The Louisiana Supreme Court has decided that "qualified candidates" can be admitted to the bar without passing the bar exam this year.
As long as the "qualified candidates" have met all other requirements and complete 25 hours of continuing legal education and the bar association's "Transition Into Practice" mentoring program by the end of the year, they don't have to pass the bar, the court decided.
"It was very surprising to say the least," Tulane Law school graduate Hailey Barnett said.
Fresh off of studying for 8 weeks in preparation for the exam, Barnett says she is pleased with the court's decision.
"There were a lot of courts in other states that have been denying diploma privilege. I think Louisiana court showed compassion, courage and flexibility," Barnett explained.
Some in the law community have mixed reactions to the news.
"I do wish they would have to take the test. I don't think just passing them is a good idea for them or the profession. But it is what it is and I'm not going to hold it against those new lawyers," ADA 15th Judicial Court Celeste White said.
Former St. Landry District Attorney Earl Taylor took his exam in the 60s and said the exam is a right of passage.
"I just believe the bar exam is one of the thing that really necessary to make sure the person who is practicing law has a firm grasp of what the law is," said Taylor.
Genovese said in a dissent,"This means that the class of 2020 gets a free pass and a law license with no bar exam, not even an online/remote one-day bar exam, and is virtually given a license to practice law with no testing at all. This privilege was not afforded the class of 2019 and undoubtedly will not be afforded the class of 2021, or any other class."
But Barnett disagrees, "In my opinion it is not a free pass, I studied, my classmates and i studied for 8 weeks, we were ready for the test."
The additional educational and mentoring requirements enacted in today’s Order for those Qualified Candidates who elect the emergency admissions option will serve as guardrails to ensure the competency and integrity of the newly-admitted attorneys during their first year of practice, a statement from the court reads.
Here's the rest of the statement:
Registered applicants who do not meet the definition of “Qualified Candidate” will still have two opportunities to take the bar examination in a one-day, remote format in 2020: August 24, 2020 and October 10, 2020.
Concern and discussions about administration of this summer’s bar exam began when the pandemic first hit in March. The Court solicited input from the Louisiana Supreme Court Committee on Bar Admissions and the deans of the four Louisiana law schools, and explored numerous options of how to administer the bar safely, keeping the 2 health and safety of the bar applicants at the forefront.
Following extensive study and collaboration with the Committee and the deans, and considering the infection rate at the time, on May 8, 2020, the Court announced a plan to administer a modified one-day in-person examination in four cities to achieve the proper social distancing protocols required during this public health crisis.
The Court continued to study this ever-evolving issue and on June 3, 2020, announced an additional option for applicants to take the bar examination remotely. Faced with a rapidly rising coronavirus infection rate, especially among young adults, and an ongoing concern for public health and the safety of the registered bar exam applicants, on July 15, 2020, the Court announced the cancellation of the July 27, 2020 examination.
With an in-person administration deemed too uncertain for the near future, the Court considered but rejected issuing a mandate that the bar examination be taken remotely for first-time test takers. While the Court did agree to allow the voluntary selection of a remote examination option by an applicant, the majority of the Justices were not willing to mandate that the examination be taken in settings which might encounter insurmountable challenges wholly-unrelated to the competence to practice law.
This is not the first time that the Louisiana Supreme Court has waived the requirement of a written bar examination due to emergency circumstances. In June, 1953, the Louisiana Supreme Court waived the requirement for the written examination for certain candidates during the existence of the Korean Conflict.
Chief Justice Bernette Joshua Johnson commented, “This COVID-19 crisis is unprecedented, and it calls for unprecedented and bold action, including implementation of today’s Order granting one-time emergency admission to the Bar with additional requirements. This pandemic, not experienced globally since the 1918 Spanish Flu, has caused absolute disruption not only to the legal profession but to every aspect of society, with serious illness prevalent, schools shuttered nationally since March, unemployment at record high rates, and rising infection rates. We are bombarded with new information daily as we attempt to navigate these uncharted waters.
“Despite these uncertain times, as Justices, we continue to have a responsibility to ensure the competency and integrity of the legal profession. In my opinion, today’s limited one-time Order, including the additional requirements for bar admission, fulfills this responsibility. While we know that cancellation of the in-person July 2020 bar 3 examination was concerning to the many law school graduates who have spent countless hours in preparation, we believe that our action today is not only warranted, but necessary during this public health crisis. On behalf of the Court, I extend our thanks to the Louisiana Supreme Court Committee on Bar Admissions, the deans of the four Louisiana law schools and the Louisiana State Bar Association for their respective roles and contributions in bringing this solution to fruition.”