Failed the bar exam? You can learn from it. Here's what you can do.


By Deborah Sanders 

There is a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, 'tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come - the readiness is all. Since no man of aught he leaves knows, what is't to leave betimes?”

- Hamlet

I’ve heard that quote stated more simply: “Sometimes there is providence in the delay.” People often take that to mean “there is a reason for everything,” and I like to think things do line up the way they should. But there is another way to look at it. Perhaps your delay, or your fall, provides insight and wisdom you needed. You might have gotten lost. You were intent on a certain destination, with certain outcomes, dates, and next steps.

And then you didn’t pass the bar. Suddenly all the knowns you have spent your life taking comfort in become one giant unknown. You feel like you cannot rely on anything anymore, that nothing is predictable, that you have no right to plan. Overachievers take their solace in planning and predicting; for the high-achiever, unknowns are destabilizing. And I get it.

Though I passed my bar first time out, unknowns have rerouted me enough times in my life that I have a gained a certain welcoming wisdom about them. That is, unknowns prevail as the greater likelihood. The concept we hold about the comfort of measured ideal outcomes, contained future prospects, is an illusion, and one that we need, I am not diminishing the importance of feeling like you can control your universe.

But ultimately, part of maturing as a human here on earth is knowing that, in large part, you cannot expect life to unfold as planned. If you could visually see all the potential disruptions brewing in the universal scheme, you may not proceed toward any goal, or get put of bed for that matter.

Bringing the forces of instability into your plan, though, is really quite a powerful way to embolden yourself. What I mean is, if you plan for the thing you cannot control, you can incorporate the wisdom of its purpose into the next phase. What does all of this mean for you today when you did not pass? It means there is a layer of knowledge imbedded in your struggle that will prosper you in your next effort.

There is indeed a “special providence in the fall of the sparrow.” Recognizing that while you are hurting takes a degree of discipline and faith. But I have come to approach such disappointments with the spirit of a willing pupil. If I insist on gaining knowledge and becoming a student of my hardship, it is not wasted. Consider studying this momentary defeat. You will need its lessons after you succeed, and as a lawyer, you will need the information you gained from your hardships more than you know.

You might have gotten lost, but there is always a way back. With purpose you can return with more certainty in your path than ever, even amidst the uncertain. You must decide to see it that way and then study this setback as providential.


 Deborah Sanders is owner of  Bar-None Prep and has taught the bar prep method she created for her own bar exam for over twenty years. She is based in New Jersey. In addition to a regular column, she is writing a book on "The Spiritual Path to Passing the Bar." You can contact her at