Wednesday, November 27, 2019
First and foremost, this does not define you. Trust me, we have all heard stories of prominent lawyers, judges, and politicians that have failed the bar, sometimes multiple times. I could make you a list of all of the successful lawyers that were unsuccessful on the bar exam their first time. But I won’t, because failing the bar does not define them. If you try to make a list, you won’t find “failed the bar” on Wikipedia pages, or official biographies, or resumes. It’s not because it’s some secret shame, but because no one cares. In 5-10 years, no one will care how many times it took you to pass the bar. In fact, they won’t care in 6 months or a year. It seems like a defining moment right now, but it isn’t. Your defining moments come from the way you treat clients, the way you treat colleagues, and what you choose to do with your license once you have it. And, most importantly, how you learn from your mistakes.
So, take a few days to be upset, it’s ok. But then dust yourself off and start looking towards the February bar. Also, remember that failure is not the opposite of success, it’s a part of success. Every successful lawyer has failed – on the bar, at trial, in a negotiation, not getting a job. Every successful politician has lost a race. Every Olympian has lost a game or a match. Those failures are a normal way to achieves success in the future. However, for that to be true, you have to learn from failure.
So, in looking towards February, learn from your mistakes. First and foremost, if you are in a jurisdiction that allows it, request your essays. Different jurisdictions will have different procedures, but most will allow you to at least look at your essays, and some will send them to you. View them with a critical eye towards what you can improve upon. If you’re allowed to keep them, and not just view them at the bar headquarters, rewrite them. Use your notes to rewrite them. Focus on areas of improvement.
Secondly, many of you have Academic Support professors at your school. If you’re not sure, ask alumni relations if there is someone at your school that handles bar exam issues. Many of my repeat takers are hesitant to reach out to me because of their alumni status, worrying that it’s no longer my job to help them. I can tell you with certainty, it is my job to help them, and I care about them and want them to do well. None of us stop caring about our students just because you have graduated, or taken one bar exam. So, reach out to them, and see if they can help you review your essays, or score sheet, and come up with a plan. Some schools have resources specifically for repeat takers, so there is a strong chance they want you to reach out.
Finally, look back at the how you studied for the bar. Be honest, as this reflection is just for you, but assess a few things:
- How much of your commercial bar prep course (Themis, BarBri, etc) did you complete?
- If you completed less than 80% of the course, why?
- Did anything happen in your personal life that interfered with your studying?
- If you used accommodations during law school for exams, did you use them on the bar? If not, is it because you were denied accommodations, or because you didn’t apply?
- How many practice essays and multiple choice did you do?
- Did you learn from the practice multiple choice?
- Did you spend hours in the library, or at a desk, but were continually distracted by facebook/twitter/snapchat, or something else?
- Did you take care of yourself physically and mentally? Did you get enough sleep?
- Did you take study breaks to let your brain process?
These are just some examples of ways to assess yourself. The point is to take a good look at that you did well, and what you can improve upon. Don’t assume that because you failed, you just need to put in more hours, or you didn’t know the material. Frequently when I counsel repeat takers they didn’t do enough practice questions, or life got in the way, or they studied so hard that they got burnt out and were not well physically or mentally.
Once you’ve really assessed, figure out your February plan. What can you do differently? You might only need to tweak a few small things to succeed. And once you do, no one will care or remember how many times it took you to succeed.
Finally, if you are dreading attending a Thanksgiving meal with potential questions about the bar, show them this blog post!