I Failed the California Bar Exam…Now What?
Don’t give up!
Failed the California bar exam? Here’s what to do next.
You’ve been nervous for weeks, but the day is finally here. It’s Results Day.
6 p.m. arrives. You enter your information on the screen, cross your fingers, and wait. Your heart sinks. You failed the California Bar Exam.
Where can you go from here?
It might not feel like it now, but it’s possible to come back from a failed bar exam and still have a successful legal career. Plenty of extremely smart people have failed the bar exam on their first (or second, or third…) try.
I should know. After I failed the notoriously difficult California bar exam, I poured my efforts into figuring out why. Then, I developed a method unlike any other to help students pass with flying colors.
If you just received the bad news that you failed the California bar exam, don’t feel bad. It’s one of the most difficult bar exams in the country with a high rate of failure. But it does mean you have some more work to do.
Follow these five steps and get ready to try again.
1. Mourn the Exam Result
As with anything that involves years of hard work, there are bound to be some strong emotions around failing the bar exam.
Take 30 minutes (seriously, set a timer) to vent those feelings. You might feel anger, sadness, guilt, denial, or everything at once. It’s natural to want to beat yourself up…but not healthy, so that’s why I suggest a hard time limit.
The same goes if you had a major distraction that prevented you from putting forth your best effort on the exam. Maybe you went through a bad breakup or a close relative died shortly before the test. Perhaps you got sick. These things happen.
If that’s the case, comfort yourself with the knowledge that nobody could have passed the exam under those circumstances.
Once that 30 minutes have gone by, it’s time for the next step.
2. Contact Me
If you failed the California bar exam, chances are you don’t know why (much less how to fix it).
The good news? That’s where a bar exam tutor like me can help prepare you for your next attempt. The bad news? You have to act fast. (Which is why I have you set a 30-minute limit on your pity party.)
The real tragedy is when a student failed the California bar exam and took a month to process their feelings. By the time they’re ready to look for help, I have to say, “I wish you called me three weeks ago. My program is full.”
So don’t waste any time. Contact me as soon as you can.
3. Seek Out Love and Support
As tempting as it is to drown your sorrows at the local pub, the love and support of your friends and family will serve you much better.
Contact a few trusted loved ones and let them know what happened. This is what friends and family are for: helping you through the tough times.
And if you did the right thing and called me first, you can let them know you’re already on a path to get yourself back in the game.
4. Tell Your Boss
If you have a job, let your boss know as soon as possible. As embarrassed as you are, this is a necessary step. First of all, they already know you failed the California bar exam (the pass list is public as of Sunday, 6 am). Second, honesty is the best policy.
But the most important reason to tell them is to get some time off so you can prepare for a second crack at the exam, if possible. How much time?
I strongly recommend asking for at least four weeks off before the exam. So for July 2021, for example, I’d suggest you are off of work no later than July 8. So that means 15 weekdays off (July 8-9, 12-16, 19-23, and 26-28) and of course you’ll have the relevant weekends off too.
Whatever time off you are taking, get it in writing. Bosses have a funny way of forgetting that they agreed to your time off request. I’ve had students fight with bosses for months about a date that was agreed to a long time ago.
Firms that do let you take time off also have a funny way of extracting as much as they can from you in the days before your final date, so remind everyone a few weeks in advance to keep your plate clear.
You have an obligation to clean up your files and make sure whoever takes over a case has a clear roadmap of next steps. Otherwise they’ll keep hounding you with questions during one of the most important months of your life.
5. Manage the Fact That You Failed
Failure is never an easy thing to manage. You did all of that work, and now you have to do it all over again. It’s enough to demoralize even the most upbeat people.
But you can’t afford to carry that baggage with you.
Your job is to generate points. And focusing on the consequences of failing the exam a second time and losing your job NEVER generates points. In fact, it will likely help you lose points, since you’re not focusing on the task at hand.
I’ve walked through the Valley of the Shadow of California Bar Exam Failure and come out the other side. I’ll show you how to manage it and thrive.
You’re not the first person who has failed the California bar exam, and you certainly won’t be the last. You can’t change that, but you can do something about the future.
Call me about my 1-on-1 tutoring program. If that’s not an option, buckle down and read my books, WINNIN’ TIME! and The Trigger List. Both my books and my program have been painstakingly crafted from years of experience as a law student and tutor.
For what it’s worth: I failed the bar exam once upon a time. In fact, I had so much fun doing it, I failed it twice. But on May 26, 2000, I passed.
The Status of Failure was gone. I met my glorious wife (recently celebrated our 17th wedding anniversary!), I have two wonderful kids, and my student loans are paid off. I have thrived professionally and found my passion in my work life.
Yes, failing the California Bar Exam sucks. But, while you’re in professional purgatory, enjoy the visit. You’ll learn more about yourself, find out who your real friends are, and you’ll learn how to conquer this test. You failed the exam (for now), but it won’t define you if you follow the correct path.