New York Cancels September Bar Exam Due To Pandemic

By Sarah Jarvis
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Law360 (July 16, 2020, 5:41 PM EDT) -- The New York State Board of Law Examiners announced Thursday that the bar exam scheduled for Sept. 9-10 is canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic and concerns about participant safety.

"An in-person exam is not yet a safe or practical option in New York," the state said Thursday. (iStock.com/smolaw11)

The board said it will announce how application fees paid by candidates registered for the September exam will be handled once a determination is made regarding a future exam. The exam had already been rescheduled from an original date in July.

"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," an announcement on the New York Court of Appeals' website said.

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, as part of a so-called temporary authorization program. The court said 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.

"Candidates may remain in the program through their formal admission to the bar, so long as candidates pass their first bar examination no later than 2021 and promptly seek admission to the bar following the release of exam results," the Court of Appeals said.

Qualified candidates can apply for authorization through the department of the Appellate Division in which they expect to be certified for admission by the Board of Law Examiners, according to the court. Application forms are available on each department's website, and the Appellate Division will begin processing applications July 22.

The Court of Appeals also said Chief Judge Janet DiFiore has 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.

Scott M. Karson, president of the New York State Bar Association, said in a statement Thursday that the organization will "promptly review 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," Karson said in the statement. "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."

New York legislators are considering at least two bills regarding the bar exam in light of the pandemic. One recently proposed bill would grant temporary diploma privilege, while another another would allow the state's public defender and government law graduates who have twice failed the bar exam to continue to practice under supervision for the duration of New York's coronavirus state of emergency.

--Additional reporting by Frank G. Runyeon. Editing by Abbie Sarfo.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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