So You Didn’t Pass the Bar: 3 Tips for Reassuring Someone Who Didn’t Make the Cut

Stressed man at the office.

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:

  1. 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%.)
  2. 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.)
  3. 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 wellness@wsba.org or call 206-727-8267.

2 thoughts on “So You Didn’t Pass the Bar: 3 Tips for Reassuring Someone Who Didn’t Make the Cut

  1. Jim Rigos

    My experience with those who don’t pass the UBE on the first sitting is that their re-take passing chances go way up if they try a different review course. For most students the notion of using the same vehicle to only concentrate on their weak areas means their knowledge in the other subjects also slips. It does not take much slip back in the prior mastered subjects to more than offset the second time created improvements in the prior weak topics. I know this means more time and effort than repeaters would like but for my 25 years in training thousands of bar candidates it is the reality.

    Hope this helps..

    Jim Rigos, WSBA 9659

  2. Barbara A. Peterson

    Take heart: I guarantee you, no one will ever ask you how many times you took the bar. Beyond that, you’ve probably over-thought the questions asked rather than approach the issues in more of a “pinball” fashion. That means you’re likely smarter than the average successful bar applicant. Now go play the game again. This time, don’t write a novel, just hit the high points and move on. You don’t need counseling, you just need to take it again. And remember: Perfect love casts out all fear. Memorize it.

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