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Law3006

Re-Writing One Bar Exam and Articling (Ontario)

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Posted (edited)

Hi all,

New to this website and wanted to give this a shot. I passed 1/2 exams and need to write one of them again in November. I wanted to see if anyone was in a similar situation, as it is difficult to find people who have gone through this (no one really talks about it openly). If so, how did you approach telling your firm? I guess all your colleagues would find out too if you take that day off? Did you take vacation days, or study around your work schedule?

Any information would be great. Feeling pretty lost and have no idea how to approach this now as I’m articling at a fairly large firm and do not want this to affect my hire-back chances or time there.

 

Thanks.

Edited by Law3006

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I don't know whether or not failing one exam will seriously affect hireback chances, though I suspect it would to some extent. Sorry.

But what you don't want to do is have how you deal with failing one exam affect your hireback chances even if the failure itself does. And deliberately concealing your failure and just "happening" to take a day off then strikes me as the kind of thing that could more seriously affect the firm's attitude towards you.

My years-since-I-worked-at-a-firm-so-take-my-advice-with-a-grain-of-salt advice is, have an answer to why you failed, have a plan, and speak to your articling principal or mentor (not always the same), someone official at the firm, so you've told someone. Be optimistic and mildly annoyed that you have to rewrite is the attitude to project? Don't bring it up (except for telling who you should at the firm), but don't lie about it either.

In planning for the rewrite, among other things, try to figure out why you failed and address that (time management, knowledge, stress, whatever), and use the LSO's free tutoring services for those candidates who've failed (I'm a volunteer tutor in civil litigation and professional responsibility).

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I know of a few people who struggled with the Solicitors this June and are rewriting. It's not that big a deal. Just figure out where you went wrong and work on your weaknesses. 

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Posted (edited)
4 hours ago, epeeist said:

Don't bring it up (except for telling who you should at the firm), but don't lie about it either.

If what you mean is that OP shouldn't bring it up to anyone at all but the principal, I'm not sure this is good advice. Suffering alone is not usually a great approach to anything.

Most of those I knew who passed both exams--even people I thought were brilliant--felt unsure after writing that they passed, and were thankful that they did. I knew nobody who thought that it was a breeze, that they never had a doubt, and that only the weak and dumb fail. I certainly didn't think any of those things and I think pret-tay highly of myself and was extremely prepared for the exams.

The reason that matters is that I think most reasonable people who passed the bar know that it could have been them who failed and are sympathetic to those who do. Personally, I would have jumped at the opportunity to help colleagues and friends who reached out to me saying that they had to write it again and would love help with their second try. At the least, I certainly would have offered my support, positive vibes, and reassurance that their performance on these exams wasn't any indication of their competence as a lawyer. 

Yet nobody spoke up. Not to me or anyone I knew, which was surprising. I mean, statistically speaking, surely someone I knew probably indeed failed.

Certainly, it seems clear to me that the reason people don't speak up (save for anonymously on this board) is because of the stigma, but I'm not sure that stigma is justified. Like I said above: I don't think anybody thinks less of any candidate who fails, I think the typical response is "shoot, that sucks having to write again is a nuisance". And it is a nuisance, but people shouldn't feel bad about themselves on top of it. I think that compounds the pressure to succeed on the next attempt. 

Anyway, my overall point is that if, @epeeist, your advice to OP  is to *shh* about failing the exam (and I could be wrong), that seems to imply a correlated shame. I think that's misguided advice. Sure, it might not be advisable to announce their result from a rooftop with a megaphone or send a mass-email blast to everyone at their firm, but I don't see why they shouldn't bring it up to colleagues or friends to maximize their support network and seek help and reassurance. I think they're likely to get it, unless they're surrounded by assholes. As @Deadpool notes, I think it's better to treat it as the not big deal it is, which includes not being cagey about it.

Edited by FineCanadianFXs
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Posted (edited)
3 hours ago, FineCanadianFXs said:

If what you mean is that OP shouldn't bring it up to anyone at all but the principal, I'm not sure this is good advice. Suffering alone is not usually a great approach to anything.

