Flunking out of law school

A reader, Dana, posted a comment to my very first post in which she shares her story about having flunked out of law school and then returning, and she just learned she too failed the bar exam. Her story hit so close to home that I felt compelled to write about my own similar experience.

I too flunked out of law school my 1L year. You see, my law school had a minimum cumulative GPA for all 1Ls to meet in order to continue into 2L year, and I fell short of that minimum GPA by a very narrow margin, but enough to be dismissed from law school even though I had passed all my 1L classes. I immediately applied for readmission and was accepted but it was still up in the air whether I’d be forced to repeat my 1L year (which was usually a condition of readmission) or be allowed to continue into my 2L year. I lobbied all summer for the 2L option, obviously. That summer was fraught with anxiety and stress. I wrote memos like crazy and obtained support from a couple of faculty members although it was humiliating to have to admit my situation to them.

Fortunately, I was allowed to continue into my 2L year but I had to retake Contracts. For the rest of law school, I did progressively better in my classes although I still stumbled here and there, and my GPA never rose above an embarrassing C average despite achieving many B grades. It wasn’t easy, however. I never got off academic probation for the rest of law school. The administration still breathed down my neck at every turn. They made up all sorts of ridiculous policies that I felt were arbitrarily targeted at me, such as how rising 3Ls with GPAs below a certain point (read: me!) would be limited to a certain number of credits each semester until my GPA rose above that point (which it never did).

I wanted to do a clinic, but they wanted me to retake a 2L class that I had already passed (barely), and I just wanted to get my required credits and get out, so I didn’t do it. I wish I could have done the clinic, but graduating was more important. They also made me give up an externship during my 2L year even though I had already applied, interviewed, been offered the externship and accepted it. It was with a judge at the U.S. District Court. The law school contacted the judge themselves and told her they wouldn’t be letting me do the externship. Can you imagine how bad I must’ve looked to the judge? I really wish I could’ve done that externship because that would’ve been an amazing opportunity to work in federal court.

Throughout this ordeal, there was one dean at my school who rode me particularly hard. I had meetings with her every single semester, sometimes against my will. You can’t exactly ignore an e-mail from a dean requesting that you come in for a meeting, right? I’d always go into those meetings with a sick feeling in my stomach, wondering what the law school had cooked up for me next. Even though I clashed with the dean at times, I considered her my mentor. I still remember what she said to me after I was readmitted. She said that she had confidence in me and that I would make it through law school and graduate. She was actually on the committee that decided to readmit me and then decided to allow me to continue into my 2L year. I clung to those words for the next two years despite many more obstacles that stood in my way.

Law school was incredibly hard for me, and I believe it was harder for me than it was for many other people, but it paid off when I was able to walk across the stage at my law school graduation knowing how much blood, sweat, and tears I had put into law school. It was such an amazing milestone for me that even today I still can’t believe I’m finally a law school graduate. I have my law school diploma and no one can ever take that away from me. I’m pretty positive that I graduated dead last in my class although I’ve been too scared to ask the law school. Ignorance is bliss, right?

After I graduated from law school, I wrote the dean a long and heartfelt letter thanking her for believing in me. I also said that I would not have made it through law school if it had not been for her. She wrote back with an incredibly kind note about how she admired my fortitude and perseverance and that she knew those qualities would serve me well in the future if I ever faced more difficult times. Well, this is it. I’m not really feeling the determination and motivation – it’s more that I feel irritated and pissed off at having to take the bar exam yet AGAIN. However, after learning that Dana’s mentor passed on before she graduated, I’m so glad that I was able to thank my mentor after graduation. I still keep in touch with her and only today just summoned up the courage to e-mail her and admit that I failed the bar exam again. That was a very difficult e-mail to write since I don’t really want many people (especially people from my law school) to know that I failed twice.

