Successful Attorneys Who Failed the Bar Exam
It is officially the time of year when bar exam results are making their way to students. While some students may be rejoicing upon getting their results, others are just realizing that retaking the bar exam is going to be tying up their time for the foreseeable future. If you find yourself in the latter group, we know that this time can be incredibly difficult. Please know that you are in good company even if you didn’t receive the score you wanted. In this post, we’re including a list of famous people who did not pass the bar exam the first time around but still went on to have successful careers.
Successful Attorneys Who Failed the Bar Exam
1. Hillary Clinton
Hillary Clinton took both the Washington DC and Arkansas bar exams. While she passed the Arkansas Bar Exam, she did not pass the bar exam in Washington DC. That did not stop her, though! She went on to practice in the intellectual property field in Arkansas and has since become a leading political figure. In addition to her time serving as First Lady of the United States, Ms. Clinton also served as a U.S. Senator from New York, Secretary of State, and even ran for president (twice)!
2. Michelle Obama
Before practicing intellectual property at a big Chicago law firm, Michelle Obama had to take the Illinois Bar Exam twice. That’s right, Michelle Obama did not pass the bar exam on the first try! Not only did she go on to have a successful career in big law, she also spent much of her legal career working in community engagement through the Chicago mayor’s office and as an executive director for a leadership training program before moving on to various positions at the University of Chicago. I think it’s safe to say, though, that most know her best for the time she spent serving as First Lady of the United States when her husband, Barack Obama, was president.
3. Franklin Delano Roosevelt
The rules may have been different in the early 1900s when Franklin Delano Roosevelt prepared to take the New York Bar Exam, but in the end, the result was the same. FDR did not pass the bar exam on his first attempt. He had to take it twice (passing on his second try). Upon passing, he promptly dropped out of Columbia Law School (see note above about different rules in the early 1900s!) to begin practicing law. Of course, most recognize FDR for the time he spent serving almost four (!) terms as president of the United States as opposed to his time as an attorney.
4. Jerry Brown
Jerry Brown is most known for his stint as the governor of California. He also served as California’s 31st Attorney General during the late 2000s. What you might now know about Jerry Brown is that he failed the bar exam on the first try. He took the bar exam again and passed, going on to have a successful career. This just goes to show that failing the bar exam does not determine whether or not you achieve success as an attorney!
5. Kathleen Sullivan
Kathleen Sullivan served as the dean of one of the most prestigious law schools in the United States. Before serving as the Dean of Stanford Law School, however, Kathleen Sullivan took the bar exam…twice. She was not successful on her first attempt! She currently runs an appellate practice for a national United States law firm and has appeared in front of the United States Supreme Court on several occasions. Clearly that first bar exam score did not stop Ms. Sullivan!
6. Richard Daly
Richard Daly is best known for his stint as the mayor of Chicago. In fact, he was Chicago’s longest-serving mayor taking office in the late 1980s and staying until 2011. Before becoming Chicago’s longest serving mayor, Richard Daly graduated from law school and went on to take the bar exam multiple times. He passed the bar exam on his third try and went on to have an incredibly successful career!
7. JFK, JR.
John F. Kennedy, Jr., son of former president John F. Kennedy, did not pass the bar exam on his first try. In fact, it wasn’t until his third try that he finally passed the New York Bar Exam. So, what type of career did JFK, Jr. have once he passed the bar exam? He went on to become a prosecutor for several years. He also spent time as a journalist and was a founder of George magazine in the mid-1990s.
8. Benjamin Cardozo
Law students from across the United States are likely familiar with Benjamin Cardozo in one way or another. From his time as an appellate judge in the State of New York to his time serving as a U.S. Supreme Court justice, Benjamin Cardozo issued a host of legal opinions that can still be found in today’s law school case books. What many don’t realize is that Benjamin Cardozo had a rough go with the bar exam. He allegedly took it several times before he was able to achieve a passing score! Almost anyone would agree that Benjamin Cardozo went on to have a successful legal career after failing the bar exam.
9. David Patterson
Another U.S. governor is on this list, this time from the State of New York. Prior to becoming the governor of New York, David Patterson served in a district attorney’s office. Like others on this list, David Patterson did not pass the bar exam on this first try. Not only did David Patterson eventually pass the bar exam, but he has dedicated significant time and energy to ensure that those who need accommodations for the bar exam receive them. This has undoubtedly helped countless other students pass the bar exam!
10. Kamala Harris
Current Vice-President? Check. Former U.S. Senator for the State of California? Check. Former Attorney General for the State of California? Check. Repeat California Bar Examinee? Check. That’s right, Vice-President Kamala Harris did not pass the bar exam on her first try! That clearly did not stop her as she has gone on to have an incredibly successful career not only as a politician but also as an attorney. Vice-President Harris has taught us all that while failing to pass the bar exam on the first try is certainly disappointing, don’t let that stand in your way. There is still so much still left to gain even if it takes you a couple of times before you pass!
11. Paulina Bandy
When it comes to perseverance in taking the bar exam, Paulina Bandy is one of the first people that comes to mind. Paulina Bandy did not pass the bar exam until her 14th try! Anyone who has taken the bar exam once knows how incredibly difficult both mentally and physically the bar exam can be. Paulina endured the mental and physical aspects of the bar exam 14 times! She currently spends her time by helping others pass the bar exam.
12. Anthony Scaramucci
Anthony Scaramucci is a Harvard Law School graduate who spent the bulk of his career as a financier. He also had a brief stint as the Director of Communications at the White House during the Trump administration. After making two attempts at the bar exam, he decided ultimately not to pursue getting an attorney’s license in New York. Instead of pursuing a career in law, he turned to the finance world.
13. Charlie Crist
Yet another governor and attorney general appears on this list. This time it’s Charlie Crist. Charlie not only served as the attorney general and governor of Florida, but he was also a U. S. Representative. At the time he served in the U.S. House, he was the only representative with gubernatorial experience. Even though he has many accolades on his resume, passing the bar exam on the first try is not one of them. Mr. Crist had to take the bar exam multiple times to achieve a passing score!
14. Someone You Know
We could’ve included another “famous” person on this list, but we decided to use a different approach on this one. The chances are great that someone you know failed the bar exam on their first attempt but went on to have a successful legal career, likely working in a position you’re interested in pursuing once you are licensed. This could be one of your professors, your boss, or one of your mentors! The bottom line here is that the bar exam can be an incredibly difficult exam, and many students find the exam and preparing for the exam to be incredibly challenging. It’s still worth trying to pass even if you weren’t successful the first time! Ask for help, evaluate what went wrong, and try again! You can still be an incredibly successful attorney even if you don’t pass the bar exam on the first try!
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