July 17, 2020
This year’s graduating law school class faces tremendous uncertainty amidst the unprecedented global COVID-19 pandemic. To support recent law school graduates as they enter the workforce, the California Supreme Court recently handed down new bar exam guidelines and rules, supported by input from California Lawyers Association (CLA).
CLA President Emilio Varanini applauded the Court’s efforts and provided additional support for young attorneys. “CLA understands the Court’s need to adapt to address the important issues involving facilitating aspiring attorneys’ entry into our profession at what is an extraordinarily difficult time while protecting the public. From day one through the life of their practice, CLA will continue to advocate appropriately on behalf of aspiring lawyers and otherwise offer them the resources they need to succeed,” Varanini added.
Taking into consideration the tremendous risks with in-person group testing, the September 9-10, 2020 in-person bar exam will now be administered online on October 5-6, 2020 with other options being made available for those for whom taking the exam online may not be a viable option. Registration for the examination is extended through July 24, 2020, and the Court asked the State Bar to issue a “Frequently Asked Questions” guide for the new exam format. CLA welcomes these efforts by the State Bar and the Court to ensure that the exam can take place in a manner that understands the serious risks still posed by COVID-19 and recognizes that not all can easily take the exam online.
Recognizing that California is one of two states with the highest passing score for the minimum competency exam, the Supreme Court directed the State Bar to lower the passing score from 1440 to 1390. The modified passing score is effective beginning with the October 5-6, 2020 bar exam administration and will be prospectively applied to future exams.
In addition to the changes to the California bar exam, the Supreme Court addressed “Diploma Privilege,” which would allow graduates of American Bar Association (ABA)-accredited law schools, if not all law schools, to be admitted to the bar without taking the bar exam. Recognizing the hardships faced by recent graduates in studying for and taking the bar exam, the Supreme Court has directed the State Bar to expedite the formation of a provisional licensure program. That program, which was supported by CLA in its comments to the Court, will allow 2020 law school graduates, regardless of whether they attend an ABA or non-ABA accredited school, to practice under the supervision of a licensed attorney, offering potential benefits to both young attorneys and their employers, provided that they take the bar exam by a certain date in the future. However, the Court properly rejected the Diploma Privilege proposal.
These new measures together support new law school graduates as they move into the workforce and begin their careers while still safeguarding the public. With the resources available to young attorneys through CLA and other organizations, this year’s law school graduates will be ready to enter the practice of law and provide legal services to the public as it emerges from the pandemic.