As the COVID-19 pandemic continues its assault on more aspects of daily life in the United States, recent law school graduates are no exception. While in a traditional year students would be preparing to take the bar exam, COVID is having something to say about when, how, or even if law school graduates will be taking the bar exam as previously planned. Since each state is responsible for administering the exam to its prospective lawyers, many plans are being discussed or put into place as the pandemic rages on in various states.
While you may think all lawyers who practice law are required to pass the bar exam, that is not necessarily the case. In fact, many states across the country use what is known as “diploma privilege,” meaning students who have successfully graduated from law school do not need to take and pass the bar exam in order to practice law in their state. Though California is not a state that usually allows “diploma privilege,” many recent law school graduates may be among the first in the state to become licensed attorneys without passing the bar exam. Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, a group of students is asking the California Supreme Court to cancel the exam due to health concerns, and instead automatically grant the students state licensing.
In California and other states, law school graduates have additional concerns about the uncertainty surrounding the bar exam. In Minnesota, Florida, Arizona, Colorado, and countless other states, law school graduates have already been offered and have accepted positions with law firms. However, these job offers are contingent upon the graduates passing their state’s bar exam. However, as these and other states struggle to come up with viable solutions that will keep everyone safe, some law firms are hesitating about the job offers they have extended. Thus, until decisions are made one way or another regarding the bar exam, law school graduates are left in limbo regarding the test as well as their future career opportunities.
As public schools, colleges and universities, and even many companies across the U.S. have had people completing work and school assignments online, many states are considering making their bar exams online as well. Among these is Florida, where the idea has gained significant traction of late due to the surge in COVID-19 cases across the state. Fearful that a large gathering of exam takers could result in even more cases of COVID-19 in the state, the Florida Bar Association is moving to make the exam available online.
Though some states are considering offering the bar exam online or canceling it altogether in favor of “diploma privilege,” many states are also still planning to offer in-person testing. However, those doing so are planning to postpone the exam until late fall at the earliest, with some stating it may be early 2021 before the exam could be safely taken in-person. Under consideration in Arizona and other states, precautions such as plexiglass barriers, proper social distancing and cleaning procedures, and other methods are under consideration. In some extreme cases, it has been discussed that having the exam taken in an outdoor venue might be an option, since this might allow for easier social distancing and less likelihood the virus could be transmitted from person to person.
Since there is still so much uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 and how it will play out in various states over the coming months, law school graduates are having to scramble to adjust their plans accordingly. Whether it is making contingency plans in case a job offer is retracted or learning more about what an online version of the bar exam may look like, these and other questions are making an already difficult and stressful time for these graduates even harder. However, as they prepare for new careers, it is important to remember this too shall pass.