Alternatives to the bar exam proposed
Update 4/6/20: The New York State Bar Association (NYSBA) Task Force on the New York Bar Exam came out with an update recommending a few things, including that the written portion be replaced with an exam focusing on New York law but keep the MBE, “[c]onsider a New York law Certification program that would allow people to forego the bar exam entirely, and “[c]onsider an experiential learning pilot program.”
In light of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, state bar exams are being canceled and state boards are looking for ways to license potential attorneys with alternatives to the bar exam. Some ideas have been proposed by states, and other ideas are simply being requested by students over the internet.
In this post, we explore some of the alternatives to the bar exam proposed by states and potential attorneys, plus our take on whether these ideas have any weight to them. To be clear, JD Advising does not have any insider information and any views expressed in this post are mere speculation.
Alternatives to the bar exam proposed
New York was the first state to announce that its July 2020 bar exam is postponed. Massachusetts and Connecticut later followed with the decision to propone the exam until the fall. Check here for JD Advising’s list of states that are delaying until the fall.
The National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) plans to make a decision by May 5 as to whether it will release the MBE, MPT, and MEE for the July 2020 exam. Regardless, the NCBE announced that it would administer a fall exam. And, it is ultimately up to the individual states whether they want to go through with the July 2020 exam.
Additionally, whether each state chooses to license its law school graduates in a different way is up to the state. Thus, some states have proposed alternatives to the bar exam amid the coronavirus pandemic:
The Task Force on the New York Bar Examination stated that it wants to have an alternative ready in case the fall bar exam cannot happen. It proposed to “expand the existing provisions for supervised practice.”
The report states that at this time, government agencies and legal-aid organizations can apply to allow law school students and graduates to engage in law practice activities while waiting to pass the bar exam. The task force proposes expanding this rule to private practice.
Law school grads that failed the bar exam twice would not be eligible to use this, according to the report.
If the fall exam happens, the task force proposes not using this rule. If the fall bar exam ends up being canceled due to the coronavirus, then this is an alternative proposed that would allow graduates to practice while waiting for the next bar exam administration.
We are surprised by this proposal. This would allow these potential attorneys to practice, but this also means that they will have to wait until February 2021 to take the bar exam (and thus longer to get results). We do not know how much weight the task force carriers and to be honest, we would be a bit surprised if this passed. However, we are in unprecedented times and no one can predict how this might play out.
The diploma privilege is, according to the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s website, “a set of course and grade requirements which, if fulfilled, allowed one to be admitted to practice without taking a bar exam. Wisconsin is now alone in retaining this privilege.”
Students are pushing for this online through a petition to the NCBE. Law students in California also sent a letter to the California State Bar pushing for the diploma privilege. New York law students also sent a letter to the New York State Bar Association asking for this.
It seems unlikely at this time that states will go this route. But again, we are living in unprecedented times.
The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts stated in a letter dated March 30, 2020: “even if limitations on large gatherings in the autumn were to prevent the traditional administration of the Massachusetts bar examination, we will devise an alternative means to test applicants for Massachusetts bar admission. In short, graduating law students will have an opportunity this autumn, but not this summer, to be admitted to the Bar of Massachusetts.”
The letter does not clarify what the “alternative means” are. It is likely that the state does not know at this time. The alternative means could be the other options mentioned in this blog post or something different altogether.
Even if your state postponed its July 2020 bar exam, examinees should be encouraged by the fact that states are doing everything in their power to get graduates licensed. Also, to be clear, these are only proposals at this point—everything could go as planned in some states for the July 2020 exam, or a fall 2020 exam might also proceed.
No plans are set in stone at this point. JD Advising encourages students to continue monitoring online and JD Advising’s blog for updated information.
Looking for other information?
Wondering how the coronavirus might impact law school graduation? Check out our post!
You can also sign up for our free early bar prep tips here! We will include coronavirus updates in the early bar prep tips—so you will be the first to know any important updates!
Also, check out this blog post on how to prep for the bar during the coronavirus outbreak.
In the meantime, we have some great tips on how to pay attention in online law school classes. (If you need help with law school classes/finals, we are here for you! JD Advising offers law school tutoring virtually. You will get the same experience as being in person and the same materials!)
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