Sunday, December 27, 2020

I Failed The Bar Exam... By 3 Points

 Hey everyone. If you've been following along, you've probably been wondering when I'd be back after taking a hiatus to study for the bar exam. After the exam, I took a week off to visit my parents in Ohio, and when I got back to Georgia my work was nuts. I wrote a few book review posts that I'm waiting for permissions on, but before I could get things back up and running, I got my results back. I wish this post had a happier outcome, but here we are. I've kept a pretty low profile on my person social media accounts, but I wanted to be open about my experience on here. So here are my thoughts...

Last Monday I got an email from the Georgia Bar saying I had a message in my application portal. I figured it wasn't going to be anything important since they told us results would be released in "late December" (last Monday was the 14th), and Georgia ALWAYS posts scores on Fridays (they even say this on their website). However, when I opened my portal, the subject of the message was "Bar Exam Results." My heart was pounding out of my chest as I opened the message. I scrolled down to the first line and read: 

"I regret to advise you that you did not achieve a passing score on the October 2020 Georgia Bar Examination."

I was stunned. I didn't even react. I had told myself time and again that this was a possibility due to the multitude of issues that revolved around this administration of the exam. I had also been working full-time during the 6 months leading up to the exam. Most bar advisors will tell you that it's not recommended to work during bar prep, but I couldn't just go 6 months without an income. As I tried to rationalize all of this in my head, I read on:

"A total score of 270 is required to pass the examination..., and your total score is 267."

This was what broke me. The multiple choice section was worth 200 points and had 100 questions, so if I had gotten 2 more right, I would have passed. There were 3 essays that were graded on a 6-point scale (so 18 points total), and the essay score is then scaled to be out of 100 points. If I had written one more intelligent thing on any of my essays, I would have passed. If I had taken the exam in Alabama, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, or South Carolina where the passing scores are lower than Georgia's passing score, I would have passed.

I was still stunned until I typed out a text message to my fiancé: "I failed the bar by 3 points." Once the emotions behind this reality hit me, I couldn't stop crying. I've failed tests before, I've had semesters in law school where my grades were the worst I've ever gotten in my life, and I've experienced hurt and loss in many areas of my life, but this was probably the worst pain I've ever felt. After 3 years of law school, 6 months of studying for a bar exam that had been overshadowed with uncertainty during a pandemic, and plenty of student loan debt, I failed. If I decided to take the February Bar Exam, it would be at least an entire calendar year from my graduation that I'd be able to put my law degree to any use. 

Meanwhile, my fiancé passed the exam, all of my close friends passed, and all of my fiancé's friends passed. I felt so hurt, humiliated, and unworthy. I couldn't look at social media posts because my feeds were inundated with people who got to celebrate being able to be attorneys. I couldn't text my friends because I didn't want to ruin their happiness. I was so happy for my fiancé, but I couldn't stop myself from crying. For the record, he deserves a gold medal because he did everything under the sun to make me feel better, took all of his congratulatory phone calls outside (on a day that was pretty chilly), and didn't post anything to social media. The pass list was published publicly, so if my deafening silence on social media wasn't enough of a tip-off, my failure was out there for the world to see. I felt so alone and so ashamed. 

I cried harder than I ever had in my life and ended up giving myself an awful headache on top of everything. I didn't want to talk to anyone because I knew anything anyone said would be met with responses fueled by all the anger and hurt I was feeling. "People like Michelle Obama, Hilary Clinton, and JFK didn't pass the bar the first time"? I'm not a Kennedy, didn't go to an Ivy League school, and don't have endless family money to fall back on. "You'll do better next time"? I was told by everyone that I'd pass THIS TIME and look how that worked out. "You were so close"? Not close enough. I probably single-handedly kept Chipotle in business through the pandemic, but I didn't want to eat. I dozed off for a few hours from the sheer exhaustion of it all. When I woke up, I still felt pretty miserable. I remembered seeing a blog post from The Legal Duchess's blog when she failed the previous summer's bar exam, so I read that to try to make sense of everything (here's the post if you're interested). After reading it over, I looked for other insights into this misery. It turns out, failing the bar comes with a lot of the same pain for everyone. Over the summer, I followed a lot of people on Twitter that were taking what has fondly been referred to as "barpocalypse" at the same time I was. I found a little comfort in knowing I wasn't alone. Plenty of people also missed a passing score by just a few points.

The next day, I pretty much took the day to myself. I turned my phone off for the day, got take out from my favorite places, ran some errands with my fiancé, and watched Netflix. The day after that, I finally responded to the messages on my phone, re-applied for the bar exam in February, signed back up for bar prep, and resigned from my job. After a week of self-reflection and coming to terms with everything, I want to give some advice to anyone who's in my shoes or knows somebody who is.

If You Didn't Pass The Bar...

This sucks. There's no way around it. The first few hours are going to hurt like hell, and if you're like me, nothing is going to make it feel better. The best thing you can do right away is to just let yourself feel everything and react accordingly (scream-cry into a pillow, go for a long walk alone, etc.). Take the time you need to process everything. If you need to be alone, give yourself that space. You don't owe anyone anything, and that includes texts and calls. It's okay to be "selfish." If you need to talk to a friend, family member, or a therapist, do that. We all process grief in different ways, and right now is a time to do whatever you need. Feeling hurt is completely warranted, and you should let yourself feel it. Once the initial shock wears off, be nice to yourself. Take a bubble bath, eat a whole tub of ice cream, binge a show, or whatever it is that makes you feel better. You may not be feeling great, but you can at least enjoy a little "me-time." You don't need to be back in action right away, and people will generally understand the need for time off. When you start feeling like yourself again, think about whether you want to try again, how you can do better, and what your game plan will be going forward. Above all, remember that the bar exam is not indicative of your intelligence, your worth as a person, or your abilities as an attorney. Two of my favorite phrases that popped up through this past summer were "if attorneys practiced law like they studied for the bar, they'd all get sued for malpractice" and "any attorney who got called out for incompetent practice of law, by definition, passed the bar." No matter what, you are a worthy person, and I am rooting for you. If you need to talk, feel free to shoot me an email, leave a comment, or message me through social media.


If Someone You Know Didn't Pass The Bar...

Is there anything worse than someone you care about feeling bad and not being able to do anything about it? Yes. Being that hurt person is worse. Please don't make that burden heavier by pushing yourself or your disappointment onto them. If you know someone who failed the bar, the absolute best thing you can do for them is to meet them where they are. If they don't want to talk, do not blow up their phone. Send a text saying you love them, are there for them when they're ready, ask if there is anything you can do, and leave it at that. They'll respond when they're ready. If they do want to talk, make every effort to be there for them and just listen. The bar exam is brutal, and so much hinges on passing it. Missing that mark hurts, and people process hurt in their own way. Don't smother someone who is working on picking up the pieces. The only caveat to letting people grieve in their own way is if you are genuinely concerned for someone's safety. The legal field is notorious for damaging mental health, so if you are worried about someone, find out what local resources are available. The national suicide hotline is 800-273-8255.

Failing the bar is tough, but it is not the end of the world. Tomorrow will come, and better things are ahead. As for me, I'm going to go back to studying, re-take the bar in February, and hope that 2021 is filled with better things than I can even envision right now. If you want to talk, I'm always here for you!


Make today the best page yet,

Paige