New York may be one of the states performing comparatively well when it comes to COVID right now, but it’s a state that realizes all of these successes come from not taking unnecessary risks. The state was one of the first to cancel the summer bar exam — which seemed like a bold move in March — but now appears to be the absolute bare minimum of common sense. This is the point where we remind everyone that states with surging infections right now from Virginia to Colorado are going ahead with the July exam because malfeasance loves company.
So even though New York is on the mend, with the rest of the country on track to control COVID on roughly the 12th of Never, New York’s September in-person bar exam is shaping up to be a superspreader event waiting to happen.
This morning, the New York Court of Appeals received a letter sporting over 1,500 signatures demanding a hearing to delve into the public health concerns about the upcoming bar exam:
With the exam a mere eight weeks away, examinees have begun studying in earnest. Preparing to take the bar is a full-time commitment, which often demands forty hours or more per week of study; even in non-pandemic conditions, this burden is a heavy one. It is time to revisit whether the exam, as the Court currently expects to administer it, is a reasonable and safe way to license a new class of attorneys during an ongoing, unprecedented health crisis.
The pandemic will not pause for bar study. COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have climbed precipitously throughout the country, indicating a nationwide failure to contain the pandemic. At the time of writing, the number of new cases nationally has increased by 68% in the past fourteen days. The United States has reached over 3 million reported cases and at least 132,000 deaths. It is likely that reported cases will continue to rise through the September exam date. An exam like New York’s, to which examinees typically travel from all over the nation, calls for a sober analysis of its potential risks.
In addition to the bleak numbers, the signatories also raise concerns over leaving the Board of Law Examiners handling the situation:
As many of us prepare to take the exam, the lack of transparency and clarity about the BOLE’s plans is a source of frustration and anxiety. Though the BOLE faces understandable and significant challenges in adapting to the current situation, it is unclear to law school graduates whether the board is aware of the myriad ways in which the pandemic affects our ability to study and sit for the bar exam. For instance, the BOLE initially directed graduates to sign up for exams in other jurisdictions, and many graduates followed this advice. However, graduates who registered in states that have moved their exams online are now left with no clear pathway to New York licensure. Further, graduates are unsure whether the BOLE has adequately considered suitable alternatives to the bar exam in response to these extraordinary circumstances.
This isn’t really a knock on the BOLE either. Without guidance from the Court of Appeals, they’re somewhat constrained in what they can do about this.
As the letter points out, Oregon, Utah, and California have all granted hearings to air impact statements and in some of those states, officials even stayed awake the whole time.
New York already has legislative proposals under consideration to allow the state to adopt diploma privilege. A hearing would be a proper precursor to making that a reality.
A full copy of the letter is available on the next page.
Earlier: New York Legislature Gets Involved In Push For Diploma Privilege
Law School Graduates Push For Diploma Privilege As A Matter Of Racial Justice
Joe Patrice is a senior editor at Above the Law and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. Feel free to email any tips, questions, or comments. Follow him on Twitter if you’re interested in law, politics, and a healthy dose of college sports news. Joe also serves as a Managing Director at RPN Executive Search.