June 11th, 2020 Update
COVID-19: The Ebb and Flow of the 2020 California Bar Exam
As California Bar Exam applicants await instructions on how the bar exam will be administered in light of COVID-19, the California Supreme Court yesterday threw yet another wrench into the ever-changing cycle of licensing drama.
In a prior missive, the California Supreme Court gave directives to the State Bar of California to come up with a viable work plan for the administration of a September 2020 California Bar Exam. Consistent with that request, on May 11th, the State Bar presented the Court a detailed timeline for a September 9-10 Bar Examination. Although the details of how that exam would ultimately be administered are still unclear, applicants began to make plans in preparation for the early Fall exam.
Now, in a letter dated June 10, 2020, the State Supreme Court is exploring the option of moving the California Bar exam to October 5-6, 2020. The National Conference of Bar Examiners on June 1stagreed to support jurisdictions with an emergency remote testing option for local admission during the COVID-19 pandemic. That remote exam will be made available on October 5-6; after all current bar exam dates are completed.
All prospective California Bar applicants however should keep in mind that the decision to yet again move the exam is not final, and all efforts to continue a study plan with the September 9-10 exam in mind is strongly encouraged. The State Bar of California has made it clear that they are not changing any registration deadlines to accommodate the possibility of an October test.
We will continue to provide applicants with updated information, and we will provide further guidance on how applicants should undertake a study plan with fluid timelines.
May 12th, 2020 Update
State Bar Workplan for upcoming Bar Examination
On May 11th the State Bar of California unveiled its work plan (follow the link to PDF) for the delivery of the September 2020 California Bar Exam.
On April 27th, The California Supreme Court directed the State Bar to come up with a viable plan to administer the California Bar Exam in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. TheState Bar was asked to address issues surrounding exam security and integrity among other details. As we predicted early on, the California Bar Exam will be administered, albeit under modified conditions. We alerted prospective applicants to the possibility that the exam would be administered online in a secured, proctored environment. This is exactly what the State Bar is proposing. In its communication to the California Supreme Court, the State Bar outlined two distinct goals:
• The first would be to deliver the September California Bar Exam online utilizing yet to be determined “remote proctoring”. The proposed goal ventures to provide appropriate accommodations to all applicants regardless of their access to technology. Applicants are able to either handwrite the exam or submit answers via laptop through secured testing software. The proposed goal suggests that these two options will remain in place. Further, the goal ensures an appropriate testing venue, yet does not indicate where these venues might be.
•. The second, more aggressive goal, would be to administer the California Bar Exam in person at to be determined locations statewide, inclusive of testing accommodation sites. This plan assumes that the COVID-19 pandemic is in a manageable state, allowing travel to California without risk of further exposure, and of course an ease of restrictions for group gatherings.
This second goal would, no doubt, create a multitude of logistical concerns, considering possible travel restrictions and future quarantine orders. A viable solution would be to give California Bar exam applicants the choice of taking the exam in person or on-line. Should an applicant live in either Los Angeles or San Francisco (two proposed testing sites) then an in-person exam would be a logical choice. If an applicant is coming from another state or even overseas, an on-line exam would be the safest and most practical approach.
In any event, as stated before in prior installments of this post, the California Bar Exam continues. The advantage of a September exam is that it gives prospective applicants an excellent amount of time to study and prepare. We will continue to update as we receive further guidance and information.
April 27, 2020 Update
The California Bar Exam will go on…
As suspected, California will administer the July 2020 bar examination. In its April 27th response to the State Bar of California Board of trustees, the Supreme Court of California outlined its directives for the upcoming bar examination. The July 2020 bar examination will be postponed to September 9th and 10th 2020, and the exam will be administered remotely. This decision is optimal for several reasons. First, administering the exam maintains the integrity of the profession. Anything short of a bar exam would compromise the profession. Second, an online or remote model will protect the health and safety of the public and erase any anxiety associated with administering an exam in close quarters or requiring prospective applicants to travel to California during the current pandemic. Highlights of the Supreme Court’s decision are as follows:
• The July 2020 California Bar Examination is postponed to September 9-10th 2020.
• The National Conference of Bar Examiners will facilitate an online administration of the Multistate Bar Examination (MBE)
• The September 2020 California Bar Examination will be graded in a swift manner with results expected no later than December 31, 2020.
Prospective applicants should commence their studies now that a plan is in place for the next bar examination. We will certainly keep our applicants up to date on the logistics of the upcoming exam.
April 16, 2020 Update
Best case: The California Bar Exam continues. Worse case: The California Bar Exam continues
On April 15, 2020, the State Bar of California Board of Trustees sent the California Supreme Court two suggested scenarios for the administration of the California Bar exam in the wake of COVID-19. The first scenario termed “the preferred option” moves the California Bar Exam to September 9-10. As previously discussed, The State Bar of California has the infrastructure to administer the exam by safe and appropriate means, including administering the exam on-line. So, with this option, the exam continues.
A second, less preferred option is to cancel the July 2020 exam and administer the exam as scheduled in February. Even with this less than ideal scenario, the bar continues.
COVID-19 is not an automatic “out”. Candidates will still have to sit for and pass the California Bar Exam. It will continue to be a prerequisite to licensure. The upside here is that prospective applicants now have considerable extra time to study and should take advantage of the opportunity regardless of when the exam is administered.
Things will change quickly, and we will all be in a rush to get back to any semblance of normality. Coupled with the need for additional lawyers in the very near future, California will see a massive uptick in the number of lawsuits filed as a direct result of the global pandemic. We want to make sure that the public has access to qualified, licensed California attorneys ready to offer legal guidance when needed.
The administration of the California Bar exam protects the public against unethical professional conduct and provides a safeguard for all that may require legal assistance.
April 13, 2020 Update
Given California’s early response to COVID-19 it is now almost certain that the California Bar Exam will be administered in a somewhat timely fashion. The National Conference of Bar Examiners is giving States an early May deadline to decide individually when they will offer the next bar exam. The current trend, as of today’s date, is to either administer the July exam as scheduled or to move the bar exam to early or late September. In either event, it will happen.
After a week of speculation surrounding the ill-advised “diploma privilege”, only a very few States are offering recent graduates the limited opportunity to practice under direct supervision. This does not mean that these law graduates are exempt from the bar exam – it simply means they will have to take the first available exam administered in their home jurisdiction.
California has the largest number of bar exam applicants in the nation, and currently, California has over three hundred thousand licensed attorneys. The thought that Californians would have diminished access to justice due to a canceled or postponed bar exam is ludicrous. While the logistics of how to administer the exam are still in the works, the integrity of the legal profession in California will simply mandate the administration of the California Bar Exam.
California is aggressively flattening the curve and is leading the nation on the road to recovery. We are doing our small part by continuing to provide our exam applicants with the tools necessary to achieve a license to practice law in California.
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.