Volume 10, Issue 4
I failed Trusts. I’ve spent most of the last year being pretty nervous to tell people, because as Henry said, failure is a dirty word around the law school.
Unfortunately though, failure and making mistakes is a part of life, and it can happen at any time. Even becoming Prime Minister doesn’t guarantee you immunity; regardless of our political leanings I think we would all prefer to remember a Prime Minister for great leadership or innovative policies, rather than a predilection to eat onions in public. So to get a little perspective on grades, the clerkship process and our future job prospects, here are some lessons to follow if you failed a subject.
Lesson 1: It’s ok to have a cry
Failing isn’t much fun, and taking a wild guess about the average person doing the JD, I’d say our expectations of ourselves are pretty high. Before the JD, I’d always liked learning, and worked hard at it, so it’s where I placed a lot of my self-esteem. At law school, I’ve found the content difficult and even when I work hard, I haven’t always performed the way I’m used to. Failing was a massive shock, and it’s completely ok not to feel in control.
Lesson 2: You can throw an epic pity party
Failing a subject allows you to wallow to epic proportions. I had convinced myself in a very short period of time that I’d be disowned by my family, shunned in the streets and the 7 o’clock news would read “Clara Harper: The National Failure”. Choose your poison, and allow yourself to wallow for at least 48 hours. I binged on cups of tea partly because I’m a badass, but also because all I had at home was Feijoa flavoured vodka, which unfortunately tastes like deep heat and even in my time of crisis, I couldn’t force myself to drink.
Lesson 3: Tell someone
I was so nervous to tell anyone from law school. I was embarrassed; I was disappointed in myself and for a long time, ashamed. I felt like if I told people in the JD that they wouldn’t respect me anymore, that they wouldn’t see me as their equal. As soon as I started telling people, I learnt pretty quickly that it was an unfair assessment to make of my friends. Maybe it’s the competitive nature of law school that made me feel like that, or maybe it was the pressure that I put on myself, but it’s a pretty terrible way to feel about your friends. No one I told cared at all that I’d failed. I experienced nothing but support, care and so many offers of notes I may take Anesti out of the business.
Even after I started telling people, I still felt ashamed of myself. I didn’t want to bring my Trusts readings into Uni, because then everyone would know I failed a subject. I realised this was ridiculous, I shouldn’t feel ashamed of trying again. If I’m going to feel ashamed, it should be over something that is truly terrible, like voting for Pauline Hanson (not me) or crying in the finale of the Bachelorette because Sash and Sam, are like, meant to be (definitely me). Doing some reading about law school made me realise that we are more likely to finish the degree with an anxiety disorder than H1 average. Which is fucked. Failing, passing subjects and making mistakes is just something that happens sometimes, and we need to be kinder to ourselves when it does.
Lesson 4: Get some perspective
Feeling ashamed about failing only reinforces the idea that our self-esteem should be dependant on our grades. To assume that none of us will experience failure is unrealistic and unhealthy. Maybe it won’t happen in the JD, maybe it’ll be in the workplace, in a case or with a client, but it will happen. If I’m being honest, all that happened was I did an exam and for whatever reason, I didn’t perform at my best. I certainly don’t think those three hours are going to define my future, except as a lesson learnt that next time I fail, I can take the hit to my ego and move on. The JD, like clerkships and grad jobs, are opportunities, not a guaranteed pathway to success and happiness, and it’s important to remember that there are other ways to succeed in our careers.
Lesson 5: Put it behind you and move on
First, focus on your best qualities, the ones that have nothing to do with grades. For myself, I have great hair AND I can fit my whole hand into a Pringle tin, which not many people can do. Then focus on some of the things you’ve gained from doing the JD that have nothing to with grades. From being on the LSS, I gained self-assurance and confidence. From taking all these classes I can give the average citizen some questionable advice about property and contractual disputes, and the word “Chameleon” has taken on a whole new meaning. And best of all, I have excellent friends who give me Oprah badges and donuts when the JD gets me down.
Lesson 6: Watch Legally Blonde
Take a leaf out of Elle Woods’ book… and have faith in yourself. At the end of the day, the only way you can move on from a disappointment is to learn from it and have faith that you won’t make the same mistake twice. It’s entirely possible to fail and still be a boss at life, but if anyone ever needs any help getting there, let me know. I’ll take you out for a cuppa.
Clara Harper is a third-year JD Student