Remember, for the PTs you do not need to memorize any law and it really is about staying as organized as possible and writing your response in the most effective structure as possible to maximize the number of points you earn.

Strategic guidance aside, on a human level, make time to work through the emotional toll that this causes.  In my experience passing the bar requires that you become holistic about your preparation and how you tackle the exam.  It requires avid faith in yourself and you need to release any resentment, anger, or self-doubt that has come up. You need to get clear on what works for you and what doesn’t and then implement those techniques with precision.  You can do that only if you “release” any limiting emotions and allow yourself to go into it with an empowered mindset.

When I retook the exam I learned that the preparation programs that had worked for others had simply not worked for me.  I realized that I needed to take my preparation into my own hands and make sure that everything I was doing was tailored to my needs. It was only then that I started making powerful progress.  You can do the same.

It may take another try but you will be a stronger, more resilient, and more powerful attorney for it. When you do get it, it will taste that much better. When you do get it, you will honor it in a different way.

Don’t allow it to stop you from achieving your goals. You figured out what doesn’t work, get back in the ring and figure out what does. It is possible. You are capable.

Should you decide to get back in the arena, I wish you nothing but an empowered, passing mindset my fellow, future attorney colleagues.

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