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New York Cancels Bar Exam — Now What?
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New York has just joined the list of jurisdictions that have canceled their bar exam due to the coronavirus crisis, leaving law grads to keep floating in the “bar exam limbo.”

The State Board of Law Examiners has canceled the New York Bar exam scheduled for Sept. 9 and Sept. 10, citing ongoing concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In light of accelerating public health concerns and continuing governmental restrictions, the Board of Law Examiners has concluded that an in-person bar exam cannot be safely administered on September 9-10, 2020’ officials wrote on the New York Board of Law Examiners website. ‘Participants’ health and safety must remain our top priority and, because conditions have not sufficiently improved, the September exam has been canceled.”


The biannual licensing exam was already postponed in March from the scheduled July date when it’s usually given, in response to the pandemic. The cancellation of the licensing test will likely have a horrendous impact across the country, as New York is the largest bar exam jurisdiction with around 10,000 applicants sitting for its July exam.

“The Board arrived at this decision after careful consideration of current conditions and with a singular focus on the health and safety of all participants,” the Court of Appeals said in a statement.

“Unfortunately, the global pandemic presents a persisting threat in a growing number of states and therefore, at this juncture, an in-person exam is not yet a safe or practical option in New York.”

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The decision comes as several states are still scrambling to make a decision on how to administer the licensing test. But unlike many jurisdictions who have offered an alternative solution after canceling the bar exam, New York has failed to do so.

Six states including Massachusetts, Michigan, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, and Nevada, as well as the District of Columbia, will administer the bar exam online. And Utah, Washington, and Oregon have agreed to grant emergency “diploma privileges” to certain law school graduates.

Chief Judge Janet DiFiore announced she has appointed a working group to be chaired by retired Court of Appeals Judge Howard A. Levine to evaluate the future of the test and find the best solution.

The working group will determine whether to opt for an abbreviated online version of the bar exam that is being offered NCBE on Oct. 5 and 6, or an emergency diploma privilege to allow law grads to practice without taking the test—an option that has gained a lot of momentum in recent weeks.

The President of the New York State Bar Association said the group will “promptly review” the matter and make recommendations on how best to proceed.

“The class of 2020 has been dealt a difficult hand and many graduates are experiencing stress and strain over the uncertainty surrounding the bar exam, a grim job market, and staggering student debt,” said Karson. “NYSBA will expeditiously examine the alternatives, taking into account the interests of consumers of legal services as well as the law school graduates seeking admission to the New York bar.”

Legal educators and bar applicants took to Twitter to express their frustration with the state’s decision.

“Cancelling the bar exam with no clear plan demonstrates how far removed from the reality of bar study the Court of Appeals is,” Allie Robbins, a professor at the City University of New York School of Law, tweeted. “Adding more chaos to this uncertain time is devastating and traumatizing. But you will get through it.”

Earlier in the pandemic, the court approved a provision allowing applicants signed up to take the July exam to practice law under the supervision of a licensed attorney.

“Because suspension of the September exam has always been a real possibility, the court has proceeded on dual tracks: working towards a safe administration of the exam while simultaneously developing contingencies to ameliorate the effects of further postponement,” the court’s announcement reads.



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