After Failing The Bar, A Crisis Of Confidence But Also Redemption

Cecilia Retelle, co-founder & COO of Ranku

Cecilia Retelle, co-founder & COO of Ranku

After graduating from law school, feeling a bit lost, and then failing the bar I was pissed to say the least. To be more accurate, I was apathetic and completely lost. From my perspective, I was newly 25-years-old, had $200,000 of student loans, was working in a job that that I hated and didn’t require a JD, and didn’t know what to do to make things better. Failing and feeling lost simultaneously is a lot for anyone but doing it that young was extremely difficult.

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One night on my drive home, I called one of my close friends. This was the same friend who had encouraged me to stay in law school when I wanted to drop out half way through. She probably doesn’t even remember the conversation but I will never forget it. I hung up with one major takeaway. She said “figure out what you want to do and do that.” That seemed a lot easier said than done, so I reached out to one of my mentors who in my mind was older and “wiser.”

All in all, he reiterated her point while also giving me some more tips. In an effort to avoid an awkward phone call of telling my mentor that I was feeling completely lost, I asked him to meet me for lunch—that way we could do all the awkwardness face-to-face. The entire drive to a small restaurant in Cherry Creek, I was half panicking that I was going to let him down, half hoping that I was going to feel relieved when I got back in my car.

As we started talking he asked the last question I wanted to answer—how are you? He almost immediately realized that I had an agenda for our lunch and he was ready to help. Even though he is extremely successful, when I started to tell him about my current job and the struggles I was having with it, he immediately shifted the conversation to telling me about how his wife found her footing in the corporate world. As it turns out, that was exactly what I was trying to figure out.

As I had hoped, when I got back into my car I did feel relieved. More than that, I felt  ike I had received words of wisdom to live by and attempt to execute:

  • Find something you love and do that really well. His wife became a specialist in aerospace and it had made her trailblazing more focused. Luckily, I already knew what this was (education)—it was just a matter of figuring out how to do it.
  • Demand respect in all situations. Just because I’m a young female in a corporate environment surrounded by men, doesn’t give anyone authorization to treat me in a certain way.
  • Do things your way. My mentor and former boss knew my personality and work ethic. He reiterated, you might be friendly but that doesn’t mean you’re not fierce. Don’t be afraid to continue to be friendly while also kicking ass and taking names.

Finding my path

Then the last piece fell into place—my parents came to visit. I met them at a restaurant in Colorado Springs and I don’t think I even made it through my salad before I was in tears and spilling my guts. It wasn’t really my fault—they asked that horrifying question— “how are you?”

I then had to admit they were right. I should have never taken the job I did. I should have stayed in law because I really did want to figure out a way to do education policy. I then told them I had an idea that I thought would help get me back on track to what I wanted to do but of course it also included more student loans.

Taking into account all of the advice I had received, I had put together a one-page document about how I was going to execute my plan. I figured I had one year to make it happen. From them, I just needed their continued support, endorsement of my plan, and help moving across the country.  Here was my plan based on the advice given:

  • Figure out what you want to do and do that.  As beautiful as Colorado is, I was over it. I had lost my grandmother near that time and wanted to be closer to family. I wanted to move back to Minnesota.
  • Find something you love and do that really well. I have always believed that solving education in this country will help to solve a lot of our other issues. I knew education was what I wanted to do. My solution: getting my masters in education.
  • Demand respect in all situations. Quit my job as soon as possible. It wasn’t my scene to say the least. Once moving back to Minnesota, I planned to start tutoring which was flexible enough for me to do my degree in a year.
  • Do things your way. I wanted to finish my degree, take (and pass) the bar, and find a job within one year. I figured, I can’t reach a goal if I don’t set it.
  • Ciara

    That was great. I am actually confused and scared. I am 27 years old, divorced and have 2 small boys I am raising but, I have always aspired to be an attorney. I am great at it and even freelance as a paralegal just to keep my skills to day when I wasnt working. Everytime I check up things for law school or lawyering, all i see is people badgering it. It frightens me, not because of the work and the horrible stories people claim their years of law school were like, but because if i do fall down, I know I am by myself, conclusively, I would need a strong support system. I dont know what to do. I am studying for LSAT’s, but second guessing because of the things ive read. How can I feel like this when I dont want to do anything else?

