Jeremy's Weblog

I recently graduated from Harvard Law School. This is my weblog. It tries to be funny. E-mail me if you like it. For an index of what's lurking in the archives, sorted by category, click here.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

I wrote a piece for De Novo about the Bar Exam, and they haven't posted it yet, so I'm posting it here, before I forget about it, and because I'm lacking in content recently. Enjoy. :)

If You Failed...

There’s two ways this piece can go, and I won’t know until November which way is actually the right one. I can write a piece about how there’s no reason to get all worked up about the Bar Exam, because it’s just a test, and we’re all good at tests, and you only have to beat the bottom 20% or 30% or 40% or however many % it is in your state, and if you do a little bit of studying and don’t lose your cool on the test, you can do it, and so you don’t need to stop all semblance of a life for the three months before the test and subsist on Powerbars and Red Bull because there’s no time to eat anything, and do three thousand practice multiple choice questions and write out four hundred essays and go to every optional lecture every organization with an acronym can come up with a booklet and a small fee for.

But maybe I failed. And then the argument is don’t be like me. Don’t think that just because you’re smart and good at tests that you don’t really need to take this that seriously, because the Bar Exam isn’t an intelligence test, and you can’t divine the elements of battery from the ether even if you’re brilliant, and you can’t guess how long the statute of limitations is for contesting a will and have any real expectation you’ll be right.

The truth surely lies somewhere between the two extremes. I’m in no-man’s-land, as far as my test goes. I got somewhere between a passing score and a failing score, and I don’t really have any way of knowing which. I don’t know how bad an essay can be to still get enough points, and how many of my guesses on the multiple choice were right, and whether that was enough.

But here’s what I do know: I’ll be fine if I failed, and so will you. Even if you’re taking the path-more-traveled and going to work for a law firm, the rumors I hear are that you get another shot. Of course you don’t really want to be the guy who failed the bar, but at least it’s an identity, and a way for everyone to know your name. And standing out – for something – is half the battle at some of these places, isn’t it? You don’t just want to be another random face in the hall; you can be the girl who failed in the Bar Exam.

And maybe for a week it’s embarrassing, and maybe you don’t want to spend another two months studying, and maybe you don’t want to have to tell your parents you’re not as smart as 62.4% of the other people who took the Bar Exam, but think of it this way: if you fail the Bar Exam, you’ve set the bar low enough that you’re almost guaranteed to exceed it, no matter what you do. If you fail the Bar Exam and then become a partner at the firm ten years down the road, you’re a brilliant success story, an inspiration to thousands, a human interest article in the corporate newsletter, and a great guest at law school campuses everywhere (but not Bar/Bri lectures). Or if you decide to leave the law and do something else, you have a great excuse. “It was a sign from God.” People need to justify decisions, people need reasons to take a leap. This is a reason. You can use it.

And think of the motivational use of failing the bar. You fail, and you’ll surely be driven to show everyone it was just a fluke. You’ll kick into overdrive. You’ll do the best work of your life. It’ll be a blessing in disguise. It’ll change your life.

I mean, you didn’t fail. I’m sure you didn’t fail. You took Bar/Bri, you did the practice tests, you didn’t sleep for twelve days prior, you got addicted to amphetamines, your wife left you, your plants died… you covered all the bases, and I’m sure you didn’t fail. I may have failed, since the only studying I did was on the subway, but you didn’t. I’m sure you didn’t. But maybe you did. But if you did, you probably came pretty close to passing. And if you came pretty close, then next time it’ll be a breeze. A little more studying will be sure to put you over the hump.

Of course, you could always take South Dakota next time. Pass rate 95%, at least according to a website I found, although South Dakotans tell me otherwise. But let’s assume it’s still 95%, or there’s a state out there that is. You can move there and take the bar and use it as an excuse to start a new life as a country lawyer. You can be Gerry Spence. Can you dream of anything more idyllic?

Maybe you can. And maybe it’s the job you’ve got. The job that you’ll be set for, as long as you passed the exam. Maybe that’s your dream, and maybe that’s what you’re scared of losing if you failed. Maybe you’re worried that this is the one thing you’re meant to do in this world, and if you failed the bar exam, it’s all going to fall out of your grasp.

It’s probably not, because you’ll probably get another chance. But at least then there’s a reason to worry. If this is what you want to spend your life doing, then, yeah, you need to pass the bar exam. If not now, then soon. But if this isn’t what you want to be doing. If it’s just what you’re doing because you can’t think of anything better to do, or because all your friends are doing it, or because it’s the easy and sensible choice, and there’s something else burning in your soul, some other passion you long to pursue, something else out there that you wished you had the courage to go after…. Then I hope you failed, and you should probably hope so too. And even if you passed, maybe you should pretend you failed and see what happens. But of course you didn’t fail. You passed. If you’re reading this, you passed. You took it seriously, you focused, you ate Powerbars, you drank Red Bull, you memorized some acronyms, you passed.

Or I’ll see you in South Dakota in February.