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“The Hunk Flunks” screamed the New York Post headline announcing John F. Kennedy Jr. had failed the New York bar examination. TV tabloid news programs reported the same event in great detail. Dr. Joyce Brothers even went on television to give her analysis of the situation. “I think he (Kennedy) desperately wants to pass the bar exam,” she said. Recent law school graduates who just received results are fortunate they won’t be subjected to quite as much attention as that given to the son of a former president. Still, for those individuals receiving disappointing news from the state bar examiners, there is often something far worse ahead for them. Many associates go to The Firm directly out of law school and are already working there when bar exam results are sent out. Even this early in one’s career, The Firm feels it has invested quite a bit in the associate’s career. The least the associate is expected to do in return is pass the bar examination. Associates are well aware of this. As a result, the worst thing about failing the bar exam is having to tell the partners who hired you to practice law that you won’t be licensed to do so for at least another six months. I happen to know all about this because I am an admitted member of Bar Flunkers Anonymous. You see, there was this criminal procedure essay question on the exam that didn’t identify itself to me as such until the test was over. After receiving my “We regret to inform you … ” letter from the state bar, I was eager to begin focusing on retaking the exam. Before I could do that, however, I had to share the news of my misfortune with those at The Firm. Some of the lawyers were better than others in hiding their disappointment in my failing the bar exam. Each of them came up with something to say, presumably designed to make me feel better. This wasn’t always the effect it had on me. The first partner I talked to responded to my news by explaining that, back in the days when he took the exam, those who passed were informed of their scores. (Today, in California at least, only Bar Flunkers Like Us (“BFLUs”) are told their scores.) The partner said he received the third highest exam score in the state and, as a result, the state bar asked him to grade future bar examinations. For some reason I couldn’t relate to his experience and I went on the next partner. Everyone I talked to that day at The Firm seemed to have an anecdote about someone they knew who failed the exam. Although the bar passage rate in California typically comes in at under 50 percent, partners spoke of these people as if they were as rare and unusual as victims of lightning strikes. “I know someone who failed the exam twice,” one partner told me, “and he has a successful practice today!” It wasn’t until these partners tried to cheer me up that I realized how devastating failing the bar exam could be. I felt as if I had just been informed I had life-threatening disease but not to give up on life because some people beat the disease and survive. Others I talked to after I got my results brought up the names of famous people who had also failed the exam. (Bar Flunkers Fun Fact: The last four governors of the state of California have a total of nine bar examinations between them.) One partner told me he went to law school with someone named Shakey Johnson, who, after several attempts, just couldn’t pass the bar exam. As the story goes, poor Shakey eventually gave up on the idea of becoming a lawyer and instead opened a pizza parlor named for himself. “Shakey’s” ultimately became the first major pizza restaurant chain in the country. A couple of the partners I spoke to mentioned Charles Evans Hughes, the former chief justice of the United States Supreme Court who passed the New York bar examination only after seven attempts. The implication of this, I guessed, was that I could fail five more times and still be qualified to sit on the Supreme Court (or to make pizzas). Unfortunately, on that same day, I was expressly told I would be considered unqualified to ever practice law at The Firm if I failed just one more time. When word of my misfortune spread, I began to learn of other BFLUs among lawyers at The Firm. Throughout the day, several different associates, including one who had never previously spoken to me, came to my office, shut the door and admitted that they, too, had failed the exam. As each one of my new comrades left my office, we practiced the secret bar flunkers’ handshake and made plans to eat pizza together at the next meeting of the Charles Evans Hughes Society of Repeat Bar Exam Takers. Fortunately, I passed the exam on my second attempt and, as time passed, failing the bar exam became less and less significant. Despite what some will try to tell you, people do live on after being stricken by lightning, cancer and the bar exam. Once a year, however, I visit first-year associates who have failed the bar exam and confess that I am one of them. I refrain from telling them about governors, Supreme Court justices, sons of presidents and famous pizza men. Instead, I share with them the thing I found most helpful in dealing with failing the bar exam. I show them a letter I received from a partner at the firm where I worked during law school. The letter put everything in perspective and inspired me to pass the bar exam the next time. The letter reads in its entirety as follows: “Sorry you didn’t pass the bar exam. Don’t feel bad. At least you haven’t been disbarred like I was.” The Rodent is a syndicated columnist and author of “Explaining the Inexplicable: The Rodent’s Guide to Lawyers.” His e-mail address is [email protected]

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