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'I got used to failure': Three-time bar flunker, now a lawyer

By Janine Blaize Caniw Published Apr 21, 2023 8:20 pm Updated Apr 23, 2023 10:13 am

Like many aspiring lawyers, my bar exam journey was no easy feat. I failed the bar three times to the point where I almost gave up. But let me tell you this: Life will always test us just before it will bless us.

Before I enrolled, I made a promise to myself that I will quit law school if I get a failing grade. Thankfully, I passed all my subjects, all while juggling work.

When I first took my bar exam, I was apprehensive yet confident that I can make it. From Grade 1 all the way through law school, I maintained an unblemished academic record with no failing grades. But that all changed. My first encounter with failure happened when I saw the exam results. I failed.

I was angry, shocked, and disappointed. I was so ashamed that I did not even bother to find out what my score was.

Just a fortnight after the release of the result, I secluded myself from others. I badly wanted to redeem myself. I started reviewing again in preparation for my second bar exam. I strove to recover. I did not attend any social gatherings because I felt like it was a waste of time. I punished myself and read all the review materials I could access. I read the previous bar questions from the 1990s to 2017.

When it was time for my second take, I felt hopeless. None of the things I reviewed came out.

I was emotionally unstable and I experienced multiple emotional breakdowns. I regretted what I did during the review. I only concentrated on the top bar topics and previous questions, which had been the trend.

And to no surprise, I did not make it again.

I passed three of the morning subjects and Criminal Law, but I got a low score in Remedial Law which made a huge difference in my average score. I blamed everything and everyone. I blamed the questions. I even considered the people around me as enemies.

I was consumed by depression and felt utterly lost in life. I also had no work at that time. 

Adding to my despair, I encountered individuals who would frequently suggest that I abandon my dream of becoming a lawyer and instead apply for positions as a teacher in a public school or as a police officer. These few people who did not believe in me took away all my confidence, leaving me feeling insecure, ashamed, enervated, and dispassionate.

I got used to failure that I no longer know how to feel anymore.

To make things worse, my bank account was completely depleted at that time, but I was too embarrassed to ask my parents again for financial support—all of these led me to have suicidal thoughts.

I was about to give up on life until I saw a light at the end of the tunnel. One of my aunts, who sadly passed away last year, generously offered her home as a place for me to stay during my review period. She even urged me to enroll in a review center and covered the associated fees. I was overwhelmed with gratitude, and once again, I devoted myself to studying for the bar exam.

Given all that I had endured during that period, my passion for reading had diminished significantly. I only read when I felt like it, without any strategies, plans, or schedules in place. Despite still grappling with emotional turmoil, I attempted to push those feelings aside. I felt like I had no choice, but to take the exam. That was the only road I knew back then.

I thought about deferring taking the exam, but I already invested so much and my pride would not allow me to take that route. I was not really ready, but I fought, yet regrettably. 

The COVID-19 pandemic arrived. The results of the bar examination came out and my name was not on the list—again.

Oddly, I felt okay. I got used to failure and I didn't know what to feel anymore. I knew I would not make it even before the results were released. I was only sure of one thing back then: that my dream slipped through my fingers, that it was already the end of my long road.

Just when I thought that I had no hope, the Supreme Court issued a resolution allowing online refresher courses for 3-time bar flunkers. I had a feeling that the universe conspired to give me a last chance to take the bar again, so I took it even though it was hard.

After receiving a grade of 98 in Commercial Law and good grades in other subjects, I somewhat regained confidence and hope that somehow, I still have a chance to pass the bar exam.

My past failures taught me the importance of working hard and having a strong foundation in the basic principles of law. So, I created a strict study schedule and stuck to it, sacrificing social outings with friends and limiting my time on social media. I selected only the necessary review materials and carefully chose who I interacted with. Above all, I refused to be swayed by the negativity and distractions around me and relied on prayer to keep me focused.

I feel no shame in openly sharing that I failed the bar exams not just once, but three times. This serves as a reminder for me to never forget my humble beginnings, the obstacles I overcame, and to remain grounded.

The 2022 Bar exam was rescheduled several times due to typhoons and the pandemic, but I always saw each delay as a blessing—a blessing for me to review more. The day before the exam, however, I cried so hard because I was doubting myself. The only comfort I had was knowing that I exerted my utmost effort and I improved my flawed strategy this time.

After finishing the exams, I relinquished all control to the Almighty and made a promise to myself. If my best efforts were still not enough to pass, maybe I am not deserving of the title "Atty." I had nothing more to give, and working abroad became my only option.

Then April 12, 2022 came like a blur. The list of successful Bar examinees was released. I was shaking while scrolling the list, perhaps due to fear, more than excitement. Then, I saw my name. I wept tears of happiness, experiencing a level of joy I had never felt before. It was at that moment that I truly understood the meaning of tears of joy. But more than the feeling of joy was a feeling of relief that I won’t have to take the Bar exam again and that I finally reached my dream.

I feel no shame in openly sharing that I failed the Bar not just once, but three times. This serves as a reminder for me to never forget my humble beginnings, the obstacles I overcame, and to remain grounded.

Throughout this journey, I have been sustained by the saving graces of my family, friends, relatives, fiancé, and my unrelenting faith in resilience and hope. Amidst all the challenges I went through, two people remain indelibly etched in my heart: my dear friend, Prosecutor Brenda Taberdo and Atty. Errol Comafay (and his family), the former dean of my law school. They have remained steadfast in their unwavering support, standing by me physically, emotionally, financially, and spiritually during every Bar exam. Without them, I would have given up and succumbed to the pressure. These graces have carried me through difficult times and they have brought more joy to the good times than I ever could have imagined.

Presently, I am fulfilling my promise to myself of helping the underprivileged as their defender and advocate by serving as a public defender now that I am a lawyer. Indeed, the number of attempts it takes for lawyers to achieve their dream does not matter. What truly counts is the way they leverage the title when they attained it.

We have different stories to tell. My progress is not the same as the progress of others.

For those who did not pass this year's Bar examination, do not lose heart and do not be discouraged. Do not also compare your life’s Chapter 2 to another person's Chapter 10.

Remember that success takes time and persistence is the key. Keep working hard and stay dedicated to your goals. Your hard work will pay off in the end.

Remember that setbacks and failures are a part of the process, but they do not define you. Keep pushing forward and always remember that even a tortoise can finish the race as long as it doesn't give up.