Nevertheless, it really made me feel better to read the comment from Dana because I honestly thought I was the only one out there who had flunked out and then returned to law school. I agree with Dana about many people simply giving up in the face of less adversity than what we have already faced. It definitely sucked having that cloud hanging over my head for the rest of law school, but you know what? It doesn’t matter now. I have my law degree, and now I just need that freaking bar license! 🙂

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20 thoughts on “Flunking out of law school

  1. (I apologize in advance for the length of this comment :))

    My school has the same GPA requirement you referred to and I just barely dropped below it. However, when we request to be readmitted, following sitting out one full semester, we must return as a 1L & repeat all classes-the courses & grades show up on the transcript but are not added into the GPA.

    The reason I did not do nearly as well as I could have was b/c I had major back surgery (a 4-level spinal fusion) 4 months before I started. I was supposed to start in the Fall, but they would only allow me to defer 1 semester, or else I would have to reapply. Not the ideal situation for starting law school.

    Turns out this was the best possible thing that could have happened to me. Had I not flunked out, I never would have met my teacher, mentor, friend & surrogate grandfather (Prof Charles Weigel), who specifically asked to speak to any students in my same situation (there were 3 of us). He then periodically met w/ us throughout the semester to see how we were doing, gave advice, calmed me down when I stressed about exams. And miraculously, he asked if I would consider being his research assistant, which I was until his passing November 11 of last year. I could always count on his words of encouragement to get through every final I took, and even came to rely on his calls & visits to bring me chocolate while I was studying to make sure I was ok. I felt blessed that I was able to take every course he taught (and I got to take torts w/ him twice! Who else can say that? ;)).

    Even though he was my torts prof, had I not failed out, I NEVER would have had the courage to approach him after class, or go to his office (he was in his early 70s, was gruff, very intimidating to a 1L & had an eye-patch), and would have missed out having the opportunity to know one of the kindest, funniest, thoughtful, genuine, talented and most brilliant & fascinating people I’ve ever known. My life is better, and I, myself, am a much better person just having known him & I owe him so much. At first, I thought that I was glad he was not here to see my failure b/c I’ve felt that have I let him down, but soon realized that I need him now more than ever & am drawing on every piece of advice & act of kindness from him to give me the strength to take the bar again.

    You are very lucky to be able to remain in contact with the person that helped you get through such a rough 3 years.

    That’s great that you were reassured by your mentor’s words of encouragement, enough to realize they weren’t all out to get you (it sure seemed like it from what you said, through!) I’m touched my story prompted you to email her, and I can only imagine that she’ll have nothing but kind and encouraging words to help you get through this.

  2. I didn’t know that they had booted you. So sorry you had to deal with that. My kid wants to make a bar exam cheerleader video for you.

  3. I was sitting in the shower and getting more and more pissed off as I was reading this. It pissed me off when it was happening, and it pisses me off now.

    This post reflects what is wrong with American Legal Education in so many ways. The freakin’ bar exam rarely provides anything useful to the practice of law, other than to serve as a gatekeeper. It does nothing to assess substantive legal knowledge, and nothing to assess one’s ability to actually practice law.

    Law schools place such an emphasis on those MBE subject first year courses, that again have nothing to do with the practice of law. It’s especially infuriating that your school prevented you from accessing clinical education which might actual teach you how to lawyer because you didn’t do well in the first year MBE subject courses. That is completely ass-backwards, and why the bar exam and law school are so irrelevant to the practice of law.

    Before I started law school, a friend told me that law school is the hazing necessary to get admitted to the fraternity. That is so very true and the bar exam is just that — hazing. At this point no choice but to suck up and deal with it, and I’m glad you are, but I’m sorry you have to do it again when it is simply hazing.

  4. Dana, talk about your law school setting you up for failure the second time around by not adding the grades into the GPA! Your professor sounds like he was an incredible person, especially considering that he was a law professor. It always seemed to me that the majority of law professors are too self absorbed to reach out to law students in need. I can count on one hand the number of law professors that I truly admired. You shouldn’t feel that your mentor would be disappointed in you for failing the bar exam. It IS a hazing ritual and not reflective upon our abilities. My mentor was actually very supportive and helpful in her response so I know yours would have been the same way.

