Updated March 14 2023. Originally published March 14 2023
States will be releasing their bar exam results over the next few weeks. If you don’t pass, you might initially think your legal career is over, you’ll never get a job, and your life is basically finished, right? Wrong. Believe it or not you are not alone, since thousands of other candidates failed the bar exam across the country. And you're also in very good company because many ultimately very successful people received the same news as you.
Famous Americans Who Initially Failed the Bar Exam
Michelle Obama – The former First Lady graduated from Harvard Law School but failed the Illinois bar exam on her first try.
Hillary Clinton – The former Secretary of State, U.S. Senator from New York, and 2016 Democratic presidential nominee graduated from Yale Law School. She failed her first bar exam attempt in the District of Columbia (but passed the exam in Arkansas the same year).
John F. Kennedy Jr. – He failed the New York State bar exam twice before passing it on his third try. He went on to work as an assistant district attorney in New York City.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt – FDR failed the bar exam on his first try, but that didn’t stop him from leading our country indomitably through the Great Depression and World War II.
Kathleen Sullivan – Former dean of Stanford Law who argued cases in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, but she also failed the bar exam. Although she had passed the bar in both Massachusetts and New York, she missed on her first attempt in California.
Former Governor Deval Patrick – This Harvard law graduate failed the bar exam twice before passing it on his third time. It didn’t stop him from becoming the governor of Massachusetts from 2007-2015.
Former Governor Pete Wilson – He failed the California bar exam not once, not twice, but three times before he passed it on his fourth attempt. He served as California's 36th governor, its U.S. senator, San Diego's mayor, and a state Assemblyman.
Former Governor Charlie Crist – He failed the bar exam twice and still managed to become Florida's attorney general and its governor.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa – The former mayor of Los Angeles failed the bar exam on four different attempts and never actually passed it.
Mayor Ed Koch – After failing his first attempt at the New York bar exam, he passed the second time around and became the mayor of New York.
Mayor Richard M. Daley – He failed the Illinois bar exam twice and served as the mayor of Chicago for 21 years.
Former Governor David Paterson – After failing the bar exam, he became New York's first African American governor and only the fourth black governor in American history. And he's legally blind.
Congressman Harold Ford Jr. – He failed the Tennessee bar exam and still served five times in the House of Representatives.
Vice President Kamala Harris – After graduating from the University of California, Hastings College of Law, Harris failed the California bar exam on her first attempt but went on to pass and become the District Attorney of San Francisco, the Attorney General of California, a US Senator for the State of California, and is now serving as the Vice President of the United States.
Governors, mayors, vice presidents, and presidential nominees are just some of the thousands of people who have failed the bar exam. Let their examples assure you that it is not the end of the world if you didn't pass. Every great journey involves challenges to overcome. This is just a bump in the road. Don't lose your way. Stay motivated and continue on your path to a successful law career.
Pieper is here to help you reach your goal.