3 time bar failure doesn't have the same ring as 5 time Academy Award nominee
October 14, 2006 10:53 AM   Subscribe

CareerFilter: I just failed the PA bar exam for the 3rd time, and there's

I graduated from law school in May 2005, took the bar exam, failed, took it again in February 2006, failed again, and took it in July 2006, and this week found out I failed a 3rd time. Obviously I'm not meant to practice law. But what fields should I go into?

I am aware of many people with JDs who never practiced (and some who were never licensed). I am thinking real estate, finance, politics, or journalism would be the best directions for me to go at this point. Should I even bother taking the bar again? I'm leaning toward no, because I don't want to put myself through that torture, waste another 6 months and thousands of dollars preparing, kill yet another New Years and Valentines day, etc, etc.

I live in Philly but am considering relocating to Boston. I need to work as I have already deferred my substantial law school loans due to, well, taking the bar for a year and a half.

I'm posting anonymously b/c it's humiliating to admit I failed the bar 3 times. In meatspace I'm in seclusion; here I can post anonymously. Any responses with constructive suggestions would be much appreciated.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (26 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm sorry. That's tough. I don't have any ideas right now - other than policy oriented positions where your legal training can be useful but you don't actually need a bar - but I'd just like to say that just because you haven't passed the bar really doesn't mean that you're "not meant to practice law" - there is soooo little correlation between passing the bar (a bizarre process), and the practice of law. I don't know whether you should take the bar again, but just wanted to throw that out there.
posted by Amizu at 11:01 AM on October 14, 2006

On quite a different scale, I've done the same thing--I failed my accounting classes over and over and over...

I don't have too much practical information to impart other than "I'm sorry, that hurts." & once you do find your niche you can laugh about it...
posted by wires at 11:11 AM on October 14, 2006

take an easier bar. Its just better, even if you aren't a lawyer. How did you study? I can give you some tips. Did you take PMBR? Send me an E-mail.

Otherwise, go into lobbying.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:13 AM on October 14, 2006

Maybe look into law librarianship. You'd need a Master's, but with your JD you might be able to find a position as a library assistant at a firm and get them to pay for your MLS.
posted by MsMolly at 11:19 AM on October 14, 2006

If you really really want to be a practicing lawyer and don't care how much money you make doing it, then take the bar until you pass, no matter how many times it takes.

If you don't really really want to be a practicing lawyer regardless of the compensation, then you shouldn't be a lawyer even if you had passed the first time.

Just remember this: All the world hates lawyers, including the lawyers themselves (and I'm only half kidding). There is certainly no shame in not being a lawyer. If anything, it's the other way around.

If you truly want something, then stop at nothing until you get it. And if you can't ever get it, then live a long life of endlessly trying. Seriously.
posted by JekPorkins at 11:23 AM on October 14, 2006

1. Bar exams are hard - there is no shame in not being able to pass it. Completing law school is VERY hard -- and speaks volumes more about your abilities and commitment -- and you did it . Be proud of that - seriously.

2. I used to (long, long ago) think that I wanted to be a lawyer, until I did some research and also read "Full Disclosure: Do You Really Want To Be A Lawyer?" In addition to convincing me that I wasn't prepared to embark on a career in law, it highlighted some of the occupations that non-practicing lawyers went into. Probably worth a few bucks to read.
posted by davidmsc at 11:26 AM on October 14, 2006

I'm with Jek. There's a woman in my friend's vet school class that applied for vet school 17 times before they accepted her application. She graduated at the top of the class -- which in vet school, is no laughing matter.

Eventually, you'll figure out how to pass the bar. If you really want to. If you don't really want to, why ARE you putting yourself through the torture? Just because you have a degree in something doesn't mean that you have to do it -- I have a degree in transportation & logicistics and I'm a programmer/sysadmin. Find a job that fits your skills, whether it be journalism or politics or working for a city government as an aide/clerk type, and find your happy place.
posted by SpecialK at 11:28 AM on October 14, 2006

If you're willing to approach former law school classmates, they may be able to find you work as a paralegal.
posted by Xalf at 11:29 AM on October 14, 2006

There are tons of books out there for disenchanted lawyers that focus on alternative careers for JDs. But, have you considered taking the NJ bar exam? I took PA and NJ this summer, and I thought that NJ was way easier. (Granted, the results of the NJ bar haven't been released yet, so who knows how I did on that one...) If you still want to be a lawyer, you might want to give it a shot in NJ - and bonus, the reverse commute if you live in Philly and work in South Jersey isn't too bad. Passing a bar exam in another jurisdiction may just give you the confidence you need to go back and kick ass in PA.
posted by amro at 12:19 PM on October 14, 2006

Let me just take Jek's bait before I answer your question:

All the world hates lawyers...

