Last week, we posted about the New York Court of Appeals’ and New York Board of Law Examiners’ decision to cancel the New York Bar Exam, scheduled for September 9-10, 2020. The decision, which was announced on Friday, cited concerns for the health and safety of test takers during the global COVID-19 pandemic.

The announcement has prompted the New York City Bar Association’s Council on the Profession (the “Council”) – which is the committee of the City Bar charged with broad policy questions facing the legal profession – to weigh in with its own concerns about the cancellation, and with several policy proposals to allay the anxieties of recent law grads and would-be bar exam candidates.

In its July 17, 2020 letter to the Court of Appeals praised the decision to cancel the exam for health and safety reasons, but expressed concern that the Court’s announcement failed to address “many critically important questions,” such as whether any in-person exam will be held, whether to adopt an online exam, or whether to grant any form of permanent diploma privilege to would-be test takers (emphasis in original). The Council cautioned that “[t]his ongoing uncertainty creates chaos for our profession,” including, among other things, worry on the part of recent law graduates about their ability to obtain or retain employment, support themselves, manage their law school debt, and continue studying for an exam ever seeming to “recede into the horizon.”

To resolve some of these issues, the Council offered the following recommendations, which it said it had developed after speaking with relevant stakeholders and constituents over the past several weeks:

1. Either (a) adopt the national online multiple-choice examination offered by the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) for October 2020, which serves as a safe and appropriate testing alternative for this historic moment; or (b) grant permanent diploma privilege to admit to practice all 2020 graduates of ABA-accredited law schools who meet all other qualifications for admission. It is essential to announce this decision by August 1 to create certainty for test-takers and employers.

2. Regardless of which option is chosen, implement an expanded continuing legal education requirement for those who are granted a diploma privilege or take the online NCBE examination. Of course, to be admitted to the bar, applicants would still need to go through the normal Character and Fitness review process.

3. Create clarity by announcing, in unambiguous terms, that graduates of the class of 2020 will not be required to sit for an in-person bar examination given the unprecedented uncertainty in when such an exam could be safely administered.

4. Convene an advisory Task Force from across the State, representative of our profession, to discuss the implementation of these policies and to ensure proper deliberation, accurate communication, expedited attorney admissions, and careful attention to the effects on test-takers, particularly international and underrepresented populations.

The Council emphasized that in its view, these recommendations best balance the interests of: (a) consumer protection for future clients and legal employers; (b) the health and safety of all test-takers, bar administration staff, and New Yorkers generally; and (c) accessibility to the profession for all test-takers regardless of socioeconomic status, caregiving responsibilities, or nationality.

For more information, and the latest updates, be sure to monitor our COVID-19 Resources Page for New York Lawyers.