On Failing the Bar Exam

She could no longer borrow from the future to ease her present grief
– Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter 

There is no easy way to learn that you failed the bar exam.

I took the method of having my sister check the results when they were posted and to text me a single, specific emoji if I failed.

I was on the way to a brewery in the mountains with my boyfriend because we figured either way — there’s beer. When it was time for the results to be posted we pulled off the interstate to “get gas”. I ran into the bathroom and stared at my phone. I was wishing with my whole heart to get phone calls and congratulations. Instead I got the single, specific emoji. I cried delicately (it was a new boyfriend ok?!?) and we turned around and went back to his apartment after stopping at the grocery store to buy every single gummy candy available and a box of wine. We sat on the floor and watched scary movies for hours without talking.

No one. NO ONE. prepares you for failing the bar exam. It is the most painful of hurts because it was EXPENSIVE and because everything stops. Your future career stops. Your job hunt stops. In many cases, your salary stops. The pride you that so recently vested in your law school graduation stops. Time stops.




Kidding. Time is a man made construct that doesn’t stop even when everything else in your world does.

People will not know how to react. They will try. It will be horrible. They will feel horrible. You already feel horrible.

They’re going to tell you the “YOU’LL GET ‘EM NEXT TIME KID” or the “some people just don’t test well” and they’ll make excuses for you. You had a hard year. You didn’t do the right prep program. You could have, you should have, you absolutely will next time. . .

This. This will not be enough. It will not help. They don’t know how to help.

Failing the bar is a very specific kind of failure.
You will see classmates that you outsmarted in school pass with ease. You will call them idiots and stupid assholes in the moment. But you know that this won’t help. You will only lose respect for yourself.

Failing the bar is a very specific kind of pain.
A pain that no one prepared you for. Your law school doesn’t reach out to you when you fail. Your mentors are nervous to get in touch. You might fall into your bed for a few days and hide. But you will get up.

Failing the bar is a specific kind of brand.
It feels like you are marked. That your career is forever labelled as one that isn’t as successful, isn’t as true all because you had to retake the bar exam. It feels like this because it might be like this. Well, let’s be honest. It IS like this. But it doesn’t need to be. In law school you never hear about attorneys who failed the bar. You hear about the successful people who passed with flying colors and took the world by storm. You don’t hear about the second takers, the third takers and how they changed the world. You don’t hear about the failures AND the successes. After I failed the bar I had so many attorneys and judges that I truly respect come to me and let me know that they too, had failed the bar exam. I didn’t think less of them. In fact, I saw them as stronger people and more resilient attorneys and judges.

Retaking the bar is the most humbling experience you may ever have.
You are the pariah, the lesser than, the outcast. You walk in to the testing center and you know the ropes. And for the first time, knowing the ropes doesn’t feel g o o d. You will see people that you went to school with and you will both nod at each other, share in your grief and embarrassment, and move on.

Sitting here, having now taken two bar exams I think that I am better for it. I have borrowed from my future to ease my despair. I have reached my limit. I am proud to have this experience and I will never hide from this scarlet letter.

I failed the bar exam. And I am intrepid.

If you fail or failed, get in touch.


  1. In my field it is the licensing exam. I had the brightest, wise friends fail. I felt guilty bc I knew they were smarter and knew more and I KNOW I don’t test well. How does this happen? It’s inexplicable. And no one can help yu feel better because NOTHING does at the time. Only passing next time helps. One of my favorite humans and a SUPER bright guy, failed it twice. What do you say…?
    Fingers crossed, dear…


  2. Right there with you for the third time..feeling like life is on an indefinite pause but I’m still breathing and forcing myself to get up, shower, and go to work everyday. Thank you for your honesty


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