Jurisdictions that opt to postpone the July bar exam because of the coronavirus pandemic will have two fall dates to choose from.

The National Conference of Bar Examiners announced Friday that it will offer an exam Sept. 9 and 10, and a second exam Sept. 30 and Oct. 1. It will be up to individual jurisdictions to decide whether to move forward with the July test as planned, or to choose one of the two fall dates.

“We don’t yet know what the months ahead will hold,” reads the council’s announcement. “NCBE is being proactive and continuing to explore solutions for as many scenarios as we can anticipate. We are consulting with outside testing, technology, and exam security experts to consider various options and alternative methods of testing if the traditional group setting must be canceled or modified.”

The National Conference on March 27 said it would offer an alternate fall date for jurisdictions that can’t or don’t want to test in July, but it did not say at that time that it would prepare two different tests. It also said it would decide by May 5 whether or not to offer the July exam.

New York on March 27 became the first to officially postpone the July bar, and Massachusetts, Connecticut and Hawaii have followed suit.

Legal educators and law students have criticized plans to move the licensing exam into the fall over fears that the pandemic will force another postponement, and concerns over the economic and emotional toll that delayed admission to the bar will take on law graduates.

Earlier this week, the deans of all 15 of New York’s American Bar Association-accredited law schools wrote to the New York Court of Appeals to propose an alternative whereby 2020 law graduates could work for 18 months under the supervision of an experienced attorney without having to take the bar. The court should consider allowing them to be fully admitted without taking the test once that 18-month period is up, the deans urged.

Law students in New York, California and Florida have also circulated petitions requesting the adoption of a temporary diploma privilege program that would allow them to be admitted without passing the bar.

The national conference said Friday that offering not one, but two alternative fall dates will give jurisdictions some flexibility in how they proceed. The national conference likely hopes that jurisdictions will stick by the exam and eschew the growing calls for alternative licensing systems.

“No matter what happens, we are committed to ensuring that law students have every opportunity to become licensed so that they can put their legal education to work in helping those affected by this crisis,” reads the announcement.


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