executive bar review

March 31, 2020 Update

Please read to the end for a discussion of the ill-advised “Diploma Privilege” request to the State Bar on 3/30.

March 30, 2020 Update

As a reminder, the timely deadline to register for the July 2020 California Bar Exam is Wednesday, April 1st.  As of today’s, date, the exam is scheduled to take place at the end of July. We anticipate, that consistent with a news advisory released by the State of New York, the possibility exists that the California Bar Exam may be moved to the Fall.  With that said, California will still administer two bar exams, (one in the Fall and one in February) so we encourage all prospective applicants to register very soon.  Spaces at the currently available locations are filling up rapidly, and the State Bar California may decide to limit the number of bar applicants for each sitting.  

By Executive Bar Review

We are receiving many questions surrounding the administration of the July 2020 California Bar Exam. 

• How will it be administered?

• Will it be canceled?

• Will it be delayed?

• How does a potential delay or cancellation affect my ability to practice law?

• What if I am already an attorney seeking admission to California?

• What if I have an offer pending admission? 

• Will California offer temporary reciprocity with other jurisdictions? 

As experts on the California Bar Exam, we also find ourselves in unchartered territory.  But because we have immersed ourselves in the California Bar Exam for well over 20 years, we do have knowledge and perspective on how this should, in fact, shake out. So, let’s break this down:

If the exam proceeds in July, how will it be administered? 

California is unique in that is has the largest bar exam population in the country.  An average of 16,000 applicants sit for the California bar exam each year.  The July exam has the largest applicant pool, and so traditionally thousands of applicants are put into large hotel ballrooms or convention centers to take the test.  Even assuming the social distancing mandate is softened in the coming months, it is doubtful that crowds of this magnitude will be the norm come this July. The possibility of multiple exam locations might work for smaller States, but the logistics of providing hundreds of exam locations in California would seem untenable.  

Another option then would be to administer the exam online.  California already uses exam software during the exam that disables a hard drive and prevents the possibility of cheating.  Technology exists that tracks eye movement which could provide an additional safeguard. We already provide accommodations for applicants who cannot for whatever reason take the exam in a crowded room. As we saw last year with the “accidental leak” of what subjects were to be tested last July, the State Bar of California is on high alert concerning the integrity of this exam. If necessary, the State Bar will administer the exam electronically. 

Will the July 2020 exam be canceled?

Again, California has the largest number of exam applicants in the country.  Canceling the exam will have major repercussions.  Not only will recent law graduates be stuck in a holding pattern unable to secure employment, but many associate jobs are conditioned upon admission to the California Bar.  This is an option the examiners are unlikely to take. 

Will the July 2020 exam be delayed?

Looking more and more likely.  But delayed until when?  We do have two exams per year, and delaying the July exam poses problems for grading, result release dates, application deadlines, etc.  Delaying would cause more problems than canceling the July exam altogether.

How does a delay or cancellation affect my ability to practice law?  

For applicants waiting for February Bar results, the ability to practice will be dependent on passing the exam as well as meeting the other requirements of admission. For those graduating this year, individual law firms might, at their own discretion, allow new associates to work at firms under the direct supervision of licensed attorneys.  Similar to what a summer associate might do.  Law firms do not have the ability to individually license applicants – doing so would subject them to multiple ethic violations and engaging in the unauthorized practice of law.

What if I am an attorney licensed in another jurisdiction?

As we all know, California does not offer reciprocity for out of state attorneys. Attorneys licensed in other states may practice in California to a limited extent as in-house attorneys or as legal services attorneys in accordance with the Supreme Court and State Bar rules.   This multijurisdictional practice program is very limited. Pro Hac Vice is available if an attorney does not work or conduct regular business in California. Should this be the case, an attorney licensed in another state must formally request permission from the court if they wish to appear on behalf of a client.  This option is not available if an attorney resides or works in California.  California MIGHT soften this requirement temporarily in order to accommodate out of State attorneys but doing so, again, compromises the integrity of the State Bar and poses additional problems regarding exam administration. 

So now what?

With rising concerns over the spread of the novel Coronavirus, many law schools and law firms are operating remotely, and studying and work are completed from the comfort of home. The reality of the situation is that the bar exam must be administered. Canceling the exam or delaying it as stated above causes many more problems than finding a way to administer it this July.  Our advice to all prospective applicants is to proceed with your bar prep as if the exam will take place this July.  There is only upside to this approach. If anything, you will be that much more prepared. Remember that California has the lowest pass rate in the country, so think of this as an opportunity to simply increase your odds at passing.  As we have said for years and years, the only way to master the California Bar Exam is to practice. COV-19 is giving us more time in our day. This virus will pass, and the exam will be administered. The silver lining in all this is that if you use this time now, statistically you will be more likely to pass the bar than before this all started.  

Addendum 3/31/2020

Why offering a Diploma Privilege to recent law school graduates is a bad idea in California

Enacting the Diploma privilege in California because of the COVID-19 outbreak is a recipe for unmitigated disaster.  

Recently, a few dozen law students and a few law professors requested that the State Bar of California enact this privilege whereby graduates would automatically be admitted to the State Bar of California in lieu of having to take and pass the July 2020 California Bar Exam.  Close to sixteen thousand applicants take the California Bar Exam every year and over half of them fail the exam.  But we should just admit everyone to practice and ignore whether these applicants are actually competent to practice law?  

The California Bar Exam is the country’s most difficult exam to pass for a reason.  We allow applicants to take the exam as many times as needed to pass, and we allow applicants to sit for the bar even if they completed their law degree online or from an unaccredited law school.  The California Bar Exam is not a barrier to entry, but it does at least test some level of competence.  Doing away with this exam on an emergency basis not only jeopardizes the integrity of the profession but it opens up many ethical questions, including whether these applicants are de facto engaging in the unauthorized practice of law. 

There will be a bar exam – there will be many, many bar exams.  This is a minor delay that will correct itself in short order.  And how unfair would it be to simply allow Spring 2020 graduates a “pass” into the profession?  The California Bar Exam requires months of preparation; in essence, a complete and thorough review of the knowledge and skills mastered in law school.  This additional layer of legal competence operates as a benefit to prospective clients. Many graduates “skated” through law school, and without the bar exam, they will just skate right into practice, or quite frankly, malpractice.

Things are difficult for everyone right now, and a postponed bar exam might delay prospective employment opportunities.  Under normal circumstances 2020 graduates would take the California Bar Exam in July, they would receive their results at the end of November, and the earliest they would be sworn into practice would be in early December.  That is nine months away.  Granting a diploma privilege would allow graduates to start practicing as soon as next month.  That makes no sense whatsoever. If the California Bar Examiners decide to postpone the July 2020 exam to the Fall, they certainly could speed up the grading process to allow applicants admission by December.  That is by far the most logical approach to this situation.  Law firms and the legal community can accommodate this temporary delay in admission. The accommodation should not be one made by the State Bar of California.  

Executive Bar Review is here to answer any questions about the exam and help you to obtain your license to practice in California. We will keep you all updated as this situation unfolds.

For more information about Executive Bar Review’s private tutorial services visit our home and about pages linked here.