An Exam Is Not Worth Your Life

Today I read an article that shook me, not just me as a bar tutor but as a member of the legal community. According to The Legal Intelligenecer, a graduate of Drexel University Earle Mack School of Law committed suicide.

This student had failed the bar twice. Days before taking bar prep again, he took his own life.

As a wise commenter said, maybe there are unknown contributing factors as to why he chose to end his life. Unfortunately, we may never know them and they could be anything. The reasons why someone decides to end their life is very personal. From the news we can only wonder if the bar was a part of his decision. And please understand, I really do not want to dimish what happened or do injustice to him or his family. But it raises an important issue that the legal community must deal with:

How many students feel that death is the only option when they fail the bar? Or how many experience depression, have dark thoughts, or hurt themselves? How many feel helpless or lost? How many feel alone?

I don't have an answer for those or about the students' situation but I do know this:

An exam isn't worth your life.

I don't blame students for thinking that this exam determines whether or not you are a "good" person. How can I? It's not entirely their fault. Think about it. The first time you likely hear about the bar exam is during orientation. At some point during almost every law school orientation, someone stresses how hard the bar exam is and how to be even be a lawyer you need to pass this incredibly horrific exam. Maybe the faculty talked about bar passage and the importance of learning to study during law school because it will apply to the bar. That's when the connection between the bar and self-worth begins. 

Throughout law school you inevitably hear the horror stories about the bar and what has happened to those who fail. I never remember a student who failed the bar coming in to talk to a class or speaking at a forum. I only remember those who passed and how they were always praised as "good." The connection between the bar and self-worth became stronger.

And then it happens: you've graduated and bar prep has begun. 

And you're isolated. Your told that you need to spend hours alone working and studying. These are the "rules" of bar prep. Who tells you this? Well, for me it was my school, teachers, people in the community, and even my bar provider. So your alone.

Then the doubt then sets in. Scores on multiple choice and essays go up and down making you question if what you're doing is enough or right. No one wants to discuss scores or give you a baseline reading on how you should do, or maybe you're too afraid to ask, so you begin to question yourself.

And so the doubt and the hours of isolation begin to get to you; it's almost unavoidable that you will find your mind drifting to your life. You think of your failures, your loses, and your path in life.

That's when it happens, the worst thing that should occur: your self worth merges with your success on the exam and they become one and the same.

It is an awful feeling. It's one of the main reasons I decided to write my own blog about the bar and to work as a bar tutor was to help students, especially re-takers, who experience this because I remember the feeling and how awful it was. I even like to feature others who failed the bar on my blog to show that there is hope.

But this story about the student taking his life? It makes me feel like I should have graduated sooner and started the blog sooner. I know it's wishful thinking, I know its ridiculous. But students need to know that the bar isn't everything.

I know that as a member of the legal community, it's my job-no, my DUTY to help stop another student be so alone and so hopeless that they feel that they become consumed with depression. Already I spend countless hours working with not just my tutee's but friends taking the bar trying to help them separate the bar exam from self-worth. I stress over and over that it's just a stupid test; you're a good person regardless of a test. I write about depression, recognizing the symptoms, asking for help, and the isolation. At one point I thought about ending my blogging and tutoring after this administration of the bar, but now that I've seen this I know the job isn't done. I need to keep striving to help students and change the face of bar prep.

And it's the legal community's job to help.

This is probably the point where I'm supposed to suggest multiple ways to make a difference and I can think of a few like continuing raising awareness through blogs, lectures and forums where the discussion as to the connection of self worth and the bar is further examined. We can help schools integrate a more in-depth mental health component into their bar programs. We can create mentorship programs where alumni from law schools are paired with current bar prep students as a coach and mentor. we could push exposing students to jobs that don't require a license and show how a JD is used in other ways. But I'm not entirely sure how to go about these great plans or who would even want to help.

I guess I write this blog as a cry to the legal community to pool together to best come up with a solution.

Until then I will continue to help my little corner of bar prep world hoping I can keep students from feeling like suicide is the best option by sharing my feelings, making them understand that they aren't alone in how they feel, and showing them that the bar exam isn't an indicator of whether they are good or bad. I'll help show students that someone cares, that many people can make it if they don't pass the bar. I guess I'll keep writing and reaching out in hopes that it's enough and that one day this trend changes. 

Something has to change and soon because I fear that someone might be considering death the only option.

Your life is more important than the bar exam.

If you feel like suicide is the answer, it isn't. Please call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to connect with a trained counselor at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. This is a 24/7 hotline with no charge. Please seek help today so you can have a tomorrow.

And know that someone cares out there about you: that's me.



