🚫 So whatever happened with the bar exam this summer?

After months of back-and-forth -- and plenty of recommendations from prestigious lawyers to cancel the bar exam -- testing time is upon new graduates and lawyers moving to new states. At least in certain jurisdictions. Several states have decided to push through with the bar exam during the pandemic, and others have chosen alternatives. Here’s how everything shook out: 

  • On July 28, 23 states will host in-person bar exams: These states include Alabama, Virginia, Kansas and Missouri. The rest of the country has either delayed exams, moved them online or allowed for lawyers to practice without passing the bar (diploma privilege).  

  • In-person exams are going to be rough, especially for women: Take Nebraska’s nutty social distancing plan for example. Some groups of test-takers must arrive two hours before the exam begins, while others arrive just 30 minutes prior. The test-takers must stay in their seats for the duration of time before the test begins. Women who have to change tampons in the time before the test beings must justify in writing their need to use the restroom. Similar issues have been raised in West Virginia and Arizona.    

  • Missouri is bending its laws to hold a test: Some 700 people are expected to take the bar exam next week in Columbia, Mo., in a state where gatherings are not supposed to exceed 100. But the testing site was granted a waiver to host the exam -- waivers that are no longer being granted to any other events. One law student told a local Missouri TV station, “I really do not like that I have to go to this exam and possibly get killed or have my family get killed.”

Diploma privilege is catching on

Three states, Washington, Oregon and Utah, have changed rules this year to allow graduates from accredited law schools entry to the bar. Wisconsin has long allowed diploma privilege. 

  • And in a Washington Post editorial this month, three recent graduates advocated for diploma privilege everywhere, in every year. They pointed out that the bar exam, where success depends almost solely on memorization, doesn’t match the real work of an attorney. They also noted the bar exam’s racist roots.   

The Verdict

Three states for diploma privilege may not sound like a lot, but New York could become the fourth to grant it. And as New York goes so often does the rest of the legal world.