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Famous Failures of the Bar Exam: Moving Beyond Failure to Achieve Greatness

Pass or fail

You study intensely for three or four years and sacrifice the unimaginable.  Then you put your life on hold for three more months to study for the bar exam.  You gave it your all. But when you eagerly sit at your computer the evening bar exam results are released, you learn the unfathomable.  You did not pass the bar exam on your first or repeated attempts.

Failing the bar is disheartening, to say the least.  Even though you can retake the exam as many times as you’d like, it’s a massive blow to your work ethic, ego and passion and it hampers your drive to start studying again.  For perspective purposes, please know that all is not lost after you fail a bar exam.  Here’s a list of some very important people who did not pass the bar exam on their first attempt yet went on to still have success (regardless of your thoughts about their viewpoints, they still persevered):

  1. Michelle Obama failed the 1L bar on her first attempt. 
  2. Franklin Roosevelt failed the New York bar exam on his first attempt.

  3. Hillary Clinton failed the D.C. bar on her first attempt then switched states and passed the Arkansas bar exam.

  4. Pete Wilson, former Governor of California, failed the California bar exam four times before deciding to call it quits and pursue politics instead. 

  5. Kathleen Sullivan, former Dean of Stanford Law School, failed the California bar exam on her first attempt.

  6. John F. Kennedy, Jr. failed the New York bar exam twice before passing on his third attempt. 

  7. Notable mayors of U.S.A.’s three largest cities: New York’s Ed Koch, Chicago’s Richard M. Daley, and Los Angeles’ Antonio Villaraigosa – all failed and Koch and Daley eventually passed.

  8. Former governors Charlie Crist of Florida (also Florida’s one-time attorney general) and Deval Patrick of Massachusetts missed the mark as well.

  9. Benjamin Cardozo, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, dropped out of Columbia Law School and did not even earn a law degree.   

There are many more who failed a bar exam and went on to lead successful careers as attorneys and beyond.  Short story – you are not alone, keep at it and let your passions guide your history book to greatness in whichever way you contribute to our world!

For more information on how to study in law school to pass the bar exam, purchase our book, Nine Steps to Law School Success: A Scientifically Proven Study Process for Success In Law School ( or visit us at to purchase office hours with a study expert and a learning experience that is right for you!

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