Look, lots of people fail the bar exam. For obvious reasons, most of them do not go around advertising that failure, but it is what it is. In 2018 alone, 14,210 people failed the bar exam on the first attempt.
When I sat for the Washington bar exam the first time in July 2013, I failed. So did 87 other people who took that bar exam for the first time along with me. Seventy-seven more people who repeated the bar exam failed it, too. When I took it again in February 2014, I passed. So did 66 of the other repeat bar exam takers who were there with me. Fifty-two of them, though, failed, along with 45 folks who failed the bar on their first try.
“Only those who dare to fail miserably can achieve greatly.” —Robert F. Kennedy
After graduating from law school, everyone you know will be aware that you are taking the bar exam and will most likely find out whether you pass on the first try. Friends and family will be anxiously awaiting to hear the news, confident in your abilities and the likelihood of your success. They will be shocked to find out that you failed. Awkward conversations are inevitable in the weeks after results come out. People will not know what to say or how to react around you at first. It may feel like the end of the world, but I assure you, it isn’t. Soon all those people will forget about it and move on with their lives. And so will you.
The thing to remember is, failing the bar exam does not define who you are. You are a lawyer. You just are not licensed to practice—yet. Oftentimes people fail by only a few points, which is particularly difficult to stomach when results come out. However, narrow failures like this should be encouraging, rather than discouraging. You are so close and cannot give up now. Time to dust yourself off and try again.
It is impossible to master every topic on the bar exam. It is feasible to master the exam itself with the right kind of preparation, with an emphasis on taking as many practice tests as possible to familiarize yourself with the way those topics will be tested and increase the likelihood of being able to predict the correct response.
Don’t get me wrong, by no means am I making light of the significance of bar exam failure. It is devastating. It is terrifying to go back for round two. You do what you have to do, however, and you get through it. You pass—and you get over it. You look back and laugh—eventually. Maybe someday you will even write an article about it.
This article first appeared on After the Bar, an online publication of the ABA Young Lawyers Division and is reprinted with permission. After the Bar is designed to guide new lawyers through the early stages of their legal careers.