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D.C. Court of Appeals Cancels Bar Exam Over ‘Health Emergency’

April 15, 2020, 5:57 PM

The D.C. Court of Appeals has canceled the District of Columbia bar exam set for late July, falling in line with a growing number of jurisdictions revising their test plans in light of coronavirus pandemic.

The capital’s appellate court may decide to reschedule the exam for sometime in the fall, according to an order issued April 10 by Chief Judge Anna Blackburne-Rigsby. The court will decide whether it will shift to a fall exam by May 4.

“We do not make this decision lightly, understanding the impact it has on hundreds of recent law graduates and others seeking admission to the DC Bar,” Blackburne-Rigsby said just after issuing the order, according to a D.C. Courts statement. In her order, the judge referred to the “ongoing public health emergency” that has arisen from the virus.

Blackburne-Rigsby’s order doesn’t expressly specify that it’s weighing the possibility of extending emergency diploma privileges—which allow law school grads to practice without taking an exam—but it implicitly notes that it’s a solution they’re considering.

"(T)he Court is exploring interim measures, including expanding our rules to allow law school graduates seeking bar admission in D.C. to practice here on a temporary basis should this pandemic adversely affect our regular admissions process for an extended period,” the order states.

The National Conference of Bar Examiners earlier this month announced it will make exam materials available for two fall administrations of the test, on Sept. 9-10 and Sept. 30-Oct. 1.

Several states have delayed or canceled their bar exams slated for July 28-29, or are weighing whether to offer their exams only online. At the same time, they’re also studying whether to offer emergency diploma privileges that many law students in California and elsewhere are lobbying for.

On Tuesday, the California Bar’s Board of Trustees recommended that that state’s main bar exam should be postponed until September or canceled. The California Supreme Court, which will announce how it’s proceeding on April 22, is also determining whether a type provisional diploma privilege should be granted to law graduates.

According to one recent-year survey, the D.C. bar exam was the toughest in the country to pass, though other surveys have put D.C. bar pass rates as being closer to being in the middle of the national pack.

According to a 2016 survey published by the legal technology company CaseFleet, the D.C. bar had the lowest pass rate of any U.S. jurisdiction the previous year, at 42%, followed closely by the California bar, which had a 44% pass rate.

To contact the reporter on this story: Sam Skolnik in Washington at sskolnik@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jessie Kokrda Kamens at jkamens@bloomberglaw.com; Andrew Harris at aharris@bloomberglaw.com

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