On July 15, just 12 days before recent law school graduates were scheduled to take the most consequential exam of their lives, the Louisiana Supreme Court and the Committee on Bar Admissions announced the cancellation of administration of both in-person and remote bar exams. At this time, the court has only promised that plans for the exam would be announced later. These graduates, most of whom carry substantial student loan debt, are forced to put their lives and careers on hold indefinitely because of this lack of leadership.
According to the National Conference of Bar Examiners, many other states have found a way to ensure recent law school graduates can start their careers. Several states plan to offer remote exams, and many jurisdictions are offering a diploma privilege option or supervised or provisional admission until the bar exam can be administered. Despite offering no explanation for why remote testing was canceled, Louisiana courts have found a way to continue conducting trials and depositions securely online and even in-person, with safety protocols in place.
For those lucky enough to have received job offers, many firms make these contingent on bar exam passage. However, most recent graduates find jobs or start their own firms after they pass the bar. Instead, the bulk of these future attorneys will join the more than 300,000 Louisianans who are out of work.
Having the rug pulled out from under their employment prospects is not the only consequence of canceling the bar exam. Preparing for the bar exam is not like studying for a college final. Most test-takers spend eight or more hours per day, including weekends, from mid-May until the July test. It’s nearly impossible to work while studying for the bar, even under normal circumstances.
The Louisiana Supreme Court and the Bar Association owe it to recent law school graduates to develop a plan that allows them to work. COVID-19 forced nearly the entire American workforce to find creative ways to work safely. The Court and the Bar Association have substantial resources, including taxpayer dollars, mandatory bar dues paid by attorneys, and fees charged to students to take the bar. We should expect the court and the Bar Association to quickly develop a plan for law students to be able to start their careers. They should facilitate, not impede, recent law school graduates in serving the public and earning a living.
general counsel, Pelican Institute for Public Policy