By Joanne Wilson • June 25, 2013•Bar Exam
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.