20 Famous People Who Failed the Bar Exam
By Ammon Jeffery
Updated: April 5, 2022
No one wants to fail a major exam, especially one as important as the bar exam, but failure remains a real possibility even if you prepped for months. If you fail the bar exam, you may feel not only that you wasted time, money, and sanity, but also that your career is over before it ever had a chance to begin. You may even be wondering if you’ll amount to anything at all.
The good news is that the above sentiments aren’t true in the slightest. Failing the bar doesn’t mean that you won’t have a successful career, practicing law or otherwise. Failing the bar exam doesn’t end your story; it can be a wonderful beginning.
Don’t believe me? Take a look below at this list of famous people who failed the bar exam, some of them multiple times.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt
Photo credit: National Archives
Franklin D. Roosevelt failed the New York bar exam the first time he took it, but that didn’t stop him from trying again. He passed in 1907, but dropped out of Columbia Law School years later and eventually became one of the most prominent presidents in American history, leading our country through the trying times of World War II.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
Photo credit: Gage Skidmore
Although she did pass the Arkansas bar exam, Hillary Clinton never was able to pass the D.C. bar exam. This didn’t deter her from carving out a successful career practicing corporate law for the Rose Law Firm. Later, she became a public servant and served as Secretary of State. She even ran for president twice.
First Lady Michelle Obama
Photo credit: Chuck Kennedy
A graduate of Harvard, Michelle Obama initially failed the Illinois bar exam. Her life accomplishments were far from over, however. She eventually practiced intellectual property law at Sidley & Austin. Later, she made a name for herself as First Lady during President Obama’s administration.
In 2005, Kathleen Sullivan failed the California bar exam when she was trying for a position for Quinn Emanual in Los Angeles. After 10 years of hard work, she eventually became a name partner for Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan and even became the dean of the Stanford Law School.
John F. Kennedy Jr.
Son of President John F. Kennedy, Kennedy Jr. was both attractive and famous during his lifetime, being named the “Sexiest Man Alive” in 1988 by People magazine. However, he failed the New York bar exam not once, but twice. He eventually went on to work as a district attorney in New York City, but later left law and went into journalism. He then launched the successful political magazine George.
Governor Pete Wilson
Governor Pete Wilson served as California’s 36th governor as well as a Republican U.S. Senator, a San Diego mayor, and a state assemblyman. Not many people realize that Governor Wilson had to take the bar four separate times before finally passing the exam. Clearly, failure did not stop this man from doing great things in his career.
Governor Jerry Brown
Photo credit: Jay Godwin
Another influential California Governor, Brown failed the California bar exam on his first attempt. Despite this failure, he went on to have an influential career as a public servant, serving as the 34th and 39th Governor of California, the California Attorney General, and the mayor of Oakland.
Famous People Who Failed the Bar
Law School Grades: Avoiding Crushed Souls and Bloated Egos
Crushendo vs. AudioOutlines vs. AudioLearn
Bar Exam Anxiety Tips: How to Not Become a Nervous Wreck
Parody: Motivational Movie Clip Mashup
On Typing Speed, Law School Grades, and Passing the Bar
Crushendo Launches National Bar Prep Competition
Bar-pocalypse! Bar Prep During COVID
Meet the Millennial Turning Bar Prep Upside Down
The Fun Way To Crush Your Bar Exam Prep (Yes, Really)
A Quick Introduction to Crushendo – Law Students Take Note
Crushendo Helped Me Fail a Practice MBE Exam [in the Best Way]
How I Supplemented My Bar Prep Course
Is Crushendo the Future of Exam Prep?
Results Are In… Crushendo IS the Future of Bar Exam Prep
Business Helps Learners Crush It
“I PASSED!!!! Crushendo is like no other bar prep!!! Over the past few years, I’ve struggled to pass the exam! I used Barbri, Themis, and even AdaptiBar, but there was something about these audios that struck a cord! I finally passed and am extremely grateful I took a chance and tried Crushendo! The funny mnemonics and catchphrases made it both fun and easy to memorize things that I was never able to before!”
