There are few moments in life as pivotal as taking the bar exam. Being a lawyer is a dream, a life’s journey that has been incubating for years. But first you have to know the password to get in.
So much hinges on this exam: mountains of debt; the expectations of friends and family; and, of course, the belief in one’s own talents. Just the act of studying for the test can eat away at one’s mental health with thoughts like, “Maybe I’m an impostor and don’t belong to this club.”
While studying for the exam and ultimately taking it is intensely challenging, failing it is even harder. It’s like being dumped by your partner. There was this passion for law and all of these efforts to connect to legal concepts, only to be told that what you produced was insufficient. Whether it means giving up on this dream or living in limbo while one waits for the next exam, the blow can be dumbfounding.
With so much tied into failing the bar exam, it can be easy to find yourself at a loss—even if you weren’t the one who didn’t pass. If someone you know does not pass the bar, here are a few gestures that can be quite reassuring:
- Normalize that many attorneys fail the bar. In fact, in winter 2018 most Washington students did not pass. The overall pass rate in the state was 49.2 percent. (In 2017, the national pass rate was 59%.)
- Reassure them that law is not an old boys club looking to haze out newcomers and they can take the test again. Point out that grit is the most important criteria at play in building a successful legal career. (John F. Kennedy, Jr., for example, failed the New York Bar Exam twice before passing on his third try.)
- If they appear more deeply depressed, help them to find help. Just because it is a known situational stressor, let’s not assume that these feelings will necessarily pass.
The Member Wellness Program is a good starting point for those seeking help. Consultations are available to lawyers and law students, regardless of their license status in Washington. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 206-727-8267.