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Law professors ask Supreme Court to allow Idaho students to forgo the bar exam this year

Coronavirus

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MOSCOW — Twenty-one professors at the University of Idaho College of Law signed a letter to the Idaho Supreme Court asking them to grant “diploma privilege,” which would allow graduating students meeting certain requirements to forgo to the bar exam this year and receive their license to practice law.

States like Utah, Oregon and Washington have already granted some form of diploma privilege in 2020.

“Under normal circumstances, the goal of the bar exam is to determine whether new entrants to the Bar have the minimum competency to practice law. Under present circumstances, however, the bar exam is unlikely to serve that function effectively,” the letter states.

The professors suggest that the COVID-19 pandemic could present unfair conditions to students with health or financial problems. Their concern is that students who could pass the bar under normal circumstances may not be able to do so this year.

“There are a lot of graduates that want to succeed and want to give (the bar exam) the attention that it deserves, but their ability to do that is undermined right now by all sorts of disruptions related to the public health situation and the economic situation,” Benjamin Cover, an associate professor of law who signed the letter, told EastIdahoNews.com.

The professors suggest that it may be impossible to administer the exam in person safely. They say students taking advantage of diploma privilege would create more space for those who choose to take the exam and receive their UBE score, allowing for better social distancing measures.

To qualify for diploma privilege, individuals would have to satisfy Idaho’s character and fitness process, satisfactorily complete the MPRE, and be a graduate of an ABA-accredited law school with their JD degree, according to the suggestions in the document. The Idaho Supreme Court can choose to add additional stipulations.

The fourth page of the document outlines other suggested stipulations the Idaho Supreme Court may choose to consider if they don’t grant the proposal, including providing diploma privilege on a limited basis, only to graduates of Idaho law schools or only to first-time test-takers in Idaho.

Although the law professors are only lobbying for diploma privilege to be granted this year, many others have been questioning if the exam should be permanently modified or even discontinued.

“Just because something has been done traditionally doesn’t mean it’s a good way to continue doing things,” says Anthony Lee, a third-year law student at the University of Idaho. “If you have the folks who are the ones preparing students to be attorneys say, ‘You know what, in this circumstance, it’s fine if we forgo the exam,’ then the argument follows … that we can forgo it indefinitely.”

Rexburg attorney Sean Bartholick added, “The fact of the matter is undergrad doesn’t do anything to prepare you to take the LSAT. The LSAT really isn’t anything like law school. Law school really isn’t anything like the bar exam, and the bar exam really isn’t what real law practice is like.”

The Idaho Supreme Court has not yet responded.

The full letter can be viewed here.

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