I am experiencing the hopelessness accompanied by failing the MA bar four times.

I am experiencing the hopelessness accompanied by failing the MA bar four times and not being able to accept the situation. Each time I took the exam I came within at least 12 points of passing it. My weak spot is the multiple choice. I have tried different courses, approaches, you name it… gave it everything that I had. Yet no matter how hard I try, I have yet to be successful. I honestly don’t know if I will ever take it again. I am definitely burnt out and disillusioned with the whole process. Every day is painful when I have to explain my situation to a confused prospective employer who asks “why don’t you practice?” or “have you sat for the bar?” These last few years have been hellish [as I was a] successful student … pretty much my whole life. I made law review amongst other things. I have been contemplating what my life would be like if I never retook the exam. I have been doing my own research on J.D. or non traditional legal jobs. I know that I am very unhappy being a legal secretary and most firms are unwilling to hire a J.D. as a paralegal. As you can imagine, it’s a tough situation. I am currently unemployed and don’t know where to start. My last temp job ended last week and I am looking for some sort of direction to go in. I suffer from depression and suicidal thoughts (but would never act upon them) because of this insurmountable sadness. How do I cope? What do I do?

There is certainly no straightforward or easy answer to your questions. We have seen a number of people in your position, who functioned well as students, were clearly bright people, yet repeatedly fell short of a passing score on the bar exam. Since you’ve taken the preparatory courses, the problem probably is not lack of knowledge. In some cases there is a subtle learning disorder that arises on this genre of test; for others test anxiety is an impediment – there are assessment and treatment approaches for those problems, and we can refer you to clinicians in each of those fields. In addition, the depression itself can impair you ability to focus on tests and to think efficiently about the answers.

Some people, however, seem inexplicably unable to pass this exam. For them, there is no choice but to consider other kinds of work. The skills that you have acquired through your legal training will also enhance your performance in other jobs. In this case, we often begin by brainstorming with people and then often referring them to a career counselor or coach. Good books for people trained as lawyers who are considering seeking work in other fields are: (1) The Lawyer’s Career Change Handbook: More Than 300 Things You Can Do With a Law Degree by Hindi Greenberg, and (2) What Can You Do With a Law Degree?: A Lawyer’s Guide to Career Alternatives Inside, Outside & Around the Law by Deborah Arron. If you’re anywhere near Boston and haven’t come to speak with us about all this, you’re invited.

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