The COVID-19 pandemic has upended much of the country's life, and bar exams are no exception. States faced difficult questions about whether to administer the test in July, and continue to debate whether to administer it online this fall or cancel it completely and grant diploma privilege to qualified graduates, so the new lawyers can start practicing.
For its part, at its 2020 Annual Meeting in August, the ABA House of Delegates approved Resolution 10G, which asks the highest court or bar admission authority in each state or other licensing jurisdiction to cancel the bar exam or not administer it in person during the COVID-19 crisis unless cleared by public health authorities. While the resolution mentions diploma privilege as one of several alternative approaches to the bar exam during the crisis, it does not favor any specific option.
The National Conference of Bar Examiners website tracks which states held the exam in person, postponed it, held it in July and will offer it again in the fall, will offer it remotely later, or offered diploma privilege. There are also differences among states about whether to accept scores from other jurisdictions where the exam was given remotely, with many states forming reciprocity agreements with each other.
In addition to checking the NCBE website, scanning recent issues of Bar Leader Weekly offers a quick review of what’s been going on in states where there was a strong push for diploma privilege as opposed to a rescheduled in-person exam or a remote exam. For example:
- In June, deans from all three law schools in Oregon wrote to urge the Oregon Supreme Court to allow diploma privilege (June 24, 2020 issue).
- In July, the Louisiana Supreme Court issued an order granting diploma privilege for certain applicants, while the Illinois Supreme Court rejected a petition along similar lines (July 29, 2020 issue).
- In August, though it didn’t opt for full diploma privilege, the Florida Supreme Court—after that state experienced repeated problems with its bar exam—announced it would allow temporary practice under supervision (September 2, 2020 issue).