Fail-er, not Failure

I recently received an email from a girl in New York. She failed the bar exam again and was pretty upset about it. Since I hadn't even opened this blog in several years, she sent an email out into space, hoping there was still life behind the screen.

There is! I am still alive.

Failing the bar exam has been on my mind a lot lately, and I'm not 100% sure why. I know there is a fresh group of young people beginning to study as we speak. In July they'll line up like cattle, freshly sharpened pencils and heads swirling with knowledge, and sit down to a terrifying two (or three) days of testing.

Then you wait.

For months.


If you're like I was, then your waiting will be almost mindless. Not really worried, 'cause, I mean, you passed law school, right? How hard could one test be, really?

The last few rounds of bar exams in Florida have had some interesting results. Out-of-state-ers and repeat takers are not doing so hot. And some schools are really not bringing any decent results. That's tough.

The job market, I think, might be getting better? I'm not quite sure. I'm a bit more isolated than in previous years, as I finally broke out of government world for private practice, which I LOVE.

The reason I came back really was to tell a story. I have been looking to leave government work for several years, but where I live has a pretty tight legal community. You really have to know someone to move around, and that is really hard to do. Jobs are never advertised, you just have to put the word out there without your current boss finding out. Basically impossible. Thankfully, a few special friends got me an interview with a firm that I had really hoped I could move to. To finally get my foot in the door was the most amazing feeling, and I felt like I had really made it.

I was told by one employee that I should be prepared to defend my bar exam struggles. This employee was very kind, and knew me as a person, so to this person, it wasn't a big deal. Past issue, current work speaks for itself, etc. Nonetheless, I was ready...I thought.

When I arrived at the interview, I was met by all the partners. I sat at the end of a long wooden table, surrounded by 7 people, several twice my age. One had previously worked for the bar examiners and drafted many of the questions. It was daunting.

The questions began pretty simply: Why do you want to make this move? Why now? What can you bring to the table? Talk about your trial experience? Which judges have you practiced in front of? etc.

The whole time I was thinking, just bring it up already. I know you all know, so lets just talk about it. Finally, someone brought it up: why do you think you struggled to pass? It came out, of course, that I failed completely three times, passed the MBE on the 4th and the Florida portion on the 5th. I honestly think some people were really surprised at that, I don't think they all knew the extent, just that it happened more than once. Maybe its because the Florida bar exam is so flipping' expensive? Like, who has $600 to drop every six months to try again (thanks mom and dad) and who would even keep doing that to themselves over and over again?

I answered them with this: this is all I've ever wanted to do. I went to law school for a reason, and I wasn't going to give up. I failed. Yeah. And it took a long time to pass. But I learned a lot about myself in the process. I learned what actual hard work was. I learned I couldn't skate by. I learned that if some things are important enough, you keep trying. I learned humility. I learned to give myself grace for my mistakes. And I learned to ask for help. But I never stopped trying.

That's all I could say. And I mean, what else could I say? Describe to them the nights of sobbing that would become early morning depressions? The days, months, and years, I spent hunched over a desk reading MBE questions? The period of self-doubt and loathing I felt, feeling like a complete idiot for failing something that everyone else could so clearly pass? Feeling completely alone in the world? The thoughts and emotions I had when I got fired because I couldn't pass? How it felt to put everything in boxes and drive home, knowing the reason why? Feeling embarrassed having to work multiple minimum wage jobs with a doctorate degree?

I've learned there are two sides to this process. And I get sucked into one side, much more easily. But when I begin to think about the dark days, I try to remember the only thing worth remembering: the day I passed. I remember seeing my number and PASS next to it. I remember falling on the floor sobbing, just collapsing. I remember my husband refusing to let me close the browser window, out of fear the information might change. I remember crying out to God, thanking him for my season in the wilderness and my deliverance. Because that's what it was, really. My iron was being sharpened.

