When Tragedy Strikes

Honestly, I’m not even sure where to begin. I come to you this month, bewildered and broken-hearted but at the same time hopeful and determined. This summer was supposed to be about the Bar Exam, about forging ahead and blazing a new path. Unfortunately those plans came to a crashing halt on the night of June 21st. My mother called me late that night to tell me my stepfather, David, had collapsed while working out of town in Louisiana. She said she was on her way to the hospital then and I told her I was right behind her. I jumped in my truck and pointed it east towards the Louisiana state line as quick as I could. Just as I was crossing the Sabine River Bridge on Interstate 10 crossing into Louisiana, my cell phone rang…my mother was on the other line – she was too hysterical to even say the words, but I knew….he was gone.

At the age of 42 he had been taken from us all too soon and all too unexpectedly. The utter shock of it all still has my family reeling. So instead of studying for the Bar I was now helping my mother plan her husband’s funeral and assist her with the business aspects of the ordeal as well as being there emotionally for her and the children that were left behind. Every so often someone would take me aside and ask “shouldn’t you be studying?” – I know they meant well but the Bar Exam was the furthest thing from my mind for quite a while.

So as the days after his passing turned into the weeks after his passing I knew in my mind that it was time to get back to work, but I had no desire to even touch the material. I just wanted to set alone in a dark room with just my thoughts and process what on earth just happened and was it even real? For a while I kept expecting to wake up and find this was all some terrible dream. As I tried to ease back into studying I became easily frustrated – I was now weeks behind on where I should have been on my Bar Prep syllabus and the material seemed insurmountable. At one point I honestly contemplated throwing the towel in and just waiting to take the Bar in February. It would have been the easy way out – some might even say it might be the best thing to do in this case, but I know David would have none of it.

David was one of my biggest cheerleaders and supporters. He was so excited for me and the journey that I was about to embark upon as a lawyer. No matter what differences we had, we always saw through them and he was always there for me when it counted. I hate that I won’t be able to give him the in and outs of my first trial or discuss legal strategy with him any longer – but if I don’t pick myself up off the mat I may not be having those conversations with anyone at all.

Life happens…I know I’m not the only bar exam taker that something like this has ever happened to and I know that there are probably others out there right now experiencing similar circumstances. There’s really not a play book for something like this – all you can do is hope for the best and rely on the resources you have to give it your best shot.

My fiancé Daina is also taking the Texas Bar Exam and has been a saint in helping me catch up with the material that I missed and my good friend Jeff who is taking the North Carolina Bar Exam is a pro in areas of the MBE that I struggle in and has been more than gracious enough to offer any help he can provide me with in nailing down the material. I cannot express enough how grateful I am for their help.

So for those of you of out there that are experiencing something similar just know that you’re not alone and that your friends and colleagues are there to help you. The prospect of failing the bar exam is daunting, but I’ve made up my mind that if I’m going to strike out I’m at least going to go out swinging and maybe just maybe with a little luck I can still knock this thing out.

To not try, to give up and pack it in would be an injustice not only to myself but to someone who had a large hand in helping me to get where I am today.

David, thank you for everything, it won’t be the same without you.

All opinions, advice, and experiences of guest bloggers/columnists are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, practices or experiences of Solo Practice University®.

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13 comments on “When Tragedy Strikes

  • Similar story. Two weeks after graduating LS my 2 1/2 year old daughter was diagnosed with a brain tumor. At this point, the bar was an absolute nullity. I was her primary caretaker for about two years and had no chance to work, study, or even read. I was in the hospital with her for 3 weeks a month for 8 months. When her cancer recurred she and I moved to Houston Tx for 3 months for radiation treatments (www.caringbridge.org/visit/bebewiggs)

    Last January, following a favorable MRI, I was able to put 3 weeks of solid study together. Nothing extreme, just 8 to 10 hours a day 6 days a week. I didn’t have time to do everything, so I decided to concentrate on memorizing every rule I could. I wrote one negligence practice essay – nothing else. My logic was that, if I failed I could concentrate on writing for the July bar.

    The good news about the bar came in May. In June I hung out my shingle.

    It can be done. And if you miss it this time, well, that’s why they offer it twice a year.

    Good Luck.

  • Oh man, that makes all the whining I’ve been doing look pretty ridiculous. I came to UTexas Law with 4 kids and my wife got very sick last year. She wasn’t able to work so I’ve been working full time as the only source of income. I ended up really only giving myself a couple of weeks to study and it has been a disaster so far. I’m grappling with what it will mean for my family if I fail this go-round. But I’d much rather be dealing with the possibility of re-taking this thing than the loss of a family member. I pray that you are able to find a way to keep perspective and not get down on yourself. Life is long, and taking the bar twice won’t change that. Good luck.

  • This is a reminder that in the midst of trying legal education and law practice, we are still mere humans with real lives and challenges. So sorry for this sad time but I will keep you and your family in my thoughts and prayers. Best of luck!

  • My beloved Grandmother died within two weeks of my bar exam. Looking through some of her things, I found a notation about both my bar exam dates and subsequent graduation. No doubt she was thinking of me and praying for my success. With a heavy heart, I proudly walked across the stage, making sure they announced my I’ll name, as I carry my Grandmother’s middle name.

  • Jack,

    I am so sorry for your loss. My thoughts and prayers are with you, my friend.

    Its amazing what you can accomplish when you have a strong will and sense of purpose. I worked full-time while studying for the bar and definitely got way behind in the materials at certain points. But I went into the exam hall with a mindset that I was gonna kick this exam’s ass and nothing could stop me. Not even a nuanced property question. In the end I did just that. I believe you will too.

    We’re cheering for you!

  • This struck a cord for me. While we are busy chasing our dreams others around us are chasing their’s too. Some may leave us. We need to stop and recognize those who helped us along the way. Jack, you will be a great lawyer, probably very soon. You took the compassionate course and I applaud you for it. There will be plenty of time to be wrapped up in self. Being present for your client, as an attorney, is an invaluable trait to have. BRAVO, you were present for those who needed you. You get it and that my friend is golden.

  • My thoughts are with you and your family. My father died after a long battle with cancer two weeks after I had planned to sit or the bar. I know that whether it is a lengthy illness or a sudden passing, no one is ever prepared for the shock of the loss.

    Take care.

  • You and your family are in my prayers, Jack. I can only imaging how difficult this is for you right now. I have faith that you can surmount these hurdles and pass the Bar exam.

  • When I first read your post, all I could do was cry. I can now respond with dry eyes.

    I lost my father Dec. 2009, Jan 2010 I started my last semester in law school. I didn’t think I could do classes, much less the exam in July, but I had two professors who propped me up, and encouraged me to take it one day at a time. I did just that, graduated and passed the Bar on the first take. I crashed a couple of times, but I got up and kept moving. His memory kept me going, and your father’s memory will serve you well, too. Good Luck. My heart goes out to you.

  • Hi Jack,

    Just wanted to thank you for your post. My mother was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer in early June, and underwent surgery a couple of weeks ago. This summer was supposed to be just about the bar, and now so much has changed. First, it took a while to get over the shock of it all, and now having to care for my mother takes out a good amount of the day. While I’m pretty concerned about my chances of passing this thing ( I also contemplated just skipping out on it all together and taking it February), last week I reached the same decision as you: I’ve worked too hard, despite everything, not to take the exam. I’ve also accepted that it’s not the end of the world if I don’t pass. My aiding in my mother’s recovery is invaluable when compared to the pay-off of passing the bar. Similarly, your support for your mother and caring for your siblings are much more important right now.

    Good luck to you!

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