Famous People Who Have Failed the Bar Exam

November 12 2019 Bar Review News By Pieper Bar Review
Famous People Who Have Failed the Bar Exam

Originally published November 22, 2016. Updated November 12, 2019.

As you no doubt know, states have released their bar exam results over the past few weeks. If you didn’t pass, you might initially think your legal career is over, you’ll never get a job, and your life is basically finished, right? Wrong. Believe it or not you are not alone, since thousands of other candidates failed the bar exam. And you're also in very good company because many ultimately very successful people received the same news as you.

Michelle Obama – The former First Lady graduated from Harvard Law School and failed the Illinois bar exam on her first try.

Hillary Clinton – The former secretary of state, U.S. Senator from New York, and 2016 Democratic presidential nominee attended Yale Law School. She failed her first bar exam attempt in the District of Columbia. She eventually passed it in Arkansas.

John F. Kennedy Jr. – He failed the New York State bar exam twice before passing it on his third try. He went on to work as an assistant district attorney in New York City.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt FDR failed the bar exam on his first try, but that didn’t stop him from leading our country indomitably through the Great Depression and World War II.

Governor Jerry Brown – He failed the California bar exam the first time he took it. Eventually he served as 34th and 39th governor of California (1975-83, 2011-19). 

Kathleen Sullivan – The former dean of Stanford Law, Sullivan has argued cases in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. But she also failed the bar exam. Although she had passed the bar in both Massachusetts and New York, she flunked her first attempt in California.

Governor Deval Patrick – This Harvard law graduate failed the bar exam twice before passing it on his third time. It didn’t stop him from serving as the governor of Massachusetts from 2007-2015.

Governor Pete Wilson – He failed the California bar exam not once, not twice, but three times before he passed it on his fourth attempt. He served as California's 36th governor, its U.S. senator, San Diego's mayor, and a state assemblyman.

Governor Charlie Crist – He failed the bar exam twice and still managed to become Florida's attorney general and its governor.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa – He failed the bar exam on four different attempts and never actually passed it. Villaraigosa later served as mayor of Los Angeles (2005-13) and ran for governor of California in 2018.

Mayor Ed Koch  After failing his first attempt at the New York bar exam, he passed the second time around and became the mayor of New York after serving in the U.S. House of Representatives. 

Mayor Richard M. Daley  He failed the Illinois bar exam twice and served as the mayor of Chicago for 22 years.

Governor David Paterson  After failing the bar exam, he became New York's first African-American governor and only the fourth black governor in American history. And he's legally blind.

Congressman Harold Ford Jr. – He failed the Tennessee bar exam and still served five terms in the House of Representatives.  

Governors, mayors, and presidential nominees are just some of the thousands of people who have failed the bar exam. Let their examples assure you that it is not the end of the world if you didn't pass. Every great journey involves challenges to overcome. This is just a bump in the road. Don't lose your way. Stay motivated and continue on your path to a successful law career.

Pieper is here to help you reach your goal.

About the author

Pieper Bar Review

For over forty years, Pieper Bar Review has taught students the legal concepts and skills necessary for success on the bar exam, and reinforced students’ knowledge through thought provoking examples and bar exam questions. The proof that the Pieper teaching method works is found in the success of our former students – now present-day attorneys. Learn more

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