For those who have found this blog because you've failed, know that I am with you here. I have walked that road. From the moment I started studying for the first time in May of 2010, to September of 2012, I lived the bar exam. It consumed my thoughts. It stole my joy. It was always in my life, I couldn't escape it. I couldn't go anywhere fun or do anything enjoyable because I felt guilty that I wasn't at home studying. I allowed it to consume me. If that's what is happening to you, I pray you can overcome that somehow. Don't allow it to rule your life. It caused me so much pain over the years, I allowed it to have so much power over me.

For me, my relationship with the Lord took a hit. I would go through periods of questioning and anger, but it would eventually turn to periods of repentance. I look back now and of course I'm incredibly thankful for the experience. I would not be the person I am today if I had not gone through that. Personally, it strengthened my marriage tremendously. I was engaged and living with my husband when we found out I failed the first time and got married shortly thereafter. If you are reading this, know this for yourself. You are being prepared for something greater than yourself, you just don't know why yet.

I think part of my experience was to prepare me for my job search. I searched for years to get out of government work with nothing. No bites. Oh, and that interview? Yeah, nothing came of it. But you know, I knew that as soon as I left. I knew I was never going to get in there. The fact that I had worked for (at that point) almost four years, trying tons of cases, feeling completely comfortable arguing in front of a judge, dealing with all sorts of people, being forced to think on my feet and improvise, write eloquently at a moments notice, etc., meant nothing. They wanted to know why I couldn't pass a standardized test four years ago.

I will tell you this: I remember calling my husband and telling him, I don't really know what's going to happen with that, but I feel good about myself. For the first time, I was able to OWN my past. OWN what happened to me. Talk about it and force myself to wear it as a badge of honor, not a cone of shame. I'm NOT an idiot, I'm NOT unworthy, I'm a normal person who hit a couple speed bumps and kept on truckin'. And that should mean something.

Many months later, a co-worker mentioned to me that she might know of a firm hiring. She thought I might be a good fit. I had a tiny bit of familiarity with them, they were small, but I thought, sure, I'll give it a shot. I called, they said come over and let's talk. Non-court day AC was wearing flats, regular clothes (not a suit), hair in a ponytail, and glasses with minimal make-up. TOTALLY unprepared. But away I went! I got there, talked with the partners for a few hours, they said come back in a couple days. I came back, and they offered me the job on the spot! And you know what was noticeably absent? Talk of the bar exam. Because, for most people out there, they don't really care. Good attorneys want to work with other good attorneys, and that's the extent of it.

I put in my two weeks and gleefully skipped several blocks over to the job of my dreams.

I'm now doing exactly what I've always wanted to do and I LOVE it. Long gone are the box-checking employees of government work.

Again, after my wilderness, I found deliverance. And if it wasn't for the bar exam, I don't know if I would have had any idea how to handle it. Would I have given up? Would I have stopped looking and decided my fate was to be a government drone for the rest of my life? I worked with some of those, they were pretty lifeless and jaded. Nope, I kept up the faith. I kept praying and kept searching and kept talking to people.

I just. kept. going. Don't get me wrong, there were lots of mornings where my husband woke up to sounds of me sobbing in the shower. I was definitely at the end of my rope, but I remember thinking: today might be my day. Just wake up, be present, and try again.

Fellow bar exam fail-ers, hear this. You are fail-ers, NOT failures. The fact that you didn't get through in round 1 (or 2 or 3 or 4) means nothing about you as a person. Like I talk about in past blog posts, you aren't cursed because you didn't pass. Of course, for me, my faith played a big part in the process. I'm not quite sure how you deal with this sort of thing if you don't know the Lord. Obviously, I hope you all would come to know Him through this process so I can meet you in Heaven one day. But for me, if I didn't have my faith, I'm not sure I would have been able to push through.

So, I'm still alive, and a person with internet access. If you come across this page because you have failed the bar exam or are afraid you might, feel free to shoot me an email. I don't mind. I hear from random people all the time, just looking for some encouragement. I've talked to people all over, and sometimes it's just nice to know you aren't alone in the world.