The Almost Daily Word – Seven Deadly Sins of Bar Exam Preparation – #5 -Pride

A proud man is always looking down on things and people; and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you. C.S. Lewis – Author

Thirty-five years of experience with the California Bar Exam has led me to reflect on the seven deadly sins of bar exam preparation – self-defeating traits that predict bar exam failure. Number 5 is:


Pride can be something to be pleased about or to disapprove of depending on how you define it. For example, a “reasonable or justifiable self-respect” is essential to a healthy and fulfilling life.

I’m talking about “inordinate self esteem.” “Inordinate” as in “I’m in the top quartile of my class.” I’m too smart to fail the exam,” or “…to have failed the exam,” or, in some instances “… “to have failed the exam multiple times” …. “Something must be wrong.” Inordinate as in “I can’t find time to study because I’m too involved with my ___ .” (You fill in the blank … but “start-up,” “clinic,” “volunteer work” and – believe it or not, “[full time] work” – are all ones I’ve heard).

This type of pride hides from the prideful the realities of preparing to pass, on the first (or the next) attempt, an 18-hour examination (longer for some applicants) on 13 legal doctrinal subjects and additional practical skills. It may also hide from them the consequences of failing the bar exam the first time, or of never passing it. You may not want to think about it, but those consequences can be dreadful.

In Marooned: An Empirical Investigation of Law School Graduates Who Fail the Bar Exam (Journal of Legal Education, Volume 60, Number 1 (August 2010)) Jane Yakowitz, then on the faculty of the UCLA School of Law, considered the consequences of bar failure. In a complex and thoughtful article, she summarized her findings this way:

Law school graduates who never pass a bar exam have a very difficult “first term.” Five to ten years out of law school, they lag behind lawyers on every measure – earnings, employment stability, even marriage and divorce rates. Moreover, as a group, they fare worse than college graduates, despite their better-than-average undergraduate grades. [Although] … they spring back and out-perform the average college graduate in the latter half of their careers, … they never catch up with their lawyer peers … the earnings of the median individual do catch up with the 25th percentile lawyer …

Ms. Yakowitz’s recounting of the emotional tolls of failing the exam are consistent with my own anecdotal observations, made across numerous tables – in my office, libraries, coffee shops, borrowed classrooms – all the locations where I meet with and tutor bar exam repeaters.

Interviewees … provided descriptions of their careers that are so uniform they sound like a single response fed through a thesaurus. “Unemployed,” limited,” “my life is on hold,” “stuck in a rut,” “stuck,” “career purgatory,” “it’s just killing me” … The emotional response to bar failure was so strong and homogenous across the interview pool. … At least in the short term, bar failure seems to be the nightmare come true.”

Are you hiding behind excessive pride, jeopardizing your chances at first-time (or next-time) bar success? When is pride excessive? Try rating how you respond to each of these situations on a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 representing “not at all” and 10 representing “all the time.” It may be difficult, but be as honest and accurate as you can.

1. What I want is all that matters. When we make decisions together, what you want, your concerns, your feelings.. these are mere whispers, inconveniences and irrelevancies. When we discuss issues, my opinions are right. Yours are wrong or else of minimal importance. If you expect to have input, you are undermining me.
2. I know more, I know better, I’m more interesting, When we talk, it’s mostly about me. In conversations, I take up most of the air time. Maybe that’s why people say I suck up all the air in a room. When I want something, I need to have it. Never mind how you feel about it; it’s all about me. I’m big and important and you are merely also here, mostly to do things for me, like a third arm.
3. I can …, cut into a line where others are waiting, cheat on my taxes, and ignore rules that get in the way of my doing what I want.. Rules are for other people to follow.
4. If you insist on my listening and taking your concerns seriously I’m likely to get mad. Criticism hurts. I can criticize others, and often do, but if you criticize me you’re hurting my feelings so I’ll hurt you back.
5. I can’t be expected to apologize or to admit blame. I’m above others and above reproach. You shouldn’t have… . Don’t threaten me with expecting me to say how I’ve contributed to a problem or I’ll get mad at you.
6. You made me mad. You didn’t listen to me. You criticized me. You’re trying to control me. Your view is wrong. So you need to apologize, not me.
7. It’s never my fault if things didn’t go well. I’m not responsible for the problem. Someone else is. I’m not responsible either for my anger. If I’m mad that’s your fault.
A bit of all of these traits just comes with being human. However, if your score is 30 or higher, it’s time to make some habit changes or even to commit yourself to some serious personal growth before you take the Bar Exam.


With thanks to “Are You a Narcissist – 6 Sure Signs of Narcissism” by Susan Heitler, PhD (Published in Psychology Today on October 25, 2012)