...primarily because of ignorance of the lawyer's role; and partly because lawyers willingly take upon themselves unpleasant or unpopular responsibilities. Most do this because it can be lucrative, but a surprising large number do so because they believe in the legal system: in its ability to self-correct, in its attempt to balance competing interests, in the theoretical level playing field that the legal system is designed to provide.

Most of the truly obnoxious litigation in the country is fuelled by insurance companies and corporations--some of whom take advantage of evidentiary rules to conceal their involvement (as you will recall from multistate Evidence). Lawyers are handy scapegoats. And self-loathing, I have found, exists in approximately the same proportions in all of the lucrative professions. A job that makes you feel good probably won't pay a lot.

There is admittedly a host of ugly personality characteristics common to lawyers. Cynicism--often caused by disillusionment--is an occupational hazard, not a requirement. Many police have it as well. Belligerence, argumentativeness--you can find those at the DMV. Arrogance--talk a surgeon some day. A lot of these characteristics are unattractive in a lawyer, until they're used in your defense.

That last point is really the key to it: a lawyer is the person who is on your side when the entire world has turned against you—and the person you trust with some of the most important aspects of your life. A defense lawyer defends a scoundrel in part for money, and in part because she thinks “If he can get a good legal defense, we’re all safe against the abuse of government power.” When a large corporation poisons a poor community’s groundwater, causing birth defects and deaths, it’s the much-maligned class action personal injury lawyer who helps the powerless.

A lawyer, like a doctor, is someone who has busted their ass learning how to protect people. Ethical lawyers exist in the same proportions as ethical non-lawyers—don’t make a career decision based on uninformed opinion.

Now, about your career:

The bar prep experience is the precise opposite of the work required of you in legal practice (except for the paperwork). Don't consider it an indicator.

You can do almost anything else. You now probably have certain skills that are assets in most professions:
--Law school taught you how to think and how to question.
--You have likely developed a sharp instinct for cutting to the heart of an issue, and sorting through masses of extraneous information.
--You’ve handled a lot of pressure and competition.
--No colleagues will seem quite as difficult to deal with as fellow law students were (except, in my opinion, if you become an academic).
--Basic contracts law will be an asset in anything you do for money for the rest of your life. (They should teach it in high school, but until then you have an advantage)

Downsides to a legal mind in a corporate or business career:
--Procrastination may be a hazard for lawyers, who need a certain amount of thinking time to work well. Outside the legal sphere, it’s far more damaging—a potential career killer.
--Efficiency is valued over completeness; thoughtfulness is often seen as self-indulgence.
--Winning the argument is no longer winning the battle.

A side note on culture shock: you'll be particularly surprised how comparatively few people in corporations or financial firms seem to consider the ethical ramifications of their work. You'll be stunned at how few people have any idea what the law is, or how it works. You’ll wonder why MBAs, engineers, etc. are so focused on “how”, and why they don’t seem to dwell as much on “why.” There is no cure.
posted by Phred182 at 12:43 PM on October 14, 2006 [17 favorites]

You have to ask yourself: what were the _real_ reasons you wanted to be a lawyer in the first place. After you get your first and second set of answers, dig deeper. This may give you the information about yourself that will help you find a direction that's even more suited to you than law.

It sounds like you have a real ability to organize your time, keep your goals in mind, and follow through. These are rare and very useful in a lot of pursuits. Management, development, investigative reporting... there are a lot of fields you could work in where you could be making things happen, rather than just making sure others make them happen in a legal manner (both are important, but they can be exciting for different reasons).
posted by amtho at 1:02 PM on October 14, 2006

Phred182: Thanks for putting it well.

Anon: I'll echo all of the above, especially the point about the bar exam having nothing to do with your skills a lawyer.

You've been given some great suggestions here, I just want to add something else for consideration to the mix...
your question sounds a little panicky, which is completely understandable, but you might consider stepping back for a little time to catch your breath and think about what you would really enjoy doing. Why do you think real estate, politics, finance or journalism would be the best routes? Is it because those are the things you think you might enjoy, or because those are the things you think people with JDs do if they don't practice law? Even though I'm sure the pressure to work feels overwhelming right now, it might not be wise to jump into something- an entirely new field, no less-- just because you feel it's what people in your position are "supposed to do." You don't mention whether or not you want to practice law, just that you feel you aren't meant to. Maybe give some consideration to this as well, and I think the suggestion to try and find something as a paralegal for awhile to pay the bills, while sorting out more long term goals, is a good one. It would allow you to be around the law to help you determine whether or not it's still worth pursuing as a career, but it probably wouldn't be so demanding that you couldn't devote some mental energy to jumping into a different field, if that's what you decide to do. It might be a little tough on the ego for a while, as a law grad, but good experience.

