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Coronavirus Pandemic Creates Bar Exam Chaos

Coronavirus Pandemic Creates Bar Exam Chaos

Postby smix » Sat Jul 18, 2020 2:24 pm

Coronavirus Pandemic Creates Bar Exam Chaos
Wall Street Journal

URL: https://www.wsj.com/articles/coronaviru ... 1594990800
Category: businessNews
Published: Fri, 17 Jul 2020 09:00:00 -0400

Description: Support rises to skip test this year, as some states plan in-person exams even as virus cases increase
The bar exam has been thrown into turmoil by the coronavirus pandemic. As some states prepare to hold in-person bar exams this month, a groundswell of support is building to abolish this year’s test altogether. As some states prepare to hold in-person exams this month, and others plan for delayed or online tests, a groundswell of support is building to abolish this year’s test altogether. “Any other option is truly unworkable,” said L. Song Richardson, the dean at the University of California, Irvine School of Law. She said she has heard from recent graduates about “the pain, the suffering, the anxiety, the housing insecurity…and the inability to make a living,” caused by the pandemic and testing uncertainty. Most law jobs require passing the bar exam, an hourslong test given every February and July. In addition to the hurdles to preparation caused by the pandemic, graduates this year worry about exposing themselves to the novel coronavirus at in-person exams with hundreds of people. Online exams can disadvantage those without proper technology, and offering multiple in-person dates for the same test has traditionally been avoided because of possible cheating. So far, three states—Oregon, Utah and Washington—have created a path for graduates to become lawyers without a bar exam. Other states, including Minnesota and Nebraska, have rejected calls to invoke “diploma privilege,” which grants a law license to those who graduated from law school and meet other basic requirements but haven’t taken the test. Montana’s highest court rankled corners of the legal community this week by ruling that the 90 people taking the state’s bar exam must appear in person in late July. The court wrote that awarding diploma privilege could allow 14 or 15 people to become lawyers who wouldn’t otherwise—a “harm this court sought to avoid when it eliminated diploma privilege some 30 years ago.” The stakes are much higher elsewhere. New York typically has 10,000 people take their July bar exam. In California, which said Thursday it would hold an online October exam, the number surpasses 8,000. A bill proposed by New York Democratic state Sen. Brad Hoylman would allow 2020 graduates of accredited law schools to become lawyers there without the bar exam. The state’s highest court Thursday canceled an in-person test scheduled for September and said it would weigh other options. Florida, Texas, Louisiana and other states recently scrapped plans to hold in-person exams this month. More than a dozen others, including Colorado, Oklahoma and North Carolina, are still planning for live testing July 28. All three states have seen new coronavirus infections steadily rise in recent weeks. As states continually shift the date and format of bar exams, graduates have struggled to adjust study schedules. Job start dates for some have been pushed back, and others are scrambling to find employers willing to hire them amid the uncertainty. Kayla Beckler, a University of Denver Sturm College of Law graduate, has been caring for her toddlers while squeezing in bar-exam study at night—far less time than the 40 hours a week her bar preparation course recommends. After a kidney autotransplant and other recent medical procedures, she worries about getting Covid-19 or passing it to her husband and children who all have asthma. “I have to decide between risking all of our health or waiting until almost April to be fully licensed,” said Ms. Beckler, 27 years old. With student debt piling up and her husband’s hours at an auto repair shop cut, she says she has to take the exam. She is still looking for a full-time job after a position with the local public defender’s office was rescinded because of the pandemic. Colorado, like New York and some other states, is allowing graduates to temporarily practice law without the bar exam under the supervision of a practicing lawyer. They will still be expected to take the bar exam in 2021, however. Many graduates say finding employers willing to hire them under that option has still been difficult, particularly in public interest agencies that don’t have enough staffing and funding to hire lawyers who can’t handle their own cases. Jessica Yates, the attorney regulation counsel for the Colorado Supreme Court, acknowledged “the stresses being experienced by those studying for the bar exam, which are high even in an ordinary year.” However, she said, the state needs to ensure lawyers have a minimum competency. It expects 600 to 650 graduates to take in-person exams this month. Diversity advocates have long criticized the bar exam for favoring those who have the financial wherewithal to study for months on end, putting students of lower socioeconomic means and in minority communities at a disadvantage. Bar preparation courses can cost upward of $2,000 and recommend studying for 400 hours. Thousands of graduates, law school deans, politicians and practicing lawyers have signed petitions calling for diploma privilege. Even online exams, those petitioning say, are unworkable for those without stable internet, with child-care responsibilities, or with disabilities in need of special accommodations. “The bar exam does not exist to test our ability to be a lawyer, it only exists to test your privilege,” said Kayla Smith, a recent Brooklyn Law School graduate who has advocated for waiving the test this year.
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