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Failing: The Last Law School Taboo

Taboo Board game

Law students spend a great deal of time in discussion with one another. Be it the elements of a contract, judicial activism or even something as banal as where to get the best and cheapest coffee on campus. The one thing we don’t seem to talk about is failing. It’s like we are scared of some Macbeth style jinx if any of us dares utter the word.

Let’s face it, sometimes clever, educated, hard working students will fail a subject. It happens. It is emotionally and mentally crushing when it does but, trust me on this; it is not the end of your legal career or the world. You need to take some time to reflect, feel downright melancholy and then, dust yourself off and get on with the next semester.

Speak with your lecturers and tutors. Get some feedback about where you could have improved and why you got the mark you did. At the very least, something positive will come from it, in that you will get a much better insight into what they want to hear from you next time.

To perk you all up for next semester, I have collated a list of brilliant minds that have at some stage failed a subject or two.

United States Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton failed the Washington DC Bar Exam in the 1970’s.

Prime Minister Winston Churchill spoke from experience when he uttered “Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never – in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never, never, never, never give up” as he too has felt the cruel sting of failure, after flunking grade six.

Louis Pasteur ranked 15th out of 22 students in chemistry – a fairly ordinary mark, for a fairly extraordinary mind.

Albert Einstein, a brilliant thinker and mathematician whose face adorns many a student’s wall, failed the entrance exam to Zurich Polytechnic School.

Leo Tolstoy completely failed his university studies and was described as “unwilling and unable to learn”. I wonder how many descendants of his former teachers had to read his works as part of their studies?

On a more personal note, I know a brilliant legal mind who currently presides on one of Victoria’s esteemed County Court benches, who made me smile one morning by saying, “Oh don’t worry so much about your marks at uni, I failed two subjects in my first year”. That little conversation has kept me going in my darkest days.

So I say to you, down with the taboo. Let’s get it out there in the open. A spider in the dark is much more frightening than the one you can see and measure (and squish). My name is Jennifer, and I too, have failed a subject at law school.

Good luck with this semester. I’ll get back to my con law reading.

FROM THE ARCHIVES: This story was first published on Survive Law on 26 July 2011.

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