Bar examinees at the New York Javits Center in July. Summer bar exam test takers at the New York Javits Center in 2013. Photo: Monika Kozak/ALM

The chief judge in New York state said Tuesday that recent law graduates who had planned to take the bar exam this summer will be temporarily allowed to practice law under the supervision of a qualified attorney until testing delays and capacity constraints are resolved.

Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, who previously delayed the state’s July bar exam to Sept. 9 and 10, said travel and public gatherings constraints due to the COVID-19 pandemic would likely limit the number of people could take the exam. “Seating capacity for the September examination is likely to be limited,” the court said.

In response, the judge has approved a “comprehensive and streamlined program designed to provide temporary authorization for qualified law graduates to engage in the limited practice of law,” the court announced in an email Tuesday.

“Practice orders promulgated by the Appellate Division departments will allow all covered candidates employed in New York to work under the supervision of a qualified attorney in good standing who has been admitted to practice law in New York for at least three years,” the email said. “Temporary authorization will be available to all first-time takers of the bar examination, including both J.D. and LL.M. candidates, irrespective of their graduation year.”

Full details of the program weren’t immediately available, but the judiciary said law grads would be temporarily authorized through their swearing-in date, “so long as those candidates pass their first bar examination no later than 2021 and promptly seek admission to the bar following the release of exam results.”

The announcement follows reports that DiFiore had been considering such a measure as part of the judiciary’s response to the pandemic. About 10,000 law graduates would have taken the July exam under normal circumstances.

The judiciary said it’s possible that not everyone who wants to take the September exam will be able, however. It said public safety measures will likely “prevent us from maximizing space in our larger testing venues across the state.” As a result, the court encouraged candidates to take the exam elsewhere or later on.

“Candidates are encouraged to consider taking the Uniform Bar Examination at a later date or in other jurisdictions that may be better positioned to accommodate test-takers,” the statement said. “While we understand the considerable stress and uncertainty caused by these limitations, the health and safety of all participants must remain our top priority.”

There are already some indications that it won’t be business as usual at some of the biggest law firms that hire new lawyers by the dozen, however. For instance, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe and Baker Botts are among firms saying they are delaying the start date for first-year associates until 2021.