I’m In Good Company

I’m starting to be more forgiving of myself for failing the CA bar exam twice. It was especially helpful when I read an article about the exam from the Wall Street Journal, written in 2005 (the year I started law school) – here’s the pertinent part:

Kathleen Sullivan is a noted constitutional scholar who has argued cases before the Supreme Court. Until recently, she was dean of Stanford Law School. In legal circles, she has been talked about as a potential Democratic nominee for the Supreme Court. But Ms. Sullivan recently became the latest prominent victim of California’s notoriously difficult bar exam. Last month, the state sent out the results of its July test to 8,343 aspiring and already-practicing lawyers. More than half failed — including Ms. Sullivan. Although she is licensed to practice law in New York and Massachusetts, Ms. Sullivan was taking the California exam for the first time after joining a Los Angeles-based firm as an appellate specialist. The California bar exam has created misery for thousands of aspiring and practicing lawyers. Former California Gov. Jerry Brown passed on his second try, while former Gov. Pete Wilson needed four attempts. The recently elected mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio R. Villaraigosa, never did pass the bar after failing four times.

After reading this, I thought to myself, “Wow, even amazing attorneys and people in strong positions of power fail this exam multiple times — and more than that, you don’t even have to pass to get a job where you make a real difference to society, just look at Mayor Villaraigosa.” It took a lot of the sting out of the shame that I carry with me.  If someone who is described as a legal “rock star” can fail, without having seizures, it only makes sense that I would fail with them.

Actually, that was the second thing I thought. The first one was, “Wow, it must have been really difficult for Kathleen Sullivan to deal with the public embarrassment of failing this exam. I wonder how she handled it.”  And the answer is surprisingly simple: She just took the test again and passed. From everything I see about her on the internet, she just acted like the failure was just a temporary setback.  She’s still a partner at a prestigious firm. She’s still influencing law. She didn’t let failing 1 exam have any power in defining who she is.

Add to this an article ranking the difficulty of the states and their exams. California is #1 as hardest.  IL is #32, and I scored 5 points higher than the average LSAT for the state… so I’m starting to think that if I do want to cling to the hope of becoming an attorney and take this exam, I probably won’t fail.

I think I’m done thinking of myself as a failure because I didn’t achieve the status of attorney in CA. I think it’s time, instead, to focus on what kind of life I actually want to build for myself and to start action in that direction.

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