  5. I agree that clinics and externships are more important to creating good lawyering skills than sitting in some classroom and taking death-defying final exams once a semester. At the time I was upset for not being allowed to enroll in the clinic, but I wanted to graduate, and I did. However I sometimes can’t help but feel that I missed out on several aspects of law school.

  6. I was a whisker’s breath of flunking out also. As a matter of fact, my graduating GPA was below the current requirement but the rule changed after I began attending and the change in policy wasn’t retroactive.

  7. Wow. Thanks so much for sharing your story. I struggled with law school as well. I had a C average as well, and although I never flunked out I was on probation for several semesters. I was on probation the latter half of my first year but didn’t find out about it (shoddy administration) until the latter half of my second year. By then, I was already in a clinic that had accepted me based on my experience and an interview. Otherwise I don’t think I would have gotten in. Among my deans not a single one of them took me under their wing the way that dean took you under hers. Fortuantely in the clinic I did meet a professor who believed in me enough to encourage me, and I found that clinic to be much more helpful to me than any class ever was.

    I got a letter in my last year that people below a certain GPA were likely to not be successful on the bar exam. I never got over being mad that this was all I got. A stupid letter. Not extra classes, or a recommendation to start bar study early, or an admonition to speak to a dean about bar study, or anything useful like that. No, just a stupid discouraging letter. Real helpful. Of course that was the first time I heard about the high correlation between law school GPA and bar exam performance. It was one of those times when you hear about the thing but hear nothing about how to overcome the problem. That is one reason I eventually decided to establish my blog. There needs to be information about the process for those of us who struggle with law study.

    My vivid memory of the first year and a half of law school was understanding absolutely nothing. For most people, the information eventually gelled. Or at least they were able to put something together on their exams that appeared palatable to the grader. I never mastered this while in school. During bar study, while everyone else was hearing certain things over again, I felt as though I was hearing them for the first time. Interestingly, the only subject I did well in that first time was Evidence – a class I had taken my last semester of law school.

    It doesn’t come easy to all of us. Some of us have to work doubly hard and stumble twice as often to get where we need to go. What can I say but that is the way of things sometimes. It doesn’t mean that we can’t be good lawyers. On the contrary, we hold what we have worked for in much higher esteem because we’ve sweated so much for it.

  8. Legis, I can’t believed I blocked this but I was on probation for ALL of law school except my very first semester of 1L year. I was the same way as you – law school didn’t click for me either. It only made sense through my part-time jobs during law school when I was able to apply the material to real-life situations. I was also horrible at final exams; classes with final grades based on written papers saved my butt (and my GPA)!

    I can’t believe they sent you such a pessimistic letter during your 3L year. I would have been very upset too. I agree they should have been more constructive and proactive in helping you and others try to pass the bar exam, considering how important bar exam passage rates are to law schools.

  9. Don’t feel bad. Two of my study partners flunked out of law school the first year. One of them works on Capitol Hill now, and the other works for the Governor. Law school is not an indicator of your ability to be successful. Promise.

    I nearly flunked out too…. but after lots of hard work (and figuring out that paper option classes were the way to go), I am happy to say that I will be walking across that stage on Thursday.

    Keep your head up. I am studying for the bar as well… we will ALL pass.

  10. Brianna, congratulations on your graduation! I know it was an incredibly difficult road, and it’s such a relief to finally make it and be a law school graduate! The hardest part is over. Yeah it sucks not passing the bar on the first try, but it doesn’t suck nearly as much as clawing your way through 3 years of law school, I promise. I hear that the Georgia bar is one of the easier bar exams though!

  11. wow… how inspiring. I have my own story to tell… But all in due time! You don’t know how much reading your blog helps me these days!!

  12. I’m glad to hear that this blog is helpful to someone else other than myself. I like having an outlet to obsess about the bar as well as stow important information for future reference. I’m looking forward to reading more of your blog!

  13. For the life of me I can’t understand how anyone can call a lawyer ‘smart’ just because he can recall and recite a cookbook recipe in under one hour.

