Pa. High Court Won't Waive Bar Exam Requirement Over Virus

By Matt Fair
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Law360 (August 7, 2020, 7:54 PM EDT) -- Pennsylvania's chief justice said Friday that despite the threat posed by the coronavirus pandemic, the state would not sign off on a plan to allow this year's crop of law school graduates to begin practicing without taking the bar exam.

In a letter shared by the Pennsylvania Bar Association, Chief Justice Thomas Saylor said the state's Board of Law Examiners and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court had both agreed to forge ahead with plans to hold the state's bar exam online in October and not grant diploma privilege to 2020 law graduates.

"The board's considered opinion, which the court shares, is that it would not be appropriate to adopt an emergency diploma privilege this year," Chief Justice Saylor said in the letter. "Plans are proceeding to administer the bar exam remotely in October."

The Pennsylvania Bar Association proposed allowing graduates of accredited law schools who signed up to take the bar exam before June 30 to begin practicing law contingent on passing the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination and meeting certain character and fitness qualifications.

The state would have joined a growing list, including Louisiana, Oregon, Utah and Washington, that have agreed to grant diploma privilege in light of the pandemic.

David Schwager, a partner with Chariton Schwager & Malak who serves as the PBA's president, said he respected the decision by the board and the court.

"The PBA board felt that, given the unprecedented situation which these bar exam candidates face, it would not be inappropriate to have taken the extreme step of granting them diploma privilege," he said.

"We respect the decision of the Board of Law Examiners and of the Supreme Court and are confident that they will take all necessary and appropriate steps to assure a smooth bar exam for this year's graduates — an exam environment which takes into account both the stressful nature of the exam under normal circumstances and the added stresses related to COVID-19."

The state's Board of Law Examiners announced in July that, after postponing that month's usual bar exam sitting, it was going to press forward with plans to hold the test online in October.

Administering the test online, however, has presented challenges in at least one other state.

In Michigan, the first state to administer a bar exam online, an apparent cyberattack launched last last month in the middle of the test left individuals unable to access the second portion of the exam and forced the state's Supreme Court to extend the time allotted for the test.

--Editing by Adam LoBelia.

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