The New York State bar examination, which had already been rescheduled to September, has been cancelled....
The New York State bar examination, which had already been rescheduled to September, has been cancelled.
While there is no new test date or news of moving the test online, the New York Court of Appeals announced Thursday that it is offering temporary licensing for eligible candidates.
A growing number of recent graduates and law schools are calling for the state to waive the bar requirement.
The exemption, however, would also come with questions that need to be addressed, according to legal experts.
One law firm said the delays to first-year associates joining could cause firms workflow stresses.
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The pressure is mounting for New York to consider waiving its requirement for recent graduates to pass the bar examination before practicing law.
A national movement for diploma privilege, which lets law school graduates can be automatically admitted to the bar, is surging among senators, school deans, and students amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
On Thursday, the New York State Court of Appeals announced that the state's in-person bar exam, which was slated for September 9-10, was canceled.
"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," it said in a statement on its site.
The court did not announce any plans for a new test date or an online option. The New York bar exam — the country's largest— had already been postponed once from July to September, as previously reported by Business Insider. Last year 10,071 candidates took the July NY bar exam.
Read more: The coronavirus just delayed the country's No. 1 bar exam, and that could be a huge setback for law students seeking jobs at smaller New York firms
Some other states have shifted their bar exams online, while just a few others have granted diploma privilege.
Instead, the New York court is offering a temporary authorization program, allowing eligible candidates to work under a supervising attorney — but only until they pass the bar, which they must do "no later than" 2021, according to the court.
The temporary authorization program that the court granted when it announced the cancellation of the September exam is just a "second best" substitute since it'd be disruptive to would-be lawyers at some later time, said Eduardo Peñalver, dean at Ithaca, NY-based Cornell Law School.
Further upheavals for law school graduates
The lack of definitive measures throws yet another wrench into many would-be lawyers' plans. Amid the uncertain climate created by a global health crisis, firms are delaying start dates for first year associates. Nearly half of the 167 law schools surveyed by the National Association for Law Placement reported that their graduates had their offers rescinded entirely.
"It's so disruptive for students," said Peñalver in a phone interview with Business Insider. "There's a rhythm to the legal market that is keyed around certain fixed points. And one of them is the July bar exam, and people make plans years in advance around that rhythm."
Many students have quit jobs or taken up loans and leaves of absences to study for the bar exam, which is seen as both a rite of passage for law school graduates and a necessary step to jump starting their careers.
"I feel so stuck," said Kayla Smith, who graduated from Brooklyn Law School this summer, on the phone.
Due to the initial bar exam delays, Smith already had her start date at the NY Public Defender's office postponed to September 14, fortunately just four days after the then-rescheduled bar exam. This way, Smith — who took out loans for all three years of her law degree — and her colleagues would be able to start work as soon as possible. She has not heard if her start date will be changed in light of the canceled September exam.
Generally, many law firms require that new associates take the bar exam before starting work. They don't typically have to wait for the results of the exam, which are released only a couple of months later.
But now, with even the September bar canceled, Smith is at a loss for what to do. "We don't know when the exam is, or what the format will be. Trying to prepare is even more anxiety-inducing."
Increasing calls for diploma privilege: To waive or not to waive?
Typically offered twice a year in February and July, the bar examination takes place over two days and 12 hours of testing. It's meant to prove minimum competency and protect the public from unqualified lawyers.
Smith is involved in New York for Diploma Privilege, the state chapter of United for Diploma Privilege, a growing national movement of students, professors, and lawyers advocating for automatic entry into the bar.
"These graduates now are in a state of limbo, with a profound level of uncertainty and anxiety that surrounds their futures and economic stability as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic," stated a letter sent on Friday to New York state officials including Governor Andrew Cuomo. It's signed by fifteen law deans, including Dean Peñalver of Cornell, urging them to adopt diploma privilege.
The letter echoes New York Senator Brad Hoylman's bill to exempt eligible graduates from the bar exam.
Read more: The post-pandemic law firm will consist of smaller summer classes, more remote workers, and a less decked-out office, a top legal recruiter predicts
But Stan Chess, the former president of Barbri, the bar exam prep company, cautioned that while there are several possible solutions — rescheduling the exam, changing the way they administer the test, granting diploma privilege, or any combination of such — each one of them comes with compromises.
Diploma privilege, for one, raises questions that are tough to address in practice. A broad exemption would mean that people who would've likely failed the exam get automatically admitted.
Chess said that other questions include: Who gets the exemption? Do you have to be from a certain school? Wisconsin, for instance, was the only state that granted diploma privilege pre-COVID, and exempted all students from their two law schools.
In the case of a state like New York, however — a state with at least 15 law schools and one that attracts an influx of aspiring attorneys — things are a lot more complicated, explained Chess.
The underlying issue is, of course, the uncertainty caused by the coronavirus health crisis. "Any plans you make could change in an instant," he said. "You're playing musical chairs with the lives of 10,000 law school graduates."
Silver linings in the legal industry
The postponed or canceled bar exams puts potential stresses on law firms, too. Erica V. Cesaro, the attorney search director at Parker + Lynch Legal, highlighted possible workflow stresses that these delays may cause for a firm, since the responsibilities that a first-year associate would typically take on would have to be shifted to a second-year junior associate or support staff.
The solution of providing first years with a temporary license wouldn't work very well, either. "It's arrested development for a lawyer with temporary licensing," Cesaro remarked.
Despite the uncertainty and upheavals, though, she sees a silver lining.
"I know that it's a difficult time… but this is temporary," said Cesaro. "You are going to move on to be an attorney. You are going to pursue the career that you've been endeavoring to do for the past three years, and you will get the opportunity to practice."SEE ALSO: The coronavirus is disrupting law students' path to $200,000 full-time gigs
SEE ALSO: Some top law firms are canceling summer associate programs while others cut them in half — here's everything we know so far
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