    I’m disappointed… I have not flunked my law school classes but I have flunked the FYLSE because I can’t write essays in under one hour.

    I thought being ‘smart’ and being an good attorney is about the application of the law by reasoning and logic ? Tell me how does the babybar/bar measures that abilility ?

    Hey people PLEZ don’t equate intelligence with passing the bar.

  14. Hey people … PLEZ stop thinking someone is ‘smart’ just because they passed the Bar.

    I didn’t fail my law school classes but I did just fail the baby bar ( First Year Law School Bar ) because I can’t recall and recite a cookbook recipe in under one hour.

    … just don’t comprehend how that tells anyone how much of the law I understand let alone measure a higher levels of intelligence such as the ability to analyze and/or apply logic.

    Do you think Lincoln could have passed the bar if he would have had to write one-hour essays? Give me a break!

  15. Hey! I just finished my 1st semester of law school and am on academic probation. I am probably going to be facing an uphill battle to stay in school and not flunk out. Just like I had to take the LSAT 6 or so times and so forth. But I hope to be able to look at it and know that in the end, despite all of the odds against me–just like you, I did it!

    I am a long way from there but your story has re-inspired me!

  16. Well here it goes, I just finished law school, that is right my 3L year is over and I find out the week after exams that I failed Criminal Procedure. What is funny is that I have never left an exam so confident as this one. However, I went in to talk to my professor and he couldn’t read my writing well so I didn’t get credit on 4 questions.

    I did well on his multiple choice questions so he was at least willing to listen and we went over some of the exam and he said he would give me points here and there but did not say for sure whether he will give me a passing grade. I will hear from him tomorrow.

    Needless to say I am very upset. I was never on academic probation but my grades were never the best either. I have gotten about 12 credits worth of A’s and 6 credit worth of D’s.

    I have paid for Barbri and I also paid for another bar course that my school offers for the writing section of the bar. I am hoping and praying that 5 arbitrary points will not keep me from graduating and taking the bar in July. I will have to wait 9 months, who in the hell will hire someone for 9 months of work?

    I have a wife and son to take care of, I don’t have the student debt that most people have, but I have other demands and really can’t afford to lose so much time.

    I hope to have better news tomorrow. Thanks for reading my vent.

  17. Have you heard anything yet? Hopefully your professor had good news for you.

    Incidentally, the same thing happened to me, except that the law school screwed up my credits and I was ONE credit short of graduating. So I had to take one of those two-week mini-semester classes after graduation. It sucked walking across the stage on Friday only to be back in the classroom the following Monday. But I only cared about actually graduating, as you should too. Who cares when your graduation date is, as long as you actually graduate? Does your law school have any intersession classes? You could take one of those short 6-week classes unless they have shorter ones. You can still study for the bar – some states, including Colorado, will allow you to take the bar if you are done with ALL classes prior to the bar. This is how I was able to take the July 2006 Colorado Bar Exam despite not officially graduating until August 2006. E-mail me if you need more information.

  18. I failed to obtain the requisite GPA for my law school upon finishing my 2nd semester of 1L year. I left with much disappointment but also relief of a mind that was so discontent with the brutal atmosphere that my former law school highly encouraged. As a female in a mostly male atmosphere, I was discouraged from achieving my full academic potential through sexual harassment at the hands of male classmates, gender-biased professors, and complete ignorance of female inequality by old school administrators. It was disheartening, especially after attending a highly professional/equality matters undergraduate institution. All law schools are not equal and I wish there had been a way for me to figure out my former law school was so gender biased before accepting my offer of admittance. It has been encouraging to read this blog. I am unsure if I will return as I will have to retake the LSAT in order to do so but after reading these posts, I feel more optimistic than before. Thank you.

  19. I don’t give a fuck for no bitch ass law professor. I had this punk ass leg reg bitch that failed me twice. Here I be a 3L up in that bitch with a bunch of 1Ls talking about palsgraf and shit.
    I swear I shoulda gone to hair school .

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