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It came. It saw. Those who did not conquer it, it conquered. For most who took the February bar exam, the test is a distant nightmare, plaguing the mind but staying in the past. They proved themselves in theory and ubertrivia, and now they can move on and prove themselves as lawyers by actually being one. But for those who failed, the bar leaves them at a crossroads. Do they just try harder? What if they feel they already gave it their all? Do they move to another state to take an easier bar? An extreme measure, but an even more extreme situation is having three years of legal education to go with three years of legal debt and no lawyerly job to show for it. Cassie is at a loss for having failed. “I always had to work hard in law school just to get by. As an older law student, I had a hard time finding a study group that would have me. I got used to struggling for mediocre grades. When finals would come around, I didn’t even have to turn up the intensity. I was like that always. My husband loves his job as a toy designer, so he could never offer much empathy. It was always me, alone, versus the law.” The bar did not scare her. “I told myself that I was never afraid of working hard, and that I was going to be thoroughly prepared. I took my task seriously, and thought that that was all I had to do. “When the envelope came bearing bad news, I felt helpless. I knew that the results could go either way with me, but the problem is, I don’t know how I can improve next time, if there’s going to be one.” “You mean you may give up on practicing law over one test?” “I know that I’ll try again. I’m too invested, too committed at this stage. I just don’t know what to do differently. A lot of law students found out the hard way that cramming didn’t work for them. But at least they can say how they will improve next time.” Especially afterwards, many would-be lawyers see the bar not as a gauge of intelligence or even knowledge but simply mental stamina and emotional resources. As in, how much can you deal with? Failing the bar the first time around is mere statistics to some, ignominy to others — usually depending on which camp one’s employers belong to. The main practical consideration is not to let one failure catalyze another. Lewis, once brimming with confidence, hasn’t stopped thinking about failing the bar since he got the news. “Maybe all I need is some more time to get over it, but I’m afraid of going in there again concentrating on how I failed the first time. I have no excuses. I wish I could say I had the flu or an anxiety attack. “I can’t let it take over like this. My whole life is on hold. I can’t start a family if I don’t have a solid career as a provider. Think about it: if I had done just a little better on the essays, maybe even if I had just had a different grader, my kid could’ve been conceived by now. Instead, his life, and the life of this family, is postponed. This is a kind of pressure that goes way beyond the law. I need to convince myself that I am capable of supporting my family.” “Isn’t there any good in this?” “Yeah, my [bar preparation company] will give me more of the same instruction that didn’t help me pass the first time around free of charge.” Lewis normally had an upbeat attitude; he would never leave a Bears game, no matter how far behind they fell. Now he seemed to be getting squeezed at the sides. “Are you going to approach it any differently?” “I have to. I’m going to tell myself that I’ve already faced this pressure, that I will have spent more time than most first-timers studying and preparing. And that if I want to pass as badly as I want my family, I’ll be all right.” Failure leads to the most horrific of doubts. Those who barely pass breathe a sigh of relief; they may even feel more exhilarated for coming in so close to the line. Then they never have to think of the damn bar again. Those who barely fail contemplate the cruelty of Fate, their own worthiness and their ebbing future prospects. Oscar did well in law school, “but that had more to do with desperate preparation than natural ability. I was all about working for human rights, so motivation and taking my work seriously were never an issue.” But failing was a blow he could not explain any more than he expected it. “I did well enough to pass in all my diagnostic [tests]. The bar itself didn’t seem different. I walked out feeling exhausted but feeling good both days.” “Is your confidence shaken? Or are you refusing to entertain those thoughts?” He took a long drag from his milkshake and suddenly squeezed his head at both sides — brain-freeze. When he recovered, he went on: “This is actually a pretty solid metaphor for what that studying was like. Too much at once, and your head feels like its caving in. No, I’m not doubting myself; I’m just focusing on how I’m going to prepare this time. Failing gave me time to really question what I’m doing, what it is I want. And as much as I hated my life while I was studying for the bar, and as sad and lonely and drunken a night I had when I found out I failed, I’ve found that this is truly what I want — to be a lawyer.” He sat up and looked young for the first time since he started studying for the bar. “If I’m willing to put myself through this, and I have a good reason for doing so, then this is what I should be doing with my life. Sure, I’d rather just have passed the first time. No denying that. But hating my life as much as I do now really shows me how committed I am.” Failing the bar, whether considered as a possibility before or not, dumps everything — confidence, choices, conviction and determination — into the present. While almost no one quits after the first failure, this pivotal moment frequently serves as the best wake-up call one can ever receive. The additional time offered won’t all be spent on more frantic studying. Remembering why one wanted a career in the law to begin with can be a long-term blessing as valuable as suffering the odious rigmarole of bar preparation is a burden in the short-term. Making that distinction, however one qualifies it, could make the added suffering worth it, or could make that person reject the law right back. Free-lancer Mitch Artman is a frequent contributor to law.com. His e-mail address is [email protected]

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