How to Tell Your Boss you Failed the Bar Exam

bar exam anxiety, constitutional law mbeSo your worst nightmare has come true: after three years of law school, and countless hours of studying, you have failed the bar exam. All the hard work seems for nought. Further, you were fortunate enough to have found a position in a saturated job market. You have just started your career, and now have to deal with the embarrassment of telling your boss you failed the bar exam. What do you do? In this post, we outline how, exactly, to tell your boss you failed the bar exam. 

How to Tell Your Boss you Failed the Bar Exam

1. Do not wait: Tell Them Immediately

There’s no use beating around the bush. It will be far easier to tell your boss right away that you have failed. Waiting for weeks to inform your employer you have failed will only make it more difficult to broach the subject, since exam results in many states will generally become public knowledge.

Furthermore, your employer took the risk of hiring you without knowing your bar results. They deserve to know immediately that you did not pass. Set up a meeting with your supervisor  as soon as possible after you receive your results. Not only is this a professional courtesy, but also shows that you are going to be proactive in resolving the issue, which will reflect positively on you.

2.Remember that different companies and firms have different approaches to employees who fail the bar exam.

Some employers will fire employees who do not pass the bar exam. They need someone who can go to court and to interact with clients as a lawyer and for now, this is not you!  While being fired can be devastating, it can also be a blessing in disguise, as you will have more time to study for the next one and get it done!

However, note that by and large, many of our students find that their bosses do not fire them. (In fact, it makes sense for the boss to keep them on in many cases, because they essentially have someone who knows the law as well as a lawyer–if not better than many lawyers, and yet they don’t have to pay them lawyerly wages!)

If your employer already told you what would happen if you failed the bar exam, then be prepared to follow the plan of action. Thank them for the opportunity to work at the firm regardless of whether you are let go and be nothing but polite and gracious. (We have had some students whose bosses have to let them go when they fail, but hire them back as soon as they pass!)

Also, remember that the employer may deviate from their initial course of action. The firm’s needs may have changed. Or they may have discovered that you were an exceptional employee. Thus, while you should be prepared to follow the initial plan of action, also keep in  mind that it may have changed since it was made.

3. Go into the meeting prepared.

If your boss has indicated that they will retain you even if you fail (or if there is any chance of this happening) go into the meeting prepared with an action plan.

Having an action plan after you fail the bar can go along way toward easing any concerns your employer may have about your abilities. Show up with definite steps you are going to take to make sure you pass the bar, whether that involves a detailed study schedule, extra tutoring, or how you are going to approach the exam differently next time. (See this post  on what to do if you failed the bar exam! We have a detailed approach and step-by-step guide to maximize your chances of passing the next one!)

It is also a very good idea to see if you can take some time off work. The more time you are able to take off, the better. It is best to have a plan set up ahead of time so that when you tell your employer the bad news, you can also say exactly what you think you can do differently to pass, and how they can support you in that realm. (If you must work while studying for the bar exam, please see our 12 tips to do both, here!)

Be open to having your plan criticized, and ask  your employer for any tips that they think will help you.  Being proactive in the face of opposition will show your employer that you are doing everything in your power to pass the bar as soon as possible. This can only reflect positively on you. Failing the bar is not ideal. But, having a plan to remedy the issue will show you are attacking the situation head-on.

4. Don’t make excuses

Making excuses is only going to make the situation worse. Your employer is not going to care that your cat died, or you lost power for a week during preparation, or whatever else might have contributed to failing the exam. Own up to the fact you did not pass the bar this time. If you work in a state with a lower bar passage rate, chances are that this will not be the first time your employer has run into this issue with a new hire, so they will most likely already have some sort of experience with associates failing the bar, and all the excuses that have come with that.

While it might be embarrassing in the short-term, owning your failure unequivocally will speak volumes about your character. Trying to shift the blame to anyone or anything but yourself can, on another level, also show that you are not able to separate your professional life from your personal life. Furthermore, blaming your personal circumstances can come off as overly defense. This could be a red flag that you are unable to take criticism. So, while  boss will understand why you failed the bar (indeed, they were probably worried about it when they took the bar!) it might give him or her larger concerns about your ability to handle yourself professionally in the long term. So, do not be defensive! You are not the first person to fail the bar, and you certainly will not be the last.

5. Be kind and gracious no matter what.

It is hard to be kind and gracious when you are probably upset, unsure of the future, and scared. However, be mature during your meeting. Be kind. And be gracious no matter what happens.

This will reflect positively on you. Even if your firm lets you go, this might not be the end of your relationship with them. You never know if your firm will be hiring in the future. Or, if they will serve as a reference to someone who is. You have nothing to lose by being mature, and gracious. And everything to gain.

Ashley-Heidemann-Profile-382x356Ashley Heidemann scored over a 180 on the Michigan Bar Exam in February of 2011. She scored a 180 on the MBE and a 184 on the essay portion.

Ashley, as well as a team of tutors offer private one-on-one tutoring for bar exam students nationwide. She offers Uniform Bar Exam tutoring services and has helped hundreds of students pass the bar exam. For any questions about her bar exam services, please click here.

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