The New York State Bar Association (NYSBA) Task Force on the New York Bar Exam is recommending that New York’s postponed July bar exam should be rescheduled for a date as soon as possible around Labor Day and prior to the Jewish holidays at the end of September, and – if circumstances make a fall bar exam impossible – that existing provisions in governmental and legal-aid organizations be expanded to allow graduates to practice with private sector attorneys and law firms.
A task force report issued today also recommended a one-time general waiver to all law schools on the Court of Appeals’ limits on distance learning credits for applicants to the New York State bar, so that students completing law school this year would not be penalized due to widespread measures that have been taken to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
“Graduating law school students are experiencing high levels of anxiety and distress as their lives and potential livelihoods have been significantly disrupted, and we are focused on making sure that their concerns are being heard and responded to by policy makers,” said NYSBA President Henry M. Greenberg. “I am deeply grateful to Justice Scheinkman and the members of the task force for working so quickly and diligently on this important matter.”
“Some law schools in New York State have already received waivers on the distance learning requirements,” said task force chair Hon. Alan Scheinkman, presiding justice of the Appellate Division for the Second Judicial Department. “For out-of-state students who plan to practice in New York, it is unfair that they would not get the same relief.”
The task force – which was established last year and includes state and local bar association leaders, law professors, solo practitioners and other stakeholders from across the state – met via teleconference on Monday morning to adopt the measures. Separately, the group has issued a report with recommendations regarding potential changes in the New York bar exam to ensure that law school graduates are ready to practice law and serve clients effectively in New York. That report is to be considered by NYSBA’s House of Delegates on April 4.
Rescheduling the July Bar Exam
Aspiring attorneys in New York State must pass the Uniform Bar Examination (UBE), which is prepared by the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) and administered in 35 jurisdictions across the country. According to the New York State Board of Law Examiners, 10,071 examinees sat for the test last summer.
The task force report notes that law school graduates typically use the period between the end of law school and the administration of the bar exam to prepare for the test, and points out that an early September test date would allow for a similar timeline and limit disruption for law school graduates who may be starting new jobs or busy with job searches.
NCBE has announced that it will prepare a fall exam, but reports indicate that it is 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.”
The task force acknowledges that New York cannot compel the NCBE to offer the test on a specific date, but noted in the report that “because of the large number of test takers who take the test in New York, New York can –and should – exert its prominent role in the American legal community to influence the NCBE to offer the UBE in early September.”
Call for One-Time Waiver on Distance Learning Credits
Among requirements for taking the New York bar exam, the 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. The task force report notes that many law schools shifted to distance learning over the past month due to the coronavirus public health emergency, and that as a result some students may end up with more distance learning credits than they had planned. The task force therefore recommends that distance learning requirements should be suspended on a one-time bases for the spring 2020 semester.
Expanding Practice Waivers to Private Sector Attorneys and Law Firms
Special practice orders 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.
Because the duration of the coronavirus public health emergency is unknown, the task force recommends seeking the required legislation now that would allow the Appellate Division to extend the special practice orders to private sector attorneys and law firms. The task force report notes that taking such action would expand law school graduates’ opportunities for gainful employment and notes that “The public is protected since the activities of the law graduate are subject to the supervision of a licensed attorney.”
About the New York State Bar Association
The New York State Bar Association is the largest voluntary state bar association in the nation. Since 1876, the Association has helped shape the development of law, educated and informed the legal profession and the public, and championed the rights of New Yorkers through advocacy and guidance in our communities.
Contact: Dan Weiller