The State Bar of California announced Thursday that its Board of Trustees has recommended that the California Supreme Court either postpone the state’s bar exam from July to September or cancel it.
About 9,000 law school graduates were expected to take the two-day exam, needed to gain a license to practice law, on July 28 and 29.
In a letter sent to the state high court on Wednesday, the trustees said it is “not feasible to administer an in-person exam” in July in the situation caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
The San Francisco-based bar, which licenses and regulates the state’s more than 250,000 lawyers, is an arm of the California Supreme Court, and thus the court will decide on what action to take.
The trustees told the court their preferred option would be to postpone the exam to September 9 and 10 while making preparations to administer it online, in person or both, as needed by whatever social distancing requirements are in effect then.
The other option suggested is to cancel the exam, while convening a working group to make recommendations for the provisional certification of law school graduates to work as lawyers while under the supervision of an experienced attorney.
The working group would propose criteria for eligibility for provisional certification and the conditions under which the provisional certification would terminate. Other requirements for a law license, including moral character screening, would remain in place.
The trustees said the recommendations sought to balance the needs to be fair to applicants, protect the public by verifying that lawyers are competent and make sure that attorneys are available to the public.
The trustees wrote:
“Access to justice is even more critical now, as Californians are losing jobs, homes and educational opportunities and are being subject to predatory behavior of unscrupulous individuals. This is not the time to slow the numbers of qualified lawyers entering the profession.”
At least 10 other states, including New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut, have also postponed bar exams until the fall or indefinitely, and other states are considering similar measures, according to the National Conference of Bar Examiners.
On April 7, the American Bar Association Board of Governors adopted a resolution urging states to adopt emergency rules allowing law school graduates who can’t take a July bar exam to engage in the limited practice of law under supervision of an attorney.