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So You Failed the Bar Exam. Now What?

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. | Last updated on

It happens. Despite years of hard work and dedication, every year thousands of attorneys fail to pass the bar exam. This year was particularly bad, with some of the lowest pass rates ever in many states.

So, don't worry, if you failed, you're not alone -- and you can still go on to have a successful career. But what should you do in the meantime?


Failing the bar exam is disappointing, stressful, sometimes embarrassing, but beating yourself up over it isn't going to help. Instead, consider the many successful attorneys who have failed the bar themselves. Their ranks include Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama, John F. Kennedy, Jr., and the freaking (former) dean of Stanford Law School, Kathleen Sullivan.

Tell Your Employers

If you have a job lined up, now is the time to tell your employers. They, like you, won't be excited by the news, but usually they are understanding. Most firms, non-profits, and government agencies will allow you to take the bar again before revoking an offer. Some have even failed the bar exam twice and still maintained their firm jobs. Just make it clear to your employer that you are committed, motivated, and willing to do whatever is needed to pass the bar.

Take a Break

It's tempting to jump right back in to studying, especially if you're planning on taking the next available exam. And you should start studying, soon. But not the day after you've found out you failed. Take a few days to get some distance from the exam, to vent to friends and family, and to do something you enjoy. You need time to recharge before taking on the exam again.

Get Some Tutoring

You might want to reconsider your study methods. There are plenty of programs that are dedicated to helping repeat test takers. Often, these focus on the test-taking skills you'll need to pass on your next go around, instead of just cramming your head with black letter law.

Tenth Times a Charm?

If you've failed the bar exam more than once, well, there's still hope. Along with Hillary Clinton and John-John, successful bar exam failures include Kevin D. Callahan, who failed the Massachusetts bar exam an astounding ten times before passing, becoming an assistant district attorney, and starting his own practice. But if you'd rather not go that route, remember, there are plenty of exciting, rewarding things you can do with your J.D. besides practicing law.

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