Also, regarding the NJ bar, as amro mentions, I too, have heard that it's easier than other bars, which some say is because the state wants to encourage professionals who are focused on NY but hesitant about the bar/practice there to consider NJ as an alternative. Whether or not it's true, taking another bar wasn't a bad suggestion, since you mentioned you're considering moving.

At any rate, just always remember that passing the bar, or not passing the bar, says nothing about your abilities to succeed in law, or elsewhere.
posted by Harvey Birdman at 1:28 PM on October 14, 2006

Have you thought about working overseas? I know a few lawyers who work for corporations, law firms, aid organizations and NGOs in Asia and Europe. (However, I don't know much about the profession and I'm not sure if they had to pass any bar exams to get their positions.)
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 2:43 PM on October 14, 2006

This question is rhetorical since you're anonymous, but: was it the MBE or the essays that tripped you up each time? Each portion of the exam requires exam-taking skills that are unlike anything you have done in law school.

BTW, It might make you feel better if I told you that this summer's MBE was fucking brutal, and I couldn't even begin to guess whether I got 50% correct or 75% correct. It's all up to the random number gods. I don't even find out if I passed until November.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 3:35 PM on October 14, 2006

Are you interested in being in law firm life? A JD (with or without bar passage) can get you a position in law firm accounting, management, marketing, recruiting, you name it. One of the nice things is that the JD allows you to skip a lot of the entry-level stuff and just move into manager/director level work.

I have a JD (I did pass the bar) and I'm a marketing director for a law firm. I don't know what your concern with money is, but I graduated law school a semester before you and I make more than most of my fellow graduates and I work a standard 40/50 hour week. Granted, I did go to law school with this career as my goal and worked my way through school in law marketing positions, so YMMV.

There are a variety of organizations for law firm management, but one of the most influential and proliferate is the Association of Legal Administrators (ALA). Check out their career center for some job descriptions and openings.
posted by MeetMegan at 4:41 PM on October 14, 2006

I'm the OP.

In response to several people's comments/questions:

1. It's the MBE that has screwed me each time. The first time I failed by 32 points, the second time I failed by 10 points. Haven't gotten official scores back this time yet. I actually have done very well on the essays.

2. I worked in journalism after college, prior to law school. I feel like I could make a career in legal journalism.

3. I entered law school with the intent of practicing; even after taking the bar the first 3 times I was still set on law practice. Now however I feel like, even out of simple necessity (gotta pay the bills) I should look in a different career direction.

In any case, thanks to all thus far who have posted. Suggestions/comments/questions are still welcome.
posted by LilBucner at 5:00 PM on October 14, 2006

Here's the page on the ABA website for legal positions and alternative careers. I think the ABA is probably your best bet for a legal journalism opportunity. Many law firms also employ former journalists to write scholarly articles for their newsletters, or to provide public relations expertise.

You may also want to check out some legal media sites:
Inside Counsel
ALM (American Lawyer Media)
Writers for Lawyers (Jaffe Associates)

There are a number of additional resources that I just can't think of now. If you want more info, just email me (please put Metafilter in the subject line - I have gotten an absurd amount of spam recently).
posted by MeetMegan at 6:00 PM on October 14, 2006 [2 favorites]

Have you looked into Westlaw's (Thomson-West Publishing) job listings? There might be something for you there, although you might have to be willing to move to Minnesota.
posted by dilettante at 6:37 PM on October 14, 2006

take an easier bar.

PA is reputedly among the easier ones, but they are all hard. Having the bar admission is a good thing even if you do not practice law. Did you take a prep course? Passing without one would be hard. They don't neccessarily guarantee performance, but I think they let you keep taking the course for free until you pass. Doesn't PA have a Multistate pass option where a 125 on the Multistate gets you in? That is doable. Put all your effort into that one portion of the test prep perhaps.
posted by caddis at 6:53 PM on October 14, 2006

Have you looked into Westlaw's (Thomson-West Publishing) job listings? There might be something for you there, although you might have to be willing to move to Minnesota.

Seconded. Westlaw has many positions that require a knowledge of the law while not needing a full-blown lawyer. As a matter of fact, you may be preferable than a lawyer in that you'll probably be quite a bit cheaper. (Look, we're talking brass tacks here, right?)

My wife works there, has worked there for a decade, and loves it. It's a good place to work. Minnesota is also wonderful.
posted by unixrat at 7:31 PM on October 14, 2006

You mentioned that it is the MBE that is tripping you up, not your essays. If that's the case, it probably won't matter much if you try a different state's bar exam, because you won't do as well on that state's essay questions, and it'll be the same MBE.

I'm also curious as to what your prep strategy has been for the MBE. I was impressed with how well BARBRI prepared me for the MBE, because they have an immense amount of questions and a nifty computer program that shows you statistics based on topic and difficulty. I also think that passing the MBE is simply a matter of 1) time management and 2) eliminating wrong answers. Which is harder for you?

