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Career Advice If You Failed The Bar Exam

Whether you’ve already seen your bar exam results or are still waiting, Cathy Kim has some words of reassurance for you. A lawyer turned business development executive, Cathy also shares tips on what your next steps should be if you failed the bar exam. Keep up your chin up and take a listen to what Cathy has to say about the bar exam.

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Today’s Guest

Cathy Kim, business development executiveBusiness Development Executive Cathy Kim
Title: Senior Manager, Contracts & Strategy, Renewable Energy Start-Up
City: Los Angeles, CA
Law School: UC Hastings College of Law in San Francisco, CA
Grad School: USC Marshall School of Business (MBA)
College: Yale University in New Haven, CT
Previous Career: Big Law Senior Litigation Associate


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How do you feel about the bar exam? Be sure to share your feedback in the Comments section below.

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  • Shoulda,Woulda,Coulda

    In hind sight I should have never gone to law school, I was
    accepted to a 3rd tier law school through a special student program into an
    evening law school program that looked at other qualifications and not my very
    low LSAT score, I hate to mention I was an older student and a minority. I did
    not fare well and after 2 years I was academically disqualified. I had always
    done well in school so I was devastated. I was foolish to believe that if I
    went to an unaccredited law school I could take what I had learned and pass the
    California Bar. I have sat several times each time I inch closer, but not close
    enough. I owe $100,000 plus in student loans, I have credit card debt from all
    the Barbri classes, private tutors, Bar Exam Fees, hotels and travel. I finally
    woke up one day and realized I was chasing the brass ring, unfortunately it was
    not soon enough and the economy collapsed. I often think of the fact that I
    left a very stable job with benefits and ability to promote to attend law
    school. I now find myself underemployed. What is even more devastating is that
    the unaccredited law school I graduated from closed its doors a year ago. Try
    putting that on your resume for employers to look up, bad enough it is not even
    accredited now, it doesn’t exist, and the fact I went there does not as well.
    But I did learn that the California Bar will continue to allow me to sit for
    the exam as many times as I choose to, I find this unsettling as well. I wish I
    had read the advice Cathy Kim gives provides a lot sooner. I think if you don’t
    pass after the first time start thinking of an alternative career, do the
    numbers and see if it is worth the financial risk to keep chasing one big pipe

    • Thanks for sharing, SWC. Too bad JDCOT didn’t exist sooner to help you! People can go on to great (and lucrative careers) even without passing the bar exam. Some of our guests are examples of that. Hopefully you’re connecting with and articulating your skill set, making your law school experience work for you so you can turn your current underemployment situation into a blossoming experience. Stick around JDCOT so we can help you with that!

    • Jerk

      Have a good career in contracts management. Decided to attend a 3rd tier online law school while I worked. I got my JD! However, I have not passed the bar in 7 attempts. I have failed each time by less then 10 points. The re-read scores always raise the low essay or PT scores but lower the high scores. I seek to move up to contracts counsel which management has high hopes for me….but, after 3 different bar prep courses…I do not believe that I can pass. Save your words of encouragement. If I cannot pass after 7…it’s not possible. My undergrad is from Stanford…and I was in top 2% of my class…so I’m not dumb. I would say that I am living evidence that 3rd tier law schools do not teach you the tools to pass the bar. Each bar prep course I take advocates a different approach, this is not helpful. I suppose that if I had attended a tier 1 school, I would have the tools to write like the bar examiners expect. I know the law…I pass multi-state at 90%. I have just gotten too much different advise on approaches to writing essays and PTs. I give up….and I’m not one to ever give up….damn, I wish I never got the JD.

  • Pamela Kennedy

    One also has to consider alternative “JD” careers if one knows one is drowning in so much post-college debt, credit cards, bankruptcy, collections, had a car repossessed, (and sometimes asks the bank to repossess their LAW degree) — to bother wasting money even sitting for any state’s Bar unless one finds out which states don’t check Bar Admission applicants’ CREDIT. Or which foreign countries, whatever.