Most of those I knew who passed both exams--even people I thought were brilliant--felt unsure after writing that they passed, and were thankful that they did. I knew nobody who thought that it was a breeze, that they never had a doubt, and that only the weak and dumb fail. I certainly didn't think any of those things and I think pret-tay highly of myself and was extremely prepared for the exams.

The reason that matters is that I think most reasonable people who passed the bar know that it could have been them who failed and are sympathetic to those who do. Personally, I would have jumped at the opportunity to help colleagues and friends who reached out to me saying that they had to write it again and would love help with their second try. At the least, I certainly would have offered my support, positive vibes, and reassurance that their performance on these exams wasn't any indication of their competence as a lawyer. 

Yet nobody spoke up. Not to me or anyone I knew, which was surprising. I mean, statistically speaking, surely someone I knew probably indeed failed.

Certainly, it seems clear to me that the reason people don't speak up (save for anonymously on this board) is because of the stigma, but I'm not sure that stigma is justified. Like I said above: I don't think anybody thinks less of any candidate who fails, I think the typical response is "shoot, that sucks having to write again is a nuisance". And it is a nuisance, but people shouldn't feel bad about themselves on top of it. I think that compounds the pressure to succeed on the next attempt. 

Anyway, my overall point is that if, @epeeist, your advice to OP  is to *shh* about failing the exam (and I could be wrong), that seems to imply a correlated shame. I think that's misguided advice. Sure, it might not be advisable to announce their result from a rooftop with a megaphone or send a mass-email blast to everyone at their firm, but I don't see why they shouldn't bring it up to colleagues or friends to maximize their support network and seek help and reassurance. I think they're likely to get it, unless they're surrounded by assholes. As @Deadpool notes, I think it's better to treat it as the not big deal it is, which includes not being cagey about it.

If you acknowledge that there is a stigma then I think it logically follows that it makes sense not to broadcast it to your employer to the greatest extent possible. I don’t think the stigma is justified either, but  it’s a competitive job market so why bother giving the partners any ammunition not to hire you back? 

Edited by WannaBeLaw99

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@FineCanadianFXs I read OP (unless I misread them) as not wanting to tell anyone at their firm, take vacation then, etc. If so, I was saying, no, they should tell someone. So I was saying, instead of telling no-one, tell at least someone - setting a minimum of who to tell, not, as you seem to have interpreted it, a maximum of who to tell.

As for not feeling stigma - well, in theory I agree. But OP is worried about the reaction about people at their firm. Whether or not that's right in principle, I have no basis to say they're wrong that it will be seen negatively. Do you?

 

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1 minute ago, epeeist said:

@FineCanadianFXs I read OP (unless I misread them) as not wanting to tell anyone at their firm, take vacation then, etc. If so, I was saying, no, they should tell someone. So I was saying, instead of telling no-one, tell at least someone - setting a minimum of who to tell, not, as you seem to have interpreted it, a maximum of who to tell.

As for not feeling stigma - well, in theory I agree. But OP is worried about the reaction about people at their firm. Whether or not that's right in principle, I have no basis to say they're wrong that it will be seen negatively. Do you?

 

Just to clarify - I was definitely planning on telling someone. When I asked about vacation days I meant did you need to take days off before the exam to study or did you just study around your work schedule? 

There is no way to hide failing one of the exams. I am just curious to see how people approached this (who they told, etc) and how they studied while articling.

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3 hours ago, Law3006 said:

Just to clarify - I was definitely planning on telling someone. When I asked about vacation days I meant did you need to take days off before the exam to study or did you just study around your work schedule? 

There is no way to hide failing one of the exams. I am just curious to see how people approached this (who they told, etc) and how they studied while articling.

My friend failed one of her bar exams. She didn't seem that fazed about it though, and didn't put a lot of studying into it. I mean, she went to one of the best Canadian law schools and performed well enough to get a clerkship. She told anyone that asked her about the bar exams how she did, and just studied harder the second time around and passed. Honestly, who you want to tell is your business and yours alone. You graduated from law school, something that less than 10% of the Canadian population can say they did. The bar exam is not the LSAT. You'll be fine. 

