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Supreme Court denies forgoing the bar exam, outlines alternative options

Coronavirus

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BOISE — The Idaho Supreme Court has denied a request from 21 University of Idaho College of Law professors who asked that diploma privilege be granted to graduates of law schools this year. That would have meant students could practice law without completing the bar exams due to COVID-19 restrictions.

The professors wrote a letter to the Supreme Court on July 10. The court responded in a letter Monday.

“While we recognize that COVID-19 has placed applicants in a difficult position, we will not compromise the standards we have set for admission to the bar,” the letter states. “Approximately half of this year’s test-takers attended law schools outside of Idaho. Many of these students have spent countless hours and substantial resources in preparing for the bar exam to take place as scheduled. If Idaho were to cancel or postpone the bar exam, both Idahoans and these out of state examinees would obviously be greatly disadvantaged.”

The response addresses concerns from both students and professors that COVID-19 could create unsafe testing conditions and that many students could be at a disadvantage because they are caring for family members who are sick, suffering from financial consequences of the pandemic or have been diagnosed themselves.

“We can’t guarantee people’s safety, just like no one can guarantee people’s safety right now given the pandemic,” Maureen Braley, associate director of the Idaho State Bar, explained to the Idaho Statesman. “But we’re operating consistent with the protocols in place … I know there’s risk, just like there’s risk going to the grocery store right now.”

The Idaho State Bar will implement safety procedures for those who choose to take the exam on the 28th and 29th of this month, including:

  • Thermal screening prior to entering the testing site;
  • Mandatory masks at all times;
  • Enhanced cleaning and sanitation protocols throughout the shared spaces;
  • Exam takers seated in large rooms with 20 or fewer people, spaced six feet or more apart;
  • Pre-packaging all examination supplies well in advance to further safeguard from touch transfer of the virus.

The Supreme Court also announced remote or online version of the bar exam created by the National Conference of Bar Examiners administered on Oct. 5-6. Passing this test will let graduates practice law in Idaho, but its score is not transferable for admission in other states.

The Idaho Supreme Court also outlines the option to defer the exam until a future date, stating all fees would be waived.

In another change, the Court announced that the term for graduates to have a limited license has been extended. With this option, any 2020 graduate of an ABA accredited law school who has already registered for the exam in Idaho and chooses to defer it can practice law under the supervision of a licensed attorney. This limited license would stand until Oct. 31, 2021.

Back in April, Judy Perry Martinez, president of the American Bar Association, urged states administering the bar exam to “adopt emergency rules that would authorize 2019 and 2020 law graduates who cannot take a bar exam because of the pandemic to engage in a limited practice of law under certain circumstances,” according to a press release. The limited license extension from the Idaho Supreme Court fulfills this.

“As the professional licensure exam for lawyers, the bar exam helps ensure the professional integrity and competence of the legal profession, creating a standard that informs and protects both the attorneys operating in our state and the clients who retain their services,” the response adds.

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