I applaud Joanne, Ms. JD, and the Legal Intelligencer for writing about this difficult topic.  
As a Drexel Law student, I have heard many rumors about the reasons for this tragedy and I am grateful to those willing to support students suffering from depression, suicidal thoughts, and mental health disorders—before and after the bar exam.
<span 1em;”>I think it is important to shed more light on this topic and break through many of the taboos of mental health issues in the profession, however, I do not think it is fair to write that this graduate “took his life because of an exam.” </span>
<span 1em;”>No one</span><span 1em;”>, aside from possibly his family,</span><span 1em;”> knows for certain why he did this. </span><span 1em;”>We can look at the surrounding circumstances and assume what happened was based on failing the bar twice and it would likely be partly true, but it isn’t the whole story.  To simplify his actions <span>in this way</span>, when there are so many other possible contributing factors feels wrong and is an injustice to his memory and his family. </span>


I am so sorry. I never meant to simplify his death. I just wrote about what I read in the other articles. I wasn’t trying to offend anyone or not do the student justice. I just wanted to say something about it. I can change the article. I don’t want to lessen what happened.


Once again, I want to apologize for not doing justice for the student. I have updated the article to reflect what you stated about their being multiple factors. I don’t want to do injustice or diminish what happened. I just wanted to open a dialogue and hopefully help. Please let me know if the changes are better. I respect your opinion and want to make improvements if I can.


Ms. JD, thank you for this article, it hit the nail on the head. I’ve taken the bar 6 times and failed every time. Twice in one state then four times in another. I went back to school to get certified in web-development, SEO, SMM, SEM and web-design. I figured legal marketing was an interesting niche and a needy one so I would be a shoe-in, right? Wrong. Two years later, still looking for a job and trying to develop a business with no capital, bootstrap or otherwise. Student loan creditors don’t wait around anymore like they used to, so my credit score is in the tank. That’s ok. It will get better, I must persevere and will. So, this poor soul committed suicide, possibly over the bar exam. It is a stressful situation, it means you cannot work. The only way around it is if you are so incredibly networked and have a deep friendship with someone in law who can get you a job as a paralegal. That’s how it used to work, if you failed the bar exam, you could still get a job as a paralegal, then study, pay your bills and take the exam again at a particular leisure and the law firm would hold you on as a paralegal. Not anymore. Now the firms just want somebody with a certificate and those certificate schools don’t like to admit people with J.D.‘s because they are educated well beyond the certificate people. Go figure. Everything is so compartmentalized these days it’s like we live in Soviet Union with babushka, but no vodka. However, there is always document review, right? Well, not in Texas, but JD only people can always find work in either D.C. or Richmond, VA in doc-review. The only problem as that since the ‘08-‘09 collapse and the ultra-saturation of JD’s on the market, pay flopped. Some projects pay around $15/hr, and you are lucky as God to find one that pays more than $22/hr, especially if it offers over time, especially if it lasts longer than 3 months. You can’t work 3 months out of the year and live, right? You also have to make enough to support yourself while you re-study for the bar, and make enough to fund the application fees, and make enough to buy updated materials every few years. Can’t do that when you can’t find a job. So, what to do? Friends, we must persevere. Ms JD is right, your life is not worth this infernal exam. Fall off the horse, but get back on. At some point in time, it might be prudent to change the saddle. I am now looking at going to school again. Unfortunately, my credit score is in the crapper, I am old and “have a terminal degree”, which means no easy grants and scholarships and no easy loans to pay for it. I am looking at welding school and hoping I can make that work out. There are many more welding jobs across the US than law related jobs. There really is a shortage of welders, so much so that in 10 years I can quite possibly make a 6 figure income. I know attorneys who have been in the business for just over 10 years and they are still making about $50,000 to $80,000 per year. Go figure. As for the notion of showing how a JD can be used for other things like compliance jobs, or grant writing or whatever else. The problem that I run into is the fact that a person with a doctorate is considered to be “over-qualified”, which means that employers do not want to hire you when they believe you will disappear the day you get hired at a better paying job. Supposedly, this job exists and it happens from time to time. Furthermore, a J.D. is not like a nice doctorate in Historical Theory or Sanscrit. A J.D. says, “Don’t tell me anything I should not know, which means I should not know anything because I know how to sue you and pierce your corporate veil,” which is quite intimidating. Our degree is not one that makes friends easily. With our knowledge alone we can build and empire over time, or destroy one with a stroke of a pen. Think about that for perspective, right? In the mundane world, you are unemployable, but are there alternatives? Ms JD you asked the question of whether or not we could pool our resources to best come up with a solution. I believe there is. Even though some of us are not licensed, we can still function as paralegals and, at least, help law firms intake clients. Anybody want to start a legal referral service? We will not be able to share fees, but we can sell client leads to law firms.

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