The True Cost of the Georgia Bar Exam Error

September 8th, 2016 / By

To many, late October signals nothing more than fall in full swing, pumpkins, or costumes. In late May, we look forward to the Memorial Day holiday and long weekends. Yet, the last weekend of every October and May, Georgia bar takers anxiously await exam results. Some stalk the postman. Most spend the day refreshing a webpage, hoping and praying their name appears on the public pass list.

The stages of grief—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance—are experienced by one who fails a state bar exam. Imagine discovering that a family member is alive after grieving their death for ten months. This week, 90 Georgia bar takers—45 from July 2015 and 45 from February 2016—were informed that the thing they grieved was, in fact, alive. Though their names failed to appear on that very public pass list, they indeed passed the Georgia bar exam.

For most, the JD is a terminal degree and the culmination of many years of academic achievement. As such, much of the law school graduate’s identity is derived from their academic pursuits. When graduates fail the bar exam, the confidence in that person dies. They are forced to deal with immeasurable self-doubt and question their worthiness to join this profession. Those who choose to take the exam again must expedite their grieving process and start bar preparation over. While grieving, those affected surely felt embarrassment and shame. Friends, relatives, and perspective employers discovered their failure by simply checking the Georgia bar website. And then there’s sacrifice: working law students who cashed out their vacation time after they were encouraged to take time off to study, the single mother who sent her child to live with relatives for eight to ten weeks missing a first word or step, the wedding or funeral not attended, and the list goes on.

In the wake of the news of the Georgia bar exam error, colleagues responded with concerns about the integrity of the test, grading transparency, data reporting, and money lost. While I agree that our profession is not in need of more reasons for mistrust or criticism, I am disappointed that reactions fail to address the experiences of those affected by the error. Maybe this seeming lack of empathy results from the fact that most in the academy do not know firsthand what it is like to fail the bar exam. Though not my personal experience, I have supported graduates through this experience. It is by far the most difficult part of my service as an academic success professional.

The Office of Bar Admissions will refund fees to those who retook the exam and the chairman of the board is personally contacting each person affected by the error. These are the right things to do. But how do you refund confidence and sacrifice? Yes, we must continue discussions about the integrity of the bar exam. But let us not forget the true cost of this error. As a member of the academy who is also a member of the Georgia bar, congratulations to the newest members of the Georgia bar and welcome to our profession. I apologize for the unnecessary trauma you experienced and I commend you for having the courage to move forward.

I hope we all take a moment to break from our agendas to do the same.


About Law School Cafe

Cafe Manager & Co-Moderator
Deborah J. Merritt

Cafe Designer & Co-Moderator
Kyle McEntee

ABA Journal Blawg 100 HonoreeLaw School Cafe is a resource for anyone interested in changes in legal education and the legal profession.

Around the Cafe


Enter your email address to receive notifications of new posts by email.


Recent Comments

Recent Posts

Monthly Archives


Have something you think our audience would like to hear about? Interested in writing one or more guest posts? Send an email to the cafe manager at We are interested in publishing posts from practitioners, students, faculty, and industry professionals.

Past and Present Guests