KeLine Ajanoh, Esq.
Governor Deval Patrick
Despite graduating from Harvard Law School, Governor Patrick failed the bar exam twice before passing on his third attempt. Later, he served as Governor of Massachusetts for 8 years as the first African-American governor in the state. He is now the managing director at Bain Capital.
Governor Charlie Crist
The former Florida Attorney General and Governor failed his first two attempts at the bar exam. This didn’t stop him from leading a successful career in public service. He is currently serving as the U.S. Representative from Florida’s 13th District.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa
Mayor Villaraigosa had the misfortune of failing the bar exam four times in a row. Although he never actually passed the exam, he went on to become the Mayor of Los Angeles from 2005-2013, showing that you don’t even need to pass the exam in order to find rewarding career opportunities.
Mayor Ed Koch
You may know about Mayor Koch from a variety of his accomplishments, whether it be his time serving as a congressman in the House of Representatives, as a lawyer, as a political commentator, or as mayor of New York City. Yet he too failed the bar exam on his first attempt. He passed on his second. Clearly, he didn’t let failure define his life.
Mayor Richard M. Daley
Mayor Daley, like many of the entries on this list, failed the bar exam multiple times. Twice to be exact. But he still managed to serve as the mayor of Chicago for six consecutive terms.
Governor David Paterson
Governor Paterson also failed the bar exam, yet still became a prominent public servant. He is well known as the first African-American to serve as Governor of New York, and the second legally-blind man to serve as a governor in the U.S.
Harold Ford Jr.
Harold Ford Jr. failed the Tennessee bar exam during his campaign for the U.S. House of Representatives. Afterwards, he served as a Representative for 10 years and became an author, as well as a financial managing director for Morgan Stanley.
Daughter of former New York Governor George Pataki, Emily failed the bar exam on her first attempt, passing it on her second. Since then, she’s had a prosperous career working for White & Case, as well as for the Bloomberg Administration.
Like many who have failed the bar, Pat Robinson felt feelings of humiliation and despair after failing the New York bar, despite graduating from Yale Law School near the top of his class. However, he later became a born-again Christian and made a name for himself as a minister and televangelist.
Kevin D. Callahan
While not nearly as famous as the others on this list, Kevin Callahan does offer a great example of perseverance in the face of failure. He failed the bar not once, not twice, but 10 times! He finally passed the Massachusetts bar exam on his 11th attempt and runs his own private practice.
Paulina Bandy has gained some notoriety in the legal world as being the person who perhaps has failed the bar exam more than anyone else. She failed the California bar exam 13 times before passing. She now runs a website dedicated to helping people pass the bar.
Japanese Princess Mako’s husband, Kei Komuro, failed the New York bar exam. Komuro is famous because Princess Mako gave up her royal status and over 100 million yen to marry him. Komuro got the sad news only a few days after tying the knot.
Photo credit: Love Lira Fashion (CC BY-SA 4.0)
The American media personality, model, and businesswoman failed the California baby bar exam three times after she announced her dream of being a lawyer in 2019. She passed the California baby bar on her fourth attempt in 2021. Becoming an attorney would follow in the footsteps of her father, who gained fame as a lawyer in O.J. Simpson’s murder trial. She would like to start a firm with a pro bono focus and employ former inmates.
Prepare for success
As you can see from the above examples, failure doesn’t have to be the end of your life. There are still many opportunities available to you, whether they be in law or in another field.
If you are looking to prepare for another attempt at the bar exam, Crushendo can supply you with effective study materials that can help you crush the bar.
About the author
Ammon Jeffery loves writing. He graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in English. His hobbies include reading, and playing video games and board games. He lives in Utah with his cute wife and daughter. His dream vacation is to explore WWI sites in Europe.