    • Em


      May be you can find some things to relate to:

      I became and served as a Legal Secretary for a small law firm when I was 26 turning soon 27. During that year I came to love what I did and the legal world in general. Later, I found myself in a total limbo, no savings, all on my own, and the best option I had was to move back home (overseas) to continue my education, somehow. That was a big leap of faith, but so far it has been the right decision.

      As part of my entering this particular university I went trough an aptitude test which results alerted my advisor to call me in and then asked, “Why don’t you join the law faculty?” I instantly remembered my still semi-recent, mostly positive legal experience at that entry level type of job I told you about. I went home, thought about it, but I was too excited feeling it was right that I just knew that was it.

      Now, I’m 30 and starting my 3rd year in the law faculty (my program here is 3 years 9 months to 4 years). I can’t believe how far I’ve come, keeping in mind that I still have some to go. Though I’m home I recognize I am on my own (no kids, no husband, or the likes) as age, money, and other factors can make me feel out of place and alone. Still, I’m so grateful for any and all help I get from my parents as I continue my journey to become a laywer. I used to think there are too many lawyers already and this and that, but I’m so grateful I’m studying law even if I don’t litigate in the future.

      I’ll share what a female attorney and professor told me in the beginning of law school: “Being a female attorney is a powerful key, a tool that will help you, if you marry or if you don’t. It will feed you when the young woman becomes an older, mature lady–you’ll always have a job”.

      Lately, I’ve been feeling too down despite my mostly outstanding grades and my drive to continue learning and pursuing my goal. That’s how I came across this page. I thought may be it is the “half way through blues”. Sometimes the school work is very demanding along with other daily chores I feel I must help with, etc. But overall I have to keep on doing my best to be able to graduate. At this point in my life quitting is no longer an option. I’m good and I like what I do, but I guess it is okay to feel down sometimes.

      I must tell you that I’ve been blessed enough to have found a student loan with the lowest interest rate that no bank institution can beat it. So, once you start moving your feet forward good things will conspire in your favor. Others won’t, but they weren’t meant for you or is not the time, yet. Trust that doors will open. And just do it! Whatever it is you decide to do in the end, just embrace it, learn from it, give it your best, and endure to the end. I hope this helps.

      • JohnAByrne

        Thanks for sharing your experience with us. That’s a great story and will, no doubt, be n inspiration to others. Good luck to you.

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  • n900mixalot

    Just had a bit of a breakdown. This was Bar #3 that I failed, and while I almost feel as though I dodged a bullet, I can’t stay where I am at my current job because I am not committed to practicing law as an attorney in my current office.

    I love the law itself. I love writing memoranda. I love strategizing. I adored law school. But I don’t like standing before a court and posotively begging for what is right, knowing that my heart is elsewhere.

    In my current local government job, the struggle my office works toward alleviating is highly commendable. But it is not the best fit for me.

    The day results came out, a few hours prior, I got an email from a prospective dream job (same government but different area) that I’d coveted since even before attending law school. The interview however, is in one week and there are no guarantees. I was previously passed over for being deemed “overqualified.” But there was no interview offered to me the last time.

    Now I am faced with having to return to my current job, knowing that jobs are even scarcer for people with my qualifications in my small town. I can’t change my location because I’ve made a life and home here.

    After driving home in tears a moment ago, I thought to myself, “Why not leave my current job, take my retirement and plan to retake the Bar with the money?” And if the dream job comes through, take it and run, and don’t look back.

    I’m stuck. Not entirely without options, but there is still fear of failure–not failing the Bar again, but having to live while scraping to get by in the interim. After reading your story, however, I know that whatever I decide I must continue to push for what I want and what makes me happy. That should keep me going, I think.

    Thank you.