This month, we’ve covered a number of developments regarding changes to bar admissions during the current pandemic, including the postponement of New York Bar Exam and New York courts’ efforts to keep the admissions process going. More changes came this week, as the New York Court of Appeals entered an order relieving current law students and recent law graduates from a number of bar admission and course eligibility restrictions made difficult in the wake of COVID-19. 

The Court of Appeals’ April 21, 2020 order temporarily waived strict compliance with several of its regulations as part of its overall effort to deal with the pandemic. Below is a brief summary:

- Waiver of restrictions on distance learning courses under 22 N.Y.C.R.R. §§ 520.3(c)(6), 520.6(b)(3) - Current J.D. students enrolled in the Spring 2020 and Summer 2020 semester are no longer limited to just 15 credit hours for “distance learning courses” – meaning courses administered remotely, i.e., by videoconference – and can now receive credit for such courses before completing 28 in-person course credits towards their law degrees. Current LL.M. students enrolled in the Spring 2020 and Summer 2020 semester are now fully eligible for credit for distance learning courses, though they were previously prohibited from getting credit for such courses at all.

- Waiver of timing restrictions for passage of the New York Law Course under 22 N.Y.C.R.R. §§ 520.9(a)(2)(ii) and (3)(ii) – Bar applicants are no longer required to take the Uniform Bar Examination within one year of taking the New York Law Exam (NYLE), provided they successfully passed the NYLE and completed the New York Law Course after 2019 and provided they sit for the Uniform Bar Exam before 2022.

- Waiver of 50-hour pro bono service requirement under 22 N.Y.C.R.R. § 520.16 – Spring 2020 J.D. and LL.M. graduates are no longer required to complete at least 50 hours of qualifying pro bono service prior to filing an application for bar admission.

- Waiver of requirements applicable to the Pro Bono Scholars Program under 22 N.Y.C.R.R. § 520.17(c) and (d) – Spring 2020 graduates enrolled in the Pro Bono Scholars Program have been relieved of the requirement to complete at least 12 weeks of full-time pro-bono work, complete a concomitant academic component at an approved law school, and earn at least 12 academic credits for participation in the program.

- Waiver of skills and competency requirement under 22 N.Y.C.R.R. § 520.18 - Spring 2020 J.D. and LL.M. graduates are no longer required to give proof of compliance with the skills and competency requirement for admission to the New York bar.

These changes are no doubt an enormous relief to current law students and law graduates, for whom New York’s panoply of bar admission eligibility requirements would be nearly impossible to complete in the midst of the pandemic. The changes will also permit a critical infusion of lawyers to the New York bar, many of whom are sorely needed to meet the increased need in legal access and advocacy that the pandemic has caused.

Be sure to check back for regular updates as things continue to evolve.