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Famous Attorneys Who Failed The Bar Exam

famous people who failed the bar exam

While not passing the Bar Exam can be a depressing and discouraging experience, it is not the end of the world, and it certainly does not prevent you from going on to have a successful and rewarding legal career.  Even some of the most famous and influential attorneys have had struggles with the Bar Exam. Here are just a few notable bar exam repeaters who went on to have highly successful careers.

1. Michelle Obama – First Lady and Harvard Law grad, Ms. Obama failed her first attempt at the Illinois Bar Exam.  She passed on her second try, and joined the law firm of Sidley Austin as an associate.

2. John F. Kennedy, Jr. – Son of former President John F. Kennedy, JFK, Jr. failed the New York Bar Exam twice, before passing on his third attempt.  He then served as an assistant district attorney in New York from 1989 to 1993.

3. Hillary Clinton – Former Secretary of State, Senator, First Lady, 2008 Presidential candidate, and Yale Law School graduate,  Ms. Clinton failed the Washington D.C. Bar Exam on her first attempt.  She later passed the Arkansas Bar Exam, and went on to have a successful legal career at the Rose Law Firm (Oh, and that political stuff too!).

4. Franklin D. Roosevelt – Arguably one of the most influential U.S. Presidents in history and author of the New Deal, FDR led the United States through both the Great Depression and World War II.  Oh, and he also failed the Bar Exam on his first try.  

5. Benjamin Cardozo – The well renowned Justice of the United States Supreme Court, former Judge of the New York Court of Appeals, who entered Columbia Law School at the age of fifteen, failed the New York Bar Exam on his first attempt.

6. Jerry Brown – Former Attorney General of California, and two-time California Governor, Brown failed his first attempt at the California Bar Exam.

7. Pete Wilson – Former Governor of California, Wilson failed the California Bar Exam 3 times before finally passing on his 4th attempt.

8. Kathleen Sullivan – Former Dean of Stanford Law School, a Harvard Law graduate, and leading Constitutional and appellate law expert, Sullivan failed on her first attempt at the the California Bar Exam, but passed on her second.  At the time, Sullivan was already admitted to practice law in New York and Massachusetts.  She is currently a partner at Quinn Emmanuel in New York City and chairs its national appellate practice.

9. Kevin D. Callahan – Although not famous, Kevin D. Callahan provides perhaps the most inspiring story of overcoming bar exam failure.  After 10 unsuccessful attempts at the Massachusetts Bar Exam, Callahan finally passed on his 11th try.  His persistence paid off.  Callahan went on to earn a job as an assistant District Attorney, eventually started a successful private practice, and nearly won the election for Cape Cod District Attorney in 1998.

These examples just go to show that failure can be overcome with perseverance and determination, and that even the greatest legal minds can have trouble with the bar exam.  So, whether you’ve taken the bar exam once, twice, or even 10 times, keep working hard and don’t lose hope.

There IS a light at the end of the tunnel!