New York Bar Exam Is Back On — Online This October

By Hailey Konnath
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Law360 (July 23, 2020, 10:34 PM EDT) -- New York's State Board of Law Examiners has announced that the September bar exam, which was canceled last week, will now happen online and in October, according to a notice posted Thursday.

The summer exam was initially set for July but had been pushed to Sept. 9-10. On July 16, the board canceled the test, citing the coronavirus pandemic and concerns about participant safety.

But on Thursday, the board said a remote version of the exam was back on for Oct. 5-6. Test-takers who've already registered for the September exam will be automatically registered for the new date, according to a notice from the New York Court of Appeals.

"Because public health conditions across the country have not adequately abated and the pandemic remains an active and ongoing threat to public health in a growing number of states, at this juncture, an in-person examination is not a viable option," New York Court of Appeals Chief Judge Janet DiFiore said in the notice.

Scott M. Karson, president of the New York State Bar Association, said in a statement Thursday that the move was a wise choice and provides "recent law graduates with a measure of certainty at a time when they face mounting student debt and a slow job market."

"We agree that a remote exam is not a perfect solution, but also concur that the benefits outweigh the potential shortcomings in affording the class of 2020 with a much-needed path to a law license, which they previously did not have," Karson said.

The court of appeals and board of examiners will also give careful consideration to waiver requests from candidates who graduated in 2019 or later, previously took the bar examination in New York and failed no more than two times, Judge DiFiore said.

And the court and board vowed to make "reasonable efforts" to address technological or testing space issues for examinees, per the notice.

The Court of Appeals previously loosened regulations to allow graduates who haven't yet taken the exam to practice law under the supervision of a licensed attorney, part of a so-called temporary authorization program. The program is available to all first-time takers of the bar examination employed in New York, including both law degree and Master of Laws degree candidates, irrespective of their graduation year, according to the court.

The court also assembled a working group to study the future of the bar exam in New York, including the potential implementation of a fully remote bar exam and a diploma privilege, among other things. Judge DiFore said Thursday that the October remote exam was recommended by that working group.

The working group also rejected a temporary diploma privilege option, noting that "the bar exam provides critical assurance to the public that admitted attorneys meet minimum competency requirements, emphasizing New York's immense candidate pool as well as the degree of variation in legal curricula across the country," the notice said.

New York joins a growing list of states pushing back the bar exam and moving it online. On Monday, Georgia also scheduled an online exam for Oct. 5-6, citing "public health concerns during the pandemic."

Last week, the California Supreme Court also pulled the trigger, pushing back the Golden State's exam for the second time and moving it online. The court also reduced its passing score from 1440 to 1390 and instructed the State Bar of California to create a provisional licensure program for 2020 law school graduates.

And a slew of other states have delayed the exam, made plans for online administration or both. Those include Massachusetts, Florida, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

--Additional reporting by Sarah Jarvis, Frank G. Runyeon, Chris Villani, Bill Wichert, Matt Fair, Rose Krebs and Nathan Hale. Editing by Emily Kokoll.

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