Good News: You Passed! Bad News: You’re A Lawyer

Bar candidates across the nation will be receiving the results from the February bar between now and Memorial Day. Few experiences are more delightfully memorable than passing the bar exam. Flunking the test is at the other end of the spectrum. Pass or fail, this season is important to every bar applicant.


“The Committee of Bar Examiners is pleased to inform you that you passed the February Bar Examination.” It’s hard not to experience some jubilation upon receipt of such wonderful news, not to mention profound relief. You don’t have to prepare for the exam again, and you don’t have to go through the semi-annual hazing ritual of joining hundreds of haggard, uptight neurotics as they bubble in multiple choice answer picks and scribble in blue books. It’s worth taking a little time to celebrate. You earned it.

Remember all those jerks who were a year or two ahead of you in law school? Most of them will be lawyers when you are sworn in to join them in the profession. Few of them will have become more enlightened after practicing law for a year or two. Actually, it’s likely most of them will have become worse — and now they will be your professional adversaries or colleagues.

Here’s the best advice for newly minted lawyers: Be kind, and be careful about managing your money. Cutthroat environments are highly stressful and unhealthy. A 24-year-old lawyer makes more money than a 50-year-old secretary with a quarter century of experience. Recognize the injustice that is implicit in this fact and act accordingly. Being considerate to others is morally righteous, and it also can be very much in one’s self-interest. Isn’t it true that you are more loyal and devoted to people who are nice to you than you are to those who are abusive?

Some fortunate new lawyers have high-paying jobs waiting for them. Others are broke, and starting up new law offices. Either way, it is important to keep track of one’s earnings and expenses. Sit down with a more experienced lawyer or an accountant and make sure you are being a sensible businessperson. Be patient and careful.


“The Committee of Bar Examiners regrets to inform you that you were unsuccessful on the February Bar Examination.” Receiving this sort of miserable bottom line in a form letter from a bureaucracy is harsh. It’s hard to see a silver lining in this cloud. Still, many lawyers who had to take the bar exam more than once look back on the experience of failing the bar as being very useful in their professional development.

At some point, almost every lawyer in practice experiences bitter disappointment. Maybe it’s better to get it over with at the beginning of one’s career. People who come back from failure to succeed on the bar exam often are more resilient and persistent in their law practices than their counterparts who didn’t have to face such a problem at the start of their career.


Many unsuccessful bar candidates knew as much or more law than their successful counterparts, but failed the bar exam because their testing technique was not as sharp, or because their physical or emotional health was too weak.

The most common mistake is to study too much and not practice enough.

A lot of folks who failed the bar say that they never felt they knew the law well enough to do a lot of practice essay and MBE work. The best way to learn the law is by practicing! Both on the bar and in the day-to-day practice of law, being able to apply the law is more important than having all the law memorized.

Unsuccessful applicants ought to plan on doing between 2,000 and 3,000 practice MBE questions, and outlining or writing 50-100 practice essays. A musician preparing for a concert does not spend most of his or her time reviewing music theory — instead, the musician practices the piece scheduled to be performed!


Some unsuccessful applicants worked so hard to prepare for the exam that they did not have enough energy left to perform up to their ability on the days of the test. The solution to this problem is not to work harder this time!

It is crucially important for a repeat bar applicant to plan his or her approach to the next administration of the exam. One should strive for physical and emotional balance, recognizing that it is worth points on the exam. It is not immoral for one who has failed the bar exam to go to the gym or go out dancing. The process of preparing for the exam should not be grievously unhappy.


Suppose one has failed the exam after doing all the practice possible, and being mindful of the physical and emotional aspects of the exam. What then? It depends. I have met people who failed the bar by less than one point. Nobody ever said the bar exam was easy. Folks who come close but narrowly miss usually just need to regroup and do slightly better the next time.

Other times, an applicant will fail because he or she has a previously undiagnosed learning disability. These people often compensate for this problem in school merely by working harder than some of their classmates, but the bar exam presents them with a challenge that they cannot compensate for on their own.

A person in this position is well advised to confer with an educational psychologist. A battery of tests can determine whether or not a candidate has a learning disability, as well as suggesting what accommodations would appropriately level the playing field for the student.


Folks who passed the bar exam are entitled to celebrate. Those who failed should know that their own celebrations merely have been temporarily postponed.