The COVID-19 pandemic has helped reveal just how outdated and discriminatory the New York bar exam is, and why we should strongly consider doing away with it. New York must take this opportunity to permit diploma privilege for law grads, not just for the class of 2020, but into the future.
Over several weeks, in response to the pandemic, the New York Board of Law Examiners (BOLE) announced a series of restrictions to the 2020 bar exam. These culminated in the ultimate decision to cancel the in-person exam in favor of an online-only version, and the issuance of an emergency rule allowing graduates to work in supervised environments until they can take the exam.
But the Board’s attempts to preserve the in-person bar exam are dramatically misaligned with the reality that law grads are living. It is not humane to ask people to invest the time, focus, and money required to prepare for the bar in this time of global trauma and social upheaval. It is not safe, secure, or equitable to require an online-only test. It is not realistic to tell people they can work temporarily under supervision — assuming employers will hire them — but will still have to find the time to study for a future exam.
It is not worth saving the bar exam.
Like other high-stakes standardized tests, the bar exam has its roots in racism and has a discriminatory impact today. Like other tests, it fails to appropriately accommodate takers with disabilities . Like other tests, it does not measure skills or understanding , rewarding law grads instead for having the economic freedom to prepare for it full time, and the ability to memorize information and perform under test conditions. Despite claims that it protects the consumer from unqualified lawyers, the bar exam actually protects attorneys’ bottom lines by limiting the supply of lawyers and inflating the price of both becoming and hiring a lawyer.
In an April 2020 report , the New York Bar Association recommended “consideration of a New York Law Certification program that would permit people to forego the Bar exam entirely,” because it found […]