The State Supreme Court, the State Bar of California and some 9,000 recent law graduates are stuck in a traffic jam. It is almost the traditional time for the July bar exam, the annual clouding ritual that determines whether students have wasted three years of their lives or are licensed instead and begin their legal careers.
But we are in the middle of a pandemic. In no case are these thousands of potential lawyers trapped in convention centers and hotel ballrooms across the state for two days, with or without a face mask. The exam was canceled, so what? Each option would create additional headaches for the legal and auditing industry and additional difficulties for law graduates.
Delayed exams mean additional months in which trained lawyers are unable to work, earn a living, and cannot start paying back student loans accumulated by many. Online exams pose a number of technical problems and, depending on the type and timing of the implementation, question the validity of the results. The October exams mean that the assessment will only be completed in mid-January – too late for unsuccessful applicants to study effectively for the February do-over.
The best of the bad ways is to immediately grant 2020 class members preliminary licenses without testing and allow them to pursue their new profession and earn a living under the supervision of lawyers who have been licensed the old-fashioned way. Your licenses are valid until you can take an online bar exam in October, take the traditional personal exam next year, or whenever it can be safely managed next.
Even then, there are serious complications – what if they had already passed the exam but failed? What if you have an unaccredited law school? Should you still receive temporary legal licenses?
But first, let’s look at a more fundamental question that any Californian who hasn’t a law degree is concerned with: who cares? Why should we worry that thousands of other lawyers are not going to start their jobs right away? After all, they are not recent medical or nursing students whose services we desperately need at the forefront of the worsening pandemic. Are we really interested in whether the next generation of lawyers will have to wait a few months before submitting cases or signing contracts?
We should take care of it and deeply. Millions of Californians need legal aid because they have lost their jobs or are at risk of losing their homes, or are wondering about the quality of care for their relatives in nursing homes, or are being charged with crimes, perhaps because they opened their businesses properly without them Release or because they blocked the wrong street when they protested racial inequalities or police brutality.
California has many lawyers, but most are unreachable for people who need it. To make a living – while repaying their student loans and the thousands of dollars they spent on bar exam courses (because, oddly enough, the law school doesn't prepare students for passing the license exam, just as they aren't willing to without it practice guidance from more experienced lawyers) – Which new lawyer can afford to accept what most needy Californians can afford to pay?
The 2020 class undoubtedly includes many graduates with job vacancies at high-priced companies, but they – and the many thousands without such offers – have probably attended the law school and, at least in part because of their passion, prepared for the bar exam for justice. And the judicial system urgently needs their skills.
As the State Bar of California (the licensing agency) and the State Supreme Court (who have the ultimate decision-making power) are considering the 2020 bar exam, it should be remembered that there is no study to prove that the exam does anything to consumers inferior Protect lawyers. Without such a study, the exam is open to criticism that it is, in fact, little more than a bullying ritual – one that limits competition to practicing lawyers and supports an entire industry based on costly preparatory courses. Perhaps a diploma from an accredited California law school should be sufficient, at least in the short term.
In the meantime, yes, grant recent law graduates a temporary “diploma privilege” to practice without taking this year's exam, and acknowledge that graduating from an accredited law school must surely count for something. Let them practice under the supervision of experienced lawyers. Perhaps you will help them keep their loan repayments and meet their immediate expenses in return for the time they need for their California fellow citizens who need it most. And then we rethink the entire rationale for the bar exam.