I Failed the Bar Exam


QI’m working at a Big Firm, and I just found out I failed the bar. Out of 30 first years, I think I’m the only one. Is my career ruined?  Will my reputation forever be tarnished? What should I do?

ALie your ass off. Tell everyone you were preoccupied with your girlfriend’s terminal cancer or your best friend’s tragic suicide. Or something like that. Even though it’s a common occurrence, failing the bar still ain’t cool in Big Firm World. People pretend it’s not a big deal, but it is.

The firm will probably have you meet with some well-wishing partner who failed 30 years ago to help allay your humility and anxiety, but don’t be fooled, they’re not thrilled. To them, you either didn’t study hard enough or you’re not that smart. Neither one is great. Think about it. If you were a partner and you had a choice to work with two associates—one who passed the bar and one who failed the bar– who would you pick?

So do yourself a favor and come up with a simple, credible excuse that makes you look neither stupid nor lazy, and then study your ass off and pass the goddamn bar in February. Bottom line: If you’re smart and diligent, people will forget you failed. If you’re not, they won’t.

Ex-Bitter is a former big firm lawyer who now doles out advice to anyone who asks. Got a question? Email it to advice@bitterlawyer.com. Or read more Advice from an Ex-Bitter.

9 Comments

  1. Al Dickman

    November 19, 2008 at 3:29 am

    Don’t be too down, you are not the only high-priced dipshit to fail the bar.  Although I passed the first time (thank GAWD), even JFK Jr. failed the bar at least 2x in the 1990’s, before he finally passed, and he wound up getting a job at the DA’s office in New York City.  He also wound up boning some of the hottest chicks in the USA, and then married a very hot blonde babe with money.  Of course, he did wind up getting killed in an airplane accident years later, but it did NOT affect his career.  For now, dude, just do like Bitter Lawyer suggests; come up with some great reason why you were not focused that day last July.  And don’t let it happen again, or you will be branded as a perpetual dillweed.

  2. john

    November 19, 2008 at 4:07 am

    You can appeal your results if your score is close to passing.

  3. Alex Hump

    November 19, 2008 at 6:20 am

    Dickman is right.  Life goes on if you flunk, but you will be forever embarrassed as they view you as a failure, even if you later pass.  My old girlfriend flunked over 10 years ago, and she still feels like she’s wearing a scarlet letter on her forehead.  Poor beeotch!

  4. Ponce DeLeon

    November 19, 2008 at 7:48 am

    Study for February on Big Firm’s dime, then after you’ve passed start looking for a new job.  You’re tainted at that firm.

  5. Anonymous

    November 19, 2008 at 8:56 am

    I’m at a big firm and failed 3 years ago.  The time between November and February sucked – it was hard to make eye contact, it was hard to talk to partners, it was even hard to talk to the associates that past.  I passed in February, got the results in May, then studied for the NY bar, took that and passed in July.  Our firm (Il.) does work in NY and after I got that extra license to hang on the wall, it made me feel a little better, showed the failing was a fluke and gave me some extra credit to the firm. Hell, after you’ve taken two bars, what’s a third, just don’t go around making a big deal about it in case you fail that one too.

  6. Anonymous

    November 19, 2008 at 12:08 pm

    John: I don’t know what state this guy is in, buy NY will not let you appeal your score.  If it’s within about 15 points of passing, the essays are regraded and the two grades are averaged.  So, you basically get an automatic recount.  But this will have already happened before you get your results, so there’s nothing you can do but take it again.

  7. Coronado

    November 19, 2008 at 2:42 pm

    Ponce: though the firm may pay for this person to study for and take the bar again in Feb, most firms make you sign an agreement that you’ll stay with the firm for at least a year afterward. If you don’t, you agree to pay back the firm (for everything – BarBri, the exam fee, salary while on paid leave, etc.). Check your firm’s HR policy.

  8. poor boomer

    December 7, 2008 at 11:57 am

    I’m a bitter would-be lawyer.  I couldn’t afford to go to law school, so they won’t even let me take the bar exam.

  9. Lex Capri Fellat

    January 2, 2009 at 10:32 am

    with the bar pass rate for first timers now at 80+ %, you are clearly owned, boned and dethroned.  Punch yourself in the balls.. NOW

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