If you really want to pass, it sounds like the odds are probably on your side if you take it again in February - you have gotten better scores each time. Also, the rumor is that February exams are scored a little bit more gently, since most examinees didn't pass in July.

I think you might even do better if you just go out and find a decent job in an area that you like, without worrying about your career or the exam, and just make some cash and get out of seclusion. Take some time each day to work on some practice questions, and just relax a bit. You'll probably do better just by being less stressed.
posted by MrZero at 7:38 PM on October 14, 2006

Ugh, sorry about the awful bar experience. How awful. Are there any bars without the multi-state? I remember it as being the worst part of the exam.

Without a bar membership, there is legal publishing as well as certain government jobs. A friend of mine who has a JD but didn't pass the bar does public housing deals, worked in a city's housing office, it's all law and transactions, but you don't need to be a member of the bar. If you have some "issue" you are interested in -- housing, land use, consumer, employment, disability, whatever -- maybe check out the "Mayor's Office" on whatever it is in Philly or Boston.

I second/third legal publishing.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 11:03 PM on October 14, 2006

There's also policy work, though without serious connections that would require a move to D.C.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 11:06 PM on October 14, 2006

2. I worked in journalism after college, prior to law school. I feel like I could make a career in legal journalism.

Journalist here who herself is lamenting the fact that the field doesn't pay well enough for simple things, like eating.

You should be aware that most media companies are going through a terrible time right now, laying people off left and right. They're looking for business writers, but everyone else is pretty much screwed. There are two sorts of jobs available right now: Very, very entry level stuff that you wouldn't want to do unless you were 22 and had the delusion you'd be able to work your way up from answering phones, and supervisory positions for which you need many years of experience and excellent contacts. Everyone else is on the chopping block.

Of course, you know journalism doesn't pay well. But if you've got a ton of loans, maybe it's not the best field to go into right now. Especially as it would take you quite awhile to find a decent job.
posted by brina at 3:18 AM on October 15, 2006

First, note that there is nothing humiliating about failing the bar. The former Dean of Stanford Law failed the California bar exam (her name has been mentioned as a Supreme Court nominee) and that made the front page of the Wall Street Journal (yikes!). I've passed two bar exams and I can say that taking the bar has nothing to do with intelligence. It's got more to do with memorizing, regurgitating, and fighting off nerves. The second thing to remember is that being a lawyer really isn't all that great. I am a lawyer and I've only recently found a job I feel comfortable in. All of my friends from lawschool dislike their jobs a lot. There's lots and lots of stress, and the pay isn't that great for the amount of stress and lost free time. I have one friend who pulls in a big salary and she's not a whiner and she was complaining last year about not being able to spend Christmas with her family because of work. You might look at this as a blessing in disguise. As to what to do, search your heart, find your passion. You have an opening to do someting an entirely new with your life. Celebrate that rather than dwelling on the nasty old bar exam!
posted by bananafish at 9:29 PM on October 15, 2006

I MUST talk to you.
I graduated law school (in PA) in May 2004. I skipped the July bar so I could study from Sept-Feb, taking the Feb. bar in 05. I failed. I took it again in July, waited the 10 weeks, and failed.
These two times I had not taken Barbri; I decided to pay the three thousand dollars, drive to Baltimore EVERY night from Dec. 26 to Feb. 19 (I took the Maryland bar each time). I drove an hour and a half one way for all these nights and took the exam a THIRD time last Februrary. I failed.
I am the only person who can understand how crushed, how useless, how humiliated you are feeling. I know, as I do too. I killed myself in law school, killed myself studying these three times just as you did. And all for. . .nothing.
I too sought seclusion and dropped most of my "friends" (none of whom even had college degrees and none of whom had a clue). Many people asked me, Well, can't you be a PARA LEGAL?? Hmmm. . .
I could not pay for the review course again. My loans are now due. I took a volunteer job for a Maryland Admin. Judge. He already had two law clerks, and I helped them type for two months. But alas, I had to find something that paid. And I really didn't want to type.
Few of my job interviews were impressed with my law degree. Most said, "We don't require a law degree ... "meaning they aren't going to pay extra for one. I couldn't even get hired by Harford Co. Govt as a legal assistant, because, get this--I didn't have paralegal experience! When I argued my three years' training in law school reading cases (a requirement of the job) they said they wanted paralegal experience. I gave up.
I could not find a job at all. I could not pass the bar. I avoided my "associates" from law school, all of whom were practicing after passing on their first try. I stopped associating with nearly everyone I'd known, because they just did not understand.
Please write to me.
posted by Kelly-Rose at 5:19 PM on March 26, 2007

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