Graduation could not have come fast enough. I was literally jumping in heels in the snow. It was December 2007, the same month the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has now marked as the official start of the recession. Not exactly the most ideal time to be graduating with a Juris Doctor accompanied by a $200,000 price tag. Yet, there I was still excited to see what the future had in store.
Yinged when I should have yanged
At the time of graduation, I was clerking at a medical malpractice law firm making $30 per hour and a sports agency making roughly the same. However, due to the recession no one was hiring fulltime. Then I had a job offer to enter my old world of hockey. It seemed like a nice variation to a law firm and who knows what it would turn into. So, packed up my car and dog, moved to Colorado Springs, and started a job at USA Hockey. Turns out it sounded much cooler than it was.
Thinking back I’m not exactly sure why I thought it was a good decision but I liked the idea of being back around hockey, and taking a break from using my brain. (Apparently, I was already taking a break from using my brain.) After just a few weeks, I started thinking back to that kindergartener that I had started law school for in the first place and knew I had made the wrong decision. Immediately I started trying to figure out how to right the course that I had unintentionally wronged. I was signed up to take the bar 10 weeks later so I figured that would be a good jumping off point for my new path.
The Evil Bar
Being in Colorado Springs rather than Denver meant that I had to take the bar review course remotely rather than in person. At that time the remotely was pre-recorded audio lectures and a stack of textbooks higher than an average size garbage can (which is where I wanted to throw them). Turns out when you’re 24 years old, working fulltime, and studying “remotely” not a lot of actually studying is accomplished. I assumed that all the classes I had taken during law school accompanied by some studying would be enough to get me over the hump. I was wrong.
In February of 2008, I sat for the Colorado Bar completely underprepared. A few months later it was a fact— I had failed the bar. The scary part was that among my classmates, I wasn’t that unique. The passage rate for first time bar takers from the University of Denver was less than 60 percent. (Remember from my previous post that 85% of students receive some form of financial aid.) The little things like having a torts professor that didn’t teach statute or common law but rather a hybrid that he liked didn’t help. Simply put, it was completely unacceptable for this to be happening with such a high price tag from an institutional level. It didn’t go unnoticed. It had become such an issue at the University of Denver that they started a program to address it. Now scores are above 90 percent. Unfortunately, that didn’t help me.
Finding out that I had failed the bar was an awful feeling. The number of people who asked me and then would give me the “so-sorry-I-asked” face followed by a comment that always included “well, JFK failed the bar multiple times so you’ll be fine” is exhausting. I was completely panicking on the inside. I couldn’t even apply to law firms because I had failed the bar, and I hated what I was doing.
It was time for this newly minted 25-year-old to do some self-reflection and figure out what it was I wanted to do. How do I get off this path? All I knew for sure, was that this was not going to be my life or what defined my life. The good thing, I was still young enough to completely right the ship—even though at the time it felt like turning the Titanic in an inch of water.
Next posting: Was my JD worth it: The aftermath and reality.
Cecilia Retelle is the co-founder & chief operating officer of goranku.com, a discovery engine for online degrees from traditional (or non-profit) universities. The startup is funded by Mark Cuban. She has a law degree from the Sturm College of Law at the University of Denver. Her previous posts on TippingTheScales.com: