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.