The New York Board of Law Examiners has canceled the state’s September bar exam as a result of ongoing concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic.
“In light of accelerating public health concerns and continuing governmental restrictions, the Board of Law Examiners has concluded that an in-person bar exam cannot be safely administered on September 9-10, 2020,” officials wrote late July 16 on the New York Board of Law Examiners website. “Participants’ health and safety must remain our top priority and, because conditions have not sufficiently improved, the September exam has been canceled.”
The biannual test for lawyers seeking admission to practice in the Empire State had been scheduled for September. The decision comes as several states are grappling with how to handle the bar exam during the ongoing pandemic.
The California Supreme Court is announced late Thursday that it is delaying the state’s online bar examination and allowing law school graduates to seek temporary licenses to practice.
“The Board arrived at this decision after careful consideration of current conditions and with a singular focus on the health and safety of all participants,” New York Chief Judge Janet DiFiore said in a statement announcing the decision. “Unfortunately, the global pandemic presents a persisting threat in a growing number of states and therefore, at this juncture, an in-person exam is not yet a safe or practical option in New York.”
In March, the New York Court of Appeals announced that the exam would be rescheduled for the fall, instead of July. One month later, the court approved a program designed to allow for qualified law graduates to receive temporary licenses, if they agree to be supervised by a qualified attorney.
At least six states, including Massachusetts, Michigan, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, and Nevada, as well as the District of Columbia, will offer online exams this year for the first time. Utah, Washington, and Oregon have agreed to grant emergency “diploma privileges” to certain law school graduates, an option now pushed by newly formed activist groups around the country.
Next Steps Unclear
It’s possible that New York might end up administering an online test, or decide to grant a “diploma privilege” option, which would allow law school graduates to gain the right to practice without taking a bar exam.
DiFiore also announced Thursday that she has assembled a working group, to be chaired by retired Court of Appeals Judge Howard Levine, to study the future of the bar exam in New York. The working group will decide whether to opt in favor of fully remote, or online, bar exam, or whether to allow for diploma privilege.
A state bar association task force on March 30 already rejected the idea of diploma privilege. The group warned that “the absence of an examination would create unacceptable risks that persons lacking minimum competence to practice law would gain admission in New York.”
Scott Karson, president of the New York State Bar Association, said his group will “promptly review” the matter and make recommendations on how best to proceed.
“The class of 2020 has been dealt a difficult hand and many graduates are experiencing stress and strain over the uncertainty surrounding the bar exam, a grim job market, and staggering student debt,” said Karson. “NYSBA will expeditiously examine the alternatives, taking into account the interests of consumers of legal services as well as the law school graduates seeking admission to the New York bar.”