Coronavirus prompts Ohio to postpone summer bar exam


By Robert Higgs - Advance Ohio Media, Cleveland (TNS)



CLEVELAND, Ohio – Ohio Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor announced Wednesday that the state bar exam for new attorneys, scheduled for late in July, will be postponed until September.

“Due to the ongoing public health concerns arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, the Supreme Court of Ohio is postponing the Ohio bar examination until Sept. 9-10,” O’Connor said in a statement.

The exam originally was scheduled for July 28-29.

Hundreds of graduating law school students around Ohio had asked the state in April to consider allowing them to be licensed to practice law without taking the bar exam because of the uncertainties caused by coronavirus.

Ohio’s bar exam is administered twice a year. The summer bar exam is the larger of the two. Nearly 900 people took Ohio’s 2019 summer bar exam.

Typically, the bar exam is administered in one location with hundreds of people working at tables in a large room, such as a convention center.

The students petitioned the Supreme Court and its bar admissions office to adopt a practice known as “diploma privilege,” which would allow them to be licensed to practice law by virtue of their juris doctorate degrees.

They suggested they be required to take additional continuing education coursework beyond the level all practicing lawyers are required to take. They also said the state could require that they graduated with a specific GPA as a threshold for licensing.

A spokesman for the Ohio Supreme Court said then that any decision on the bar exam ultimately will be made by the court and by its bar admissions staff, in consultation with the deans of Ohio’s law schools.

But it’s an issue with which every state is wrestling.

Already in April the National Conference of Bar Examiners was polling states about dates for exams in the summer and fall.

“The impact the ongoing COVID-19 crisis will have on the July 2020 Uniform Bar Examination is not certain at this time,” a note posted to the Ohio Supreme Court’s website stated then. “We are in close contact with the National Conference of Bar Examiners and other jurisdictions as we all consider possible options for the July exam in the event that bar admission office closures or prohibitions against large gatherings remain in effect.”

At that point, Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts and New York had postponed summer bar exams. Utah’s Supreme Court in April ordered that qualified recent graduates in that state could be admitted to the bar without passing the exam.

Wisconsin has long had a form of diploma privilege in place.

In her announcement, O’Connor said more details about the particulars of the September exam would be forthcoming.

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By Robert Higgs

Advance Ohio Media, Cleveland (TNS)

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