How might the coronavirus affect swearing-in ceremonies?
As state bar exam results are flowing in, bar exam takers are anxious for swearing-in ceremonies. However, the coronavirus (COVID-19) may halt this process, or at least change its format. It is important to note that every state has different rules for swearing-in ceremonies, so it is imperative that you check your state court’s website for the most up-to-date information.
In this post, we cover some thoughts and information on how the coronavirus might affect swearing-in ceremonies.
UPDATE 5/6/20: it appears most states are holding swearing-in ceremonies online, including Michigan.
How might the coronavirus affect swearing-in ceremonies?
A swearing-in ceremony is supposed to be a time for you and your family to gather and celebrate your accomplishments. However, the coronavirus pandemic has led to a limitation on the size of gatherings and the postponement of many court proceedings. Thus, swearing-in ceremonies for new attorneys could look different from years past.
Depends on the court
We believe this will be true across the country. Each court will likely have its own way of handling swearing-in ceremonies. For example, Florida does not require prospective attorneys to attend a formal ceremony, so this is not an issue there.
How the court will conduct swearing-in ceremonies will most likely depend on how the court is handling motions. This is because a swearing-in ceremony usually is a motion made by an attorney sponsor. The motion is asking the court to admit the potential attorney to practice law.
We suggest looking on your local court’s website to see what their process is for handling motions due to the coronavirus. This information will at least give you an idea of how the court might handle swearing-in ceremonies.
Virtual swearing-in ceremony
One option is that swearing-in ceremonies will be held virtually. Possibly over a video platform or phone call. This is how it will work in New York! The Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of the State of New York recently announced that they will “soon be resuming the admission process that had been paused due to the present public health crisis. Virtual admission ceremonies will be conducted for eligible candidates. Character and fitness interviews may also be waived or conducted virtually.” King County in Washington and Illinois are holding mass virtual swearing-in ceremonies. Plus, the Supreme Court of the United States is hearing oral arguments over the phone, for the first time ever. So, anything is possible!
Smaller swearing-in ceremonies
Usually, prospective attorneys have the option of a private or public swearing-in ceremony. However, due to the limitations on large gatherings, courts may not allow public swearing-in ceremonies. These can bring in hundreds of people. Instead, they could choose to hold smaller swearing-in ceremonies on different dates/times. The courts can hold these in compliance with social distancing guidelines. There also could be more private swearing-in ceremonies, to the extent the courts can hold them.
An unfortunate option is that the swearing-in ceremonies will be postponed until a later date. This is the case in Massachusetts, where swearing-in ceremonies are postponed until further notice.
Many courts are postponing trials, motions, and deadlines due to the coronavirus. Other courts are taking all proceedings online. And, other courts are completely closed. Thus, there is a question of whether a swearing-in ceremony is essential enough for the court to find time for it. This ultimately is a question for each state and court.
However, there may be an opportunity to practice without a license in the meantime using the emergency diploma privilege in your state. Read more about the emergency diploma privilege here. Go here for the states that have adopted this and see if the rules apply to your situation.
Continue as planned
If stay-at-home orders are lifted soon, maybe swearing-in ceremonies can proceed as planned! However, it is unclear whether courts and judges will be scheduling these in advance, due to the uncertainty of the shutdown.
If it is not urgent that you be admitted to practice, consider delaying your swearing-in ceremony. It is possible this could be scheduled in-person at a later date when the courts are back at full capacity. If you were looking forward to an in-person swearing-in ceremony, postponing your swearing-in ceremony might be a good choice!
No matter how and when swearing-in ceremonies will be conducted, we are confident that new attorneys will not be denied this opportunity. Some states require the ceremony to practice law.
If you are able to have a swearing-in ceremony, hopefully it will be a memorable session. Possibly plan a dinner after with your family, depending on what the social distancing guidelines permit. We suggest dressing up in a formal suit for the occasion, even if it is virtual! Here is a post we wrote on how to create a perfect swearing-in ceremony that you may find helpful.
If you are looking for work, make sure to read our post on how the coronavirus might affect the legal job market. And, here is JD Advising’s take on how the coronavirus might affect summer internships and clerkships.
If you still have not received your bar exam results, check out this post on how the coronavirus might impact the grading of the February 2020 bar exam. Want weekly tips while waiting for results? We are here to help! Sign up here! If you are interested, this post covers bar exam pass rates.
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