After NYSBA’s Recommendation, Court of Appeals Seeks Early September Bar Exam

By Christian Nolan

Setting the page on fire with some hard work

Just one day after the New York State Bar Association (NYSBA) Task Force on the New York Bar Examination recommended that the postponed July bar exam be rescheduled for a date close to Labor Day, the Court of Appeals met and decided it agreed.

In an announcement late Tuesday, the Court of Appeals said it is seeking to reschedule the postponed July bar exam for some time in early September, shortly before or after the September 7 Labor Day holiday.

“I commend the Court of Appeals for taking such decisive action at this unprecedented time of uncertainty,” said NYSBA President Henry M. Greenberg. “It gives law students who have worked so hard a measure of comfort and predictability to know that the highest court in New York is on their side.”

The Court of Appeals acknowledged, however, that logistical and other challenges may prevent administration of the bar exam in early September, which may in turn delay the ability of spring 2020 law graduates to engage in full legal employment.

“Therefore, the Chief Judge on behalf of the Court will also explore the expansion of authority for practice orders that allow law graduates who meet specified criteria to engage in certain law practice under supervision of licensed attorneys,” said the statement from the Court of Appeals.

This would allow private sector attorneys and law firms to apply to the Appellate Division for practice orders, and to allow such orders to include law graduates who are awaiting the administration of the first bar exam following their graduation, as well as law graduates who are awaiting results of the bar exam and meet the required criteria.

NYSBA had called for this historic expansion of the practice orders, which allow law school graduates to engage in law practice activities under the supervision of attorneys. New York law presently permits governmental agencies such as district attorney offices, corporation counsels, and legal aid organizations to apply to the Appellate Division for an order permitting law school graduates and law students who meet certain criteria to engage in specified law practice activities.

“The Court of Appeals has made the appropriate decision that will benefit thousands of law students,” said Justice Alan Scheinkman, presiding justice of the Appellate Division of the Second Judicial Department and chair of the bar association task force. “Our task force is very proud that our report contributed to the court’s wise and prudent decision.”

On March 27, New York postponed the July bar exam due to the coronavirus and on the same day, the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) said it would be providing all three of its exams – the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE), the Multistate Essay Exam (MEE) and the Multistate Performance Test (MPT) – in the fall regardless of whether or not it decides to cancel the July exams.

Reports indicated that the NCBE has been considering dates in late September that would conflict with the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. NYSBA’s task force stated in its report that “it would be very ill-advised to require Jewish bar applicants to choose between religious observance and bar preparation.”

Distance Learning
The Court of Appeals also announced that in an effort to accommodate the many law schools that have gone to a distance learning approach during the coronavirus pandemic, that it was waiving its limitations on distance learning for the Spring 2020 and Summer 2020 terms. New York’s Court of Appeals limits the number of distance learning credit hours that a law school student may count toward the total number of required credit hours.

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