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More than 250 recent Louisiana law school graduates are asking the state Supreme Court to let them start work as attorneys before taking the next bar exam, which had been scheduled for next week but was canceled amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The high court abruptly canceled the July 27 exam Wednesday, citing health concerns. The move followed an initial cut from a three-day exam to one day and limiting its scope.

Hundreds of recent law school graduates have spent the last two months studying for hours each day, much like a full-time job, to prepare for the exam, and for many not having that accreditation will be a barrier to employment.

The Supreme Court will meet Monday to discuss options moving forward, but as it stands with the July 27 bar exam date canceled, graduates may need to wait until October or February to sit for the test.

"If I have to wait until October to take the bar exam I won't be able to pay my rent and I think a lot of us are in that situation," Tulane Law School graduate Hailey Barnett said.

Barnett and fellow Tulane Law School graduate Hank Greenberg this week started the United for Emergency Admissions Louisiana chapter and filed a "friend of the court" brief to the Supreme Court in support of emergency admission for prospective lawyers.

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The group put together a survey to quantify the impacts of not sitting the exam as scheduled, and found that almost 70% of the graduates surveyed wouldn't be able to support themselves until they gained their law license.

"It's really a difficult situation for us because we've spent the last three years trying to become attorneys and we can't practice until we get licensure and we can't get licensed until we take the bar," Greenberg said. "It injects so much uncertainty into our lives. Now it's just canceled, how are we supposed to find a job? How are people who've found a job that's contingent on passing the bar going to keep that job?"

The Class of 2020 had support from the Louisiana State Bar Association, with its president issuing a statement urging the Louisiana Supreme Court to consider the unique circumstances of their situation.

LSBA president Alainna Mire asked the court to make its decision with "special consideration of the precariousness of their situation," though she did not outright support emergency admissions.

Barnett and Greenberg suggest that instead of taking the bar exam to prove competency, the Class of 2020 could instead be required to perform additional educational modules alongside the routine assessments like character and fitness benchmarks.

Their brief outlines the struggles and difficulty of completing their studies through the upheaval of the pandemic, and the potential ramifications of a yearlong delay to take the bar, and particularly on classmates of color or those with disabilities and their caregivers.

"In short, a delayed online bar exam will only exacerbate the natural selection bias present in the bar exam against those who are less privileged economically, socially and physically," the document reads.


Email Emma Kennedy at ekennedy@theadvocate.com.