20 Popular People Who Didn’t Pass the Bar Exam

The bar exam is considered one of the toughest professional exams. Many renowned and accomplished professionals have failed the bar exam, some even multiple times. However, failure on the bar exam did not define their careers or limit their success.

Popular People Who Didn’t Pass the Bar Exam

Popular People Who Didn't Pass the Bar Exam

This article covers 20 famous people who failed the bar exam initially but went on to have extremely successful careers later, some even becoming presidents, governors, mayors, and royalty.

We’ll analyze why people fail the bar exam, the minimum requirements to pass, and the steps you must take to pass this difficult test.

Top 20 Popular People Who Didn’t Pass the Bar Exam

Here are 20 now famous people who did not pass the bar exam on their first few attempts:

  1. President Franklin D. Roosevelt

    • Failed New York bar exam once
    • Later passed and became the 32nd U.S. President
  2. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

    • Passed Arkansas bar but failed Washington D.C. bar
    • Practiced law and became Secretary of State
  3. First Lady Michelle Obama

    • Failed Illinois bar exam initially
    • Later practiced intellectual property law
  4. Kathleen Sullivan

    • Failed California bar exam
    • Became name partner at Quinn Emanuel law firm
  5. John F. Kennedy Jr.

    • Failed New York bar exam twice
    • Later worked as a district attorney
  6. Governor Pete Wilson

    • Failed California bar exam 3 times
    • Later became California’s 36th Governor
  7. Governor Jerry Brown

    • Failed bar exam once
    • Became 34th and 39th Governor of California
  8. Governor Deval Patrick

    • Failed bar exam twice
    • Later served 2 terms as Governor of Massachusetts
  9. Governor Charlie Crist

    • Failed Florida bar exam twice
    • Became Florida Attorney General and Governor
  10. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa

    • Failed California bar 4 times
    • Was Mayor of Los Angeles from 2005-2013
  11. Mayor Ed Koch

    • Failed New York bar once
    • Later passed and served as Mayor of New York City
  12. Mayor Richard M. Daley

    • Failed bar exam twice
    • Served as Chicago’s mayor for 6 terms
  13. Governor David Paterson

    • Failed bar exam
    • Became New York’s first African-American Governor
  14. Harold Ford Jr.

    • Failed Tennessee bar during House campaign
    • Later served 10 years as a U.S. Representative
  15. Emily Pataki

    • Failed bar exam once
    • Daughter of former N.Y. Governor, now attorney
  16. Pat Robinson

    • Failed N.Y. bar after graduating from Yale
    • Became famous televangelist
  17. Kevin D. Callahan

    • Failed Massachusetts bar 10 times
    • Passed on 11th attempt, now an attorney
  18. Paulina Bandy

    • Failed California bar 13 times
    • Now helps others pass bar exam
  19. Kei Komuro

    • Failed New York bar
    • Married Japanese Princess Mako
  20. Kim Kardashian

    • Failed “Baby Bar” 3 times
    • Passed on 4th attempt, plans to start law firm

Why People Can’t Clear the Bar Exam?

There are some key reasons even very smart people fail the bar exam:

  • The exam tests minimum competency: Even qualified candidates fail by narrowly missing cutoffs.
  • Time pressure: There is immense pressure to complete questions accurately in limited time.
  • Exam conditions: Test anxiety and stress levels are extremely high.
  • Memorization-focused: Simply memorizing legal concepts is not enough to apply them correctly.
  • Overconfidence: Being from top law schools may lead to underestimating the exam.

What You Must Need to Know to Pass the Bar Exam?

To improve your chances of passing, you must:

  • Start early: Give yourself 6-8 weeks of full-time prep before the test.
  • Practice regularly: Take many practice questions in timed conditions.
  • Practice writing sample bar essays within strict time limits.
  • Work on memory techniques and mnemonics to recall rules quickly.
  • Learn how to apply knowledge accurately by analyzing practice essays.
  • Simulate test conditions: Take full-timed practice exams in one sitting.
  • Avoid burnout: Manage stress with enough breaks, sleep, healthy food, and exercise.
  • Stay confident: Believe in your abilities after putting in thorough preparation.

Minimum Requirements to Pass the Bar Exam

The minimum thresholds to pass vary by state but generally require:

  • Approximately 50-60% overall score
  • Roughly 50-60% on multiple-choice questions
  • 50-60% on essay questions by meeting formatting, analysis, factual, and legal accuracy requirements
  • Meeting minimum scoring rules for Multistate Performance Test (MPT)

While the exact passing score differs across states, meeting the above thresholds demonstrates your minimum competency to practice law responsibly by applying legal knowledge and analysis.


Here are answers to 10 frequently asked questions about failing the bar exam:

  • 1. Does failing the bar exam mean my career is over?

No. Many successful lawyers, leaders, and celebrities failed initially before passing.

  • 2. Should I retake the bar exam if I fail initially?

Yes, most states allow you to retake the bar exam multiple times in subsequent exam cycles. The limit is usually 5-6 attempts.

  • 3. How soon can I reattempt after failing initially?

Many states allow reattempts every 6 months during main exam cycles. Some require waiting periods before reattempting.

  • 4. Does retaking the exam require redoing my entire prep?

No, you can continue prep and focus on strengthening specific weak areas shown in your score report.

  • 5. Will failing badly on the bar exam impact my law career?

No, the exam tests minimum competence. Apart from passing scores, the scaled score has no other significance.

  • 6. Is there an alternative route to becoming a lawyer without passing bar?

Only a few states like Wisconsin and Washington allow law school graduates to become lawyers without passing the bar, based on experience and evaluations.

  • 7. Does my law school prestige impact my chances of passing the bar?

No, passing mainly depends on preparation level, practice, and your ability to apply knowledge accurately under exam conditions.

  • 8. What is the average number of attempts before passing?

The average number of attempts before passing varies by state but ranges from 1.2 to 2.4 attempts.

  • 9. Should I disclose my failure in job applications when reattempting?

No, there is no need to disclose. Focus on demonstrating why you meet the role requirements despite the failure.

  • 10. Can I claim accommodation if suffering from exam anxiety or disabilities?

Yes, most bars allow accommodations for medical conditions through proper documentation and certification processes.

Also Check: What is the GST Council


As the above examples of leaders and celebrities show, do not allow failure on the bar exam to define your career or life.

Be positive and persistent with thorough preparation to continue pursuing your dream job. Remember, this is a test of minimum competence, not intelligence.

Build legal knowledge and exam techniques with practice to prove you can apply concepts accurately under pressure. Stay determined and motivated to pass the next time!

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