April 01, 2020

MONTH-IN-BRIEF: Legal Opinions & Ethics

Keith Fisher, Christina Houston

Professional Responsibility

COVID-19 and the July Bar Exam

By Keith R. Fisher

In the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic, eleven female law professors have authored a working paper urging immediate consideration by state bar authorities of alternatives to the July bar exam. Arguing that prohibitions on large gatherings are likely still to be in force, the paper offers six alternatives to licensing this year’s law graduates. The suggestions are (1) postpone the exam (which several states are considering); (2) administer it online (which would require the NCBE to reconfigure the uniform bar examination, which is now offered in more than half the states); (3) administer it in small groups of 10 people at a time; (4) provide a diploma privilege (akin to what Wisconsin offers graduates of its state law schools) to 2020 graduates of ABA-accredited law schools; (5) provide the diploma privilege in conjunction with satisfactory competition of additional education requirements; and (6) allow the graduates to practice only under the close supervision of a licensed attorney (which harkens back to the pre-legal academy days of “reading the law”—which is what Kim Kardashian has said she wants to do, which several U.S. Presidents (including John Adams, Abe Lincoln, and even Woodrow Wilson) did, and which several states still permit).

Impact of COVID-19 On CLE Requirements

By Keith R. Fisher

In view of the extreme dislocations caused by COVID-19 and the phenomena of teleworking, self-quarantine, state bans on gatherings above a specified number of people, and related events, many states that impose Continuing Legal Education (CLE) requirements on their practicing lawyers are adopting modifications. Some states are postponing CLE deadlines, either short-term (until late spring) or longer term (late summer or into the fall). By far the most common approach is to suspend in-person programs and allow satisfaction of CLE requirements via online offerings. Some states have a hybrid approach: postponing in-person CLE sessions but allowing satisfaction of the requirements online without regard to the postponement. 

During the current public health crisis, readers subject to mandatory CLE requirements should consult their state bar associations to ascertain how their CLE obligations may be satisfied. 

Keith Fisher

Principal Consultant and Senior Counsel, National Center for State Courts

An honors graduate of Princeton University and Georgetown University Law Center, Keith Fisher joined the National Center for State Courts in 2015 as Principal Consultant and Senior Counsel for Domestic and International Court Initiatives.  He is an experienced lawyer and law professor and is a nationally known expert on domestic and international financial services regulation and legal and judicial ethics.  Recent speaking engagements on domestic and international  ethics issues include the Center for Judicial Ethics National Judicial College, the International Conference on Court Excellence in Singapore, the Professional Responsibility Training Session for Immigration Judges, an American-Hellenic Chamber of Commerce Symposium on Improving the Greek Court System, the Magistrature de Quebec’s Colloque soulignant les 40 ans du Conseil de la magistrature, the U.N.’s Global Judicial Integrity Network conference on social media in Vienna, and the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung’s conference on judicial ethics and social media..  He also serves on the Board of Editors for UNESCO publications on judicial bioethics.

Christina Houston

Counsel, DLA Piper

Christina’s practice focuses on legal opinions, LLCs, partnerships, trusts and corporations and general commercial transactions. Christina is a member of the Partnership and Limited Liability Company Committee of the Corporation Law Section of the Delaware State Bar Association, which is responsible for annually reviewing and updating Delaware’s partnership and LLC statutes. Christina also is actively involved in the Legal Opinions Committee of the American Bar Association Business Law Section, the Committee on LLCs, Partnerships and Unincorporated Business Associations and the Business Law Basics Committee of the Business Law Section of the American Bar Association. She is the current Chair of the Opinion Issues in LLCs Subcommittee. Christina is a member of the TriBar Opinion Committee.