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I’d suggest taking at least the day before the exam off so that you can get your head in the game and focus on the exam rather than articling work. Plan a study schedule now - it will take you a lot longer to get through the material while you’re also articling, and it’s not reasonable to expect you’ll be able to study every evening and weekend. Frankly, I would suggest that most evenings during the week you may not have enough brain power left to effectively study/retain anything. Figure out exactly (as best you can) how many pages you need to read, how long that will actually take you (don’t lie to yourself), and work out a schedule from there. If you want to take a Friday off here or there to use to study, request it off now and build it in to your plan. Whether you need to do this depends on the time you need to study and what other commitments you may have going on in your life on weekends.

As epeeist said, tell your principle you have to re-write. Then move on from there. It’s possible one re-write could affect hire back, but I’d suggest it’s lower than you think (the re-write is several months before hire back discussions happen and people forget). Failing it for a second time is a different story, so do everything you need to to set yourself up to succeed.

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10 hours ago, WannaBeLaw99 said:

If you acknowledge that there is a stigma then I think it logically follows that it makes sense not to broadcast it to your employer to the greatest extent possible. I don’t think the stigma is justified either, but  it’s a competitive job market so why bother giving the partners any ammunition not to hire you back? 

Pretty sure I clarified this explicitly in my post that OP shouldn't volunteer this information to every partner at their firm--see my last paragraph.

10 hours ago, epeeist said:

@FineCanadianFXsAs for not feeling stigma - well, in theory I agree. But OP is worried about the reaction about people at their firm. Whether or not that's right in principle, I have no basis to say they're wrong that it will be seen negatively. Do you?

Well, I don't have any evidence on the other end either. So I have no basis to say that it will be seen negatively. Admittedly, my position come from an anecdotally small sample size. So is there a possibility out there that someone in a hiring position thinks "well we can't have someone who failed the bar exam working here"? Sure. And that person could be at OP or anyone else's firm. So should OP, at work, air on the safe side of not going door-to-door telling the partners to tell their friends? Yes, I think we agree on that (see above, I did address this though it could have been clearer) and I see that you were addressing OP's specific concern about how to communicate it at work.

But since it sounds like everyone agrees here that the stigma is unjustified, I think it's important to have the de-stigmatizing reminder that nobody should feel any shame or the need to go it alone. Further to that, I think the people likely to understand the most are those who've actually written the dang thing, which is why I think anyone seeking support shouldn't rule out trustworthy colleagues and contemporaries.

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Posted (edited)

I have a friend who failed both exams. His firm has been pretty supportive about it, especially since they've all been through those exams and know how hard they can be. 

There are definitely pro's and con's to disclosure, especially depending on the culture of the firm you work at. Ultimately, the decision is yours to make. Personally, if it were me I would discuss it with my principal.

If you don't notify your employer then yes, you may avoid some negativity on hire back (realistically though, do you really want to work for someone who would use that against you?). However, not telling your employer may create other, arguably worse issues. 

If studying for this exam causes you to have to take more time off, maintain stricter 9-5 hours, or make yourself less available for issues that come up outside working hours, you may end up looking even worse when they start considering who they want to hire back because they won't have any context for your availability issues. Worst case scenario would be an extremely urgent issue arising on the day of your exam requiring all hands on deck. You'd have to say no. Without knowing that you have a legitimate reason for not being able to help, imagine how that would look when they start making decisions on who to hire back. 

I passed the bar exams, but could have very easily been in the same situation as you. I have a few friends who weren't as lucky this time around. Most people I've chatted with have been very forthcoming about their results, and have told me that they are receiving a lot of support from the legal community / friends / family etc. We all know how shitty those exams are and how they are most certainly not a measure of how good a lawyer you will be. 

In the end only you will know what to do. You know your principal, the firm culture and your workload and are in the best position to determine how to best balance the risks I've mentioned above against those brought on by disclosure. Do you have a colleague you feel comfortable chatting with? It may help to talk to someone in the same workplace. 

Edited by Lawtender33
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Thank you to everyone who took the time to reply. I really appreciate it! 

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Is it no longer the case that employers have to give a week off?

Tell your principal. He/she should know.

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7 hours ago, erinl2 said:

Is it no longer the case that employers have to give a week off?

Tell your principal. He/she should know.

I believe that only applies the first time you’re writing, not for re-writes. 

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