    My advice to law students is apply to sit for the Bar BEFORE your student loans come due and you can’t pay them because no one will hire you!! I could say that I “shoulda woulda coulda” sat for the Bar way back 11 years ago BEFORE my Chapter 7 bankruptcy but then again looking at that from “their” point of view back then, that would place me just about the time everything was in “collections” and “default” and spiralling out of control. Another point, maybe: ONLY go to law school if you’re going to be able to do it completely WITHOUT LOANS OF ANY KIND WHATSOEVER. And no credit cards. In other words: Not. Going. To. Happen. For. Most. People. But then, neither would medical school be, I think. THEY’RE not held to such impossibly high standards of “no debt” as the legal profession seems to. (A job I got fired from at the time, because of the debt leading to my Bankruptcy, was also in the legal profession.)

    At any rate: by now, 15 years after law school and drowning in so much debt that I should probably technically have starved to death about 10 years ago but have borrowed my way through life, so to speak, just to stay alive in between all the sporadic, temporary, on-call freelance or substitute or “practically pro-bono” work I have had to do in the last decade in between periods of near-starvation and living in battered womens’ shelters – there’s no way that “by now” I should even THINK about any state or territory’s Bar exam. That ship has sailed, so long ago it’s probably in Fiji by now.

  • Sad Mom

    My daughter is $250,000 in debt and is having difficulty passing the California law exam. She was an excellent student, had very prestigious law internships before and during law school. Further, she is currently doing a great job working in the legal field now, however, it’s as a paid intern and for very little money, since she isn’t an attorney. Her credit is bad and she is in debt, meanwhile, her friends whom did not go to law school all have kids, and, homes of their own. They are not under a huge financial debt that will make it impossible for them to buy a home, get a new car, raise kids, etc.. My advice for anyone reading this is DO NOT GO TO LAW SCHOOL unless your willing to take the gamble of not passing the bar.

    • Hi @SadMom, sorry to hear about your daughter’s situation. I wish that was a less common situation, but she’s not alone. At the same time, the CA bar exam is one of the toughest in the country…and sometimes it takes multiple tries to pass a bar exam. So don’t give up. Also, as we show here on JDCOT, there are other careers beyond law where a law degree is useful. While the JD doesn’t guarantee anyone a job (few degrees do that) and the degree doesn’t guarantee a high salary on day 1, having a law degree is often a big advantage over time as a career progresses. Your daughter has developed great skills that are good to have in a wide variety of careers. That doesn’t mean she can sidestep the early, dues-paying, foundation-building steps of a new career path, but she has a good shot at advancing more quickly after she has some real experience behind her. My video guests share their stories on this, my personal story is an example of this, and so many others have experienced the same. Of course anyone who is considering taking on the same level of debt that your daughter took on needs to map out their financial realities and determine what they can earn in different paths and at what point in their timeline they need to earn X, Y or Z so they can pay off their loans. Looking in to all scholarship, grants, and other potential tuition relief before committing to a school is key…and then making a financial plan is key too. It’s possible at that time to conclude that a law degree really is the wrong route for them….Taking on unlimited debt with the hope that a high paying law job will come along at the perfect time (before graduation day) to wipe out all debt should not be anyone’s approach, especially in this era. I’m not saying you or your daughter did that…but I’m writing this for anyone who sees our comments in the future. Bottom line is: don’t give up. There is absolutely hope for your daughter. We have examples of people on this site who did not/could not pass the CA bar exam and have gone on to great, solid 6-figure careers before 40.

    • Maryan Pelland

      I feel for you and your daughter after all the work and expense you’ve gone through. It’s terribly frustrating to face those bar exams, especially when many schools and most prep companies are not hands-on familiar with actual bar exams. Let me disclose that I work for a bar exam prep lawyer…and then let me say that I am actually very impressed with how students score on the exam, including the California bar, after some work with Colonel Hugh Reed. I don;t want to sell you a thing, my goal is to empower women, ad I’d like to gently suggest that you explore his website and see what’s there for you. You can register at no cost and access a ton of study aids and a bunch of samples of his actual courses. Believe me, you CAN pass that %&*#! Calif bar exam, but it is no piece of cake. You deserve to pass after the investments you’ve made, and if we can be of any help, I strongly encourage you to reach out to us at—if she decides not to pursue her dream of a law career, I wish her the very best at whatever she does pursue!

  • Sissie Tiger

    I need a help to pass the CA bar exam.



Thinking of leaving the law? The best first step you can take is a good look in the mirror. START HERE:

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