Despite Coronavirus Fears, Arizona Will Hold Its Bar Exam This Month

Published: Saturday, July 4, 2020 - 11:38am
Updated: Saturday, July 4, 2020 - 5:17pm

The Arizona Supreme Court rejected a petition submitted by recent law school graduates requesting the state postpone the 2020 bar exam, which is scheduled for July 28 and 29. The Supreme Court also rejected a request for so-called emergency diploma privilege, where law school graduates would be permitted to practice law temporarily until it was safe to take the exam.

The state's bar exam will continue as scheduled, and an online alternative will be offered in October.

The decision came despite dozens of recent law school graduates and exam applicants filing a petition with the state Supreme Court, arguing that administering the exam during the coronavirus pandemic was needlessly risky. Hundreds of future attorneys would be required to spend two full days in an enclosed space as Arizona sees record infection rates and hospitalizations.

"The Board's plan places examinees at undue risk of contracting or spreading COVID-19," the petition said. "Further, this undue risk presents serious concern to applicants who are at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-10 or who live with or care for immunocompromised persons."

The petition also requested so-called diploma privilege, which would allow first-time applicants for admission to the bar and the right to practice in a limited capacity until it's safe for them to take the exam. With many law students facing student loans beginning in October, diploma privilege would allow them to begin making payments while otherwise aiding a community suffering the economic effects of the pandemic.

"Diploma privilege would enable a new class of lawyers to begin their advocacy careers by supporting their struggling communities," the petition said. "This includes helping people with applications for unemployment benefits, eviction and foreclosure procedures, state and federal public benefits, health insurance claims, and bankruptcy proceedings."

Many of the students have job offers that are contingent on passing the bar exam. Some are facing serious hardship due to the pandemic and haven't been able to prepare for the exam, which often requires months of preparation. Granting diploma privilege and lowering the passing score were potential solutions laid out in the petition.

The state rejected the petition, arguing that the exam space will comply with CDC physical distancing guidelines. Exam takers from out of state will be required to quarantine for 14 days before taking the test, and everyone entering will have their temperatures taken. Masks or face shields are required — but examinees must provide their own.

The state also offered an online version of the exam in October. The October exam would only allow admission to the State Bar of Arizona, while the July exam is transferable to 30 states.

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