Press Releases

City Bar Calls for “Certainty” on New York Bar Exam, Offers Recommendations

While supportive of the decision by the New York Court of Appeals to cancel the September 2020 in-person state bar examination from a public-health standpoint, the New York City Bar Association believes “the time has come for certainty” regarding next steps.

In a letter to Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, Associate Judge Michael J. Garcia, and retired Associate Judge Howard A. Levine of the Court of Appeals, the City Bar states that many critically important questions remain unanswered on the prospects for an in-person examination, adopting an online examination, or granting any form of permanent diploma privilege, and urges a quick resolution for 2020 law graduates.

“These questions now hang over the heads of thousands of new law school graduates, to say nothing of countless private and public sector employers who are trying to make critical staffing decisions and run their organizations,” the report states. “This ongoing uncertainty creates chaos for our profession. That chaos is felt most acutely by the newest generation of lawyers, many of whom face significant debt, a difficult job market, and ambiguous licensure. Given the hazy implications of the Court’s announcement, 2020 law school graduates are now deeply worried about their ability to attain (or retain) employment, support themselves, and continue to study indefinitely for an exam that continues to recede into the horizon.”

Based on conversations the City Bar’s Council on the Profession has had with relevant stakeholders and constituents in recent weeks, the City Bar respectfully recommends that the Court of Appeals take the following actions:

  1. Either (a) adopt the national online multiple-choice examination offered by the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) for October 2020, which serves as a safe and appropriate testing alternative for this historic moment; or (b) grant permanent diploma privilege to admit to practice all 2020 graduates of ABA-accredited law schools who meet all other qualifications for admission. It is essential to announce this decision by August 1 to create certainty for test-takers and employers.
  2. Regardless of which option is chosen, implement an expanded continuing legal education requirement for those who are granted a diploma privilege or take the online NCBE examination. Of course, to be admitted to the bar, applicants would still need to go through the normal Character and Fitness review process.
  3. Create clarity by announcing, in unambiguous terms, that graduates of the class of 2020 will not be required to sit for an in-person bar examination given the unprecedented uncertainty in when such an exam could be safely administered.
  4. Convene an advisory Task Force from across the State, representative of our profession, to discuss the implementation of these policies and to ensure proper deliberation, accurate communication, expedited attorney admissions, and careful attention to the effects on test-takers, particularly international and underrepresented populations.

“With the latest information on public health risks in mind, and with due consideration for the various burdens and trade-offs, the above approach balances the interests as best as possible under historically challenging circumstances,” states the letter. “These interests include: (a) consumer protection for future clients and legal employers; (b) the health and safety of all test-takers, bar administration staff, and New Yorkers generally; and (c) accessibility to the profession for all test-takers regardless of socioeconomic status, caregiving responsibilities, or nationality.”

The letter can be read here: