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COVID-19 prompts ABA to urge limited practice for law grads

April 13, 2020

The American Bar Association is supporting a growing effort by state lawyer licensing agencies to adopt emergency rules that would authorize recent and upcoming law school graduates who cannot take a bar exam because of the COVID-19 pandemic to engage in a limited practice of law.

The resolution’s report noted that enormous legal needs will continue to grow and that graduating law students could serve the public.

The resolution’s report noted that enormous legal needs will continue to grow and that graduating law students could serve the public.

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On April 7, the ABA Board of Governors approved new ABA policy that encourages state licensing authorities to allow 2019 and 2020 graduates of ABA-approved law schools to practice under the supervision of a licensed attorney if the July bar exam in their jurisdiction is canceled or postponed due to public health and safety concerns arising from the coronavirus pandemic. Nationwide, either the highest court or a bar admission group in each jurisdiction regulates licensing procedures for their states and territories.

A handful of jurisdictions have already postponed their scheduled July bar exam. Some states, such as Tennessee and New Jersey, have adopted new rules to mitigate a hardship or disruption in the law graduate’s career. Others are expected to follow. The ABA recommendation would apply only to first-time bar takers and these individuals would have until the end of 2021 to practice without passing the bar exam.

“In this time of unprecedented change as we address the challenges of the world pandemic, the ABA is leading the profession to be resilient,” ABA President Judy Perry Martinez said. “By justifiably postponing bar examinations, states are protecting law students and the public’s health, but the lives and careers of law graduates are being adversely affected. We are offering guidance to state bar admission authorities that will assist them while still taking every precaution to guarantee clients are competently and professionally served.”

The resolution’s report noted that legal needs “are already enormous and will continue to grow,” and that tens of thousands of graduating law students could “serve the public in this crisis” and improve access to justice for all U.S. residents.

While the approximate 600 members of the ABA House of Delegates typically set policy at the ABA Midyear and Annual Meetings, ABA rules allow the Board of Governors to consider resolutions from ABA entities on urgent ABA or national issues between meetings of the House. This has happened, however, only a handful of times in several decades.

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