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New ABA Resolution Might Urge States to Cancel In-Person Bar Exams
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The American Bar Associaton plans to urge jurisdictions to cancel in-person bar exams during the COVID-19 pandemic and work on developing alternative plans to license applicants under a new resolution proposed by the group’s House of Delegates.

The resolution, titled Resolution 10G, suggests diploma privilege, limited licensing, and supervised practice programs in lieu of the traditional in-person bar exam.

More than half of states administered the July bar exam in person and at least one, Colorado, has reported a COVID-positive test taker who took the bar exam in a classroom with 22 other applicants.


“No one should have to choose between their long-term health—or life—and a licensing examination. However, bar applicants in jurisdictions scheduled to administer an in-person bar examination are being required to do so. And given the state of the legal employment market combined with the need to repay student loans and otherwise earn a living, many bar applicants feel they truly have no choice at all,” reads the report accompanying the resolution. 

The resolution is sponsored by the Virgin Islands Bar Association, the ABA Law Student Division, the ABA Section of State and Local Government Law, the Criminal Justice Section, the Section of Dispute Resolution, and the Young Lawyers Division.

The resolution also approves of remote examination but says states offering the online test must ensure their testing platforms are reliable, and applicants must know how the exams will be proctored and scored.

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Last week, applicants in Michigan (the first state to hold an online bar exam) weren’t able to log in to the second module of the test, due to a technical issue in the software caused by an alleged cyberattack. Two other states, Indiana and Nevada, postponed their online bar exams after several users reported tech problems with the bar practice tests.

Even if the resolution is adopted, it will come a little too late, as 23 jurisdictions held in-person bar exams and 11 more states plan to administer an in-person exam in September. A number of states, including California, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Ohio, and Washington, D.C., have canceled their in-person tests and will offer an abbreviated online bar exam designed by the NCBE on Oct. 5 and 6.

This is the second time since the beginning of the pandemic that the American Bar Association has commented on alternative attorney licensing. In April, ABA’s Board of Governors approved a resolution urging states to cancel the July bar and allow law graduates to practice under supervision.

‘Tens of thousands of law school graduates have worked their entire lives towards the goal of becoming licensed attorneys but have had the misfortune to graduate during the worst pandemic in a century. Simply put, a once-in-a-century pandemic warrants a once-in-a-century solution. We urge the highest courts or bar admission authorities of each jurisdiction to take these modest but necessary steps to safeguard public health and safety without closing the doors to our shared profession.” reads the report.



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