Thursday, December 8, 2011

Reflections on Taking (and Not Taking) the Bar Exam

I got this email a few months back (fan mail! woot!)...and I was too ashamed to write back to her. I suppose I should start from the begining, here are the important parts of the email:

I, like you, graduated from one of the law schools in May 2011. After a week of attending Barbri, last night I decided I had it with the law school and law profession. I decided not to take the bar exam. I typed something along those lines in Google and your weblog came up. I am not even sure why I decided to email you. I think if I tell anyone I know that I decided not to take the Bar, they will freak out. I do not think anyone who is not involved in law have an understanding of how it is and how it can destroy your spirit.

Years of isolation and feeling that I did not have a tiniest bit in common with the people in law school from the law students to professors and 100K plus in loans with one of the most dehumanizing experiences I have ever had in an educational setting, today, I think back and am not even sure why I did not stop the first semester, the first year. Why did I continue? What was I trying to prove?

I do not even know where to start to put my life back together. What should I do now? Where can I work, so I can start paying back for my four years of expensive education which means nothing if you do not take and pass the bar, MPRE, and do the 30 page moral character application. I am done. I do not want to do any of those anymore. But what now? What am I now? I am not a lawyer and will not be one. So having a mere JD puts me in what category?

I have not socialized with people in 4 years. I have been so isolated in my own world studying. I am not even sure if I know how to socialize anymore. I do not know where to start. I am so tired, broken (emotionally and psychologically), and confused. I feel so lonely.

Reading this now, and admitting that I didn't respond, is making me feel like and even worse person. So...Dear author of this email, I am a bad person and I am sorry.

I didn't write back because I was ashamed that I didn't have the courage that this person had. Admitting that something is not what you thought it would be takes courage. Especially when that something is a $150k law degree and all the societal expectations that accompany it. Realizing that you made a choice that you're not happy with is only a failure if you stick with that choice.

So, do I think it was a mistake for this person to not take the bar, I don't. As I mentioned in my last post, I did take (and pass) the bar exam. And, honestly, I'm still not sure if I'm glad I did it. I took it mostly because my family and the people at one of my jobs wanted me to. For the record, "because other people wanted me to" is almost never a good reason to do anything. I passed and I like the fact that I'm licensed and now have the option to practice law, but at what cost? I just finished paying off the $2,000 it cost me to take the exam, I gained 15 pounds while I was studying, I spent a couple hundred dollars on therapy, and I didn't got to bed at the same time as my significant other for the entire summer. I also feel like I validated the system by participating in it.

On the upside, it gives me the opportunity to do pro bono work that I'm actually pretty excited about.

I think there's an inclination to try to justify the importance of law school and the bar exam once you've cleared both hurdles. If you don't justify it, you are forced to admit that you just spent a boat load of time and money...on something that may actually be a little bit silly...and may not actually make you competent at practicing law. In short: It's hard to admit that lottery tickets may have been a better investment.

Ok, ok. I'm not being entirely serious. I'm not actually suggesting that student loans would have been better spent on lottery tickets. But I do think that the author of this email is buying into the law school sales pitch a little more than she probably should. Law school can be alienating and awful and if a legal career isn't for you, walking away can be honorable. There are no shortage of "recovered lawyers" (check out Leaving the Law, The Recovering Lawyer, and But I Do Have a Law Degree just to name a few).

I do think that this person will (and probably already has) find/found a great job. Most importantly: a job she is happy at with people she is happy with.

A few months back I read Munneke and Henslee's Nonlegal Careers for Lawyers. Honestly, I wasn't super impressed. There was a lot of "you can be a [insert job that requires a high school education]...but with a law degree!" Despite the book, I do think there are a lot of jobs/careers where a law degree is useful (if not necessary). In fact, according to The National Jurist less than 69% of 2010 law school grads are employeed in jobs where bar passage is necessary. 

Moral of the story: Email author, you probably made a good choice. Kudos for being true to youself. I'm sure you will find a job and a career that are great fits for you...and who knows, once you get some distance from the emotional beating that was law school, you may even be glad you got the JD.


  1. If your gut feels wrong about something, it may be telling you that you should stop and analyze the situation more carefully. Looks like the email author finds happiness in not taking the bar. It might be the best decision that she had made.

  2. Thank you so much for this post. I just found out that I did not pass the Feb. TX bar. For me, the MPT was my down fall. I cried like a baby when I found out and now I am just extremely pissed. I am trying to decide if I should take the bar exam again especially since I don't intend to practice. I think I took the bar exam mainly because it was what you do after graduating law school and probably to keep an open mind with my career. I have 2 small kids, and the thought of locking myself up in a room for another 2 months to study for this exam makes me shudder. I feel like I have not been fully present in my kids lives fom the moment I started law school. I would appreciate any advice on whether I should retake the bar

  3. Thanks for this, I really appreciate what you have done here. Keep it up, and I will be back for more.

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