Minnesota Might Allow Law Grads To Bypass Bar Exam

By Craig Clough
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Law360 (June 25, 2020, 10:43 PM EDT) -- The Minnesota Supreme Court announced Wednesday that it may allow recent law school graduates to forgo the bar exam during the COVID-19 health emergency and said it will take public comments on the idea over the next few weeks.

The move comes after a group of recent law graduates submitted a petition asking for the change. If it's adopted, Minnesota would become at least the third jurisdiction to allow graduates to skip the bar on a conditional basis, after Washington and Utah.

The petition asked the state high court to consider waiving the bar examination and grant diploma privilege for applicants to the Minnesota Bar already registered for the July, September and February bar exams who otherwise qualify for admission.

Citing the COVID-19 pandemic, the petitioners said, "These challenges create profound inequalities among applicants. These exceptional times resulted in significant public health and economic impacts throughout Minnesota which have been borne disproportionately by communities of color and low-wage workers. For this reason, administration of the bar exam will result in further disparate impacts."

The petition also stated that Latino Minnesotans test positive for COVID-19 at nine times the rate of white Minnesotans, and Black Minnesotans test positive eight times the rate of white Minnesotans.

"To preserve fairness and equity in provision of attorney licensure in light of these exceptional circumstances and substantial inequitable impacts, the court should waive the bar examination requirement and grant emergency diploma privilege for applicants," the petitioners said.

The petitioners also cited the extensive civil unrest that broke out in parts of Minnesota in May and June following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.

"The communities most deeply affected are largely immigrant communities, low-income communities, and communities of color," the petitioners said. "These inequalities have the potential to further disadvantage applicants from these groups in taking the bar exam."

The petitioners also argued that administering the July and September bar exam would be unsafe, as it requires applicants "to sit in large groups of 20-50 individuals for over seven hours over the course of two days, with the potential for groups above 50 to be in the same room separated into 'divided sections.'"

The petitioners also argued that an online exam may alleviate health concerns but would not "mitigate the emotional and physical hardship described herein."

Other jurisdictions have also been grappling with how to deal with the bar exam amid COVID-19. Earlier this month, the California Supreme Court said it was considering pushing back the summer bar exam to October after it had already delayed it to September. Washington, D.C., also moved its October bar exam online, and Delaware delayed its July test to September.

--Additional reporting by Hailey Konnath, Khorri Atkinson and Jeff Montgomery. Editing by Jay Jackson Jr.

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