Apr 20, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus upends law students' career plans as bar exams face delays

Illustration of traffic light with gavels in each light

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

The coronavirus pandemic is forcing states to consider postponing their summer bar exams, upending the career plans of around 46,000 graduating law school students, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Why it matters: A person must pass the bar before they can practice as an attorney in most states — and the bar exam is often only offered twice a year.

  • The job market for lawyers is also starting to contract as law firms reduce staff and cut pay because courts are closed and settlement discussions are on pause.
  • Law students often face tens of thousands of dollars of debt after their educations, and the current uncertainty could have a terrible impact on their future finances.

The big picture: New York, Hawaii and Massachusetts have already planned to cancel or delay their summer bar exams.

  • The National Conference of Bar Examiners, which administers the exam, said it would make additional tests available for the fall for states that postpone.
  • Some groups have lobbied for states to issue exemptions to allow graduates to practice law in a limited capacity until they can take the exam safely in 2021. The Utah Supreme Court said this month that it is considering waiving the exam requirement for recent law school graduates.

What they're saying: "The job market is beyond grim, and then they are in this no man’s land," New York State Bar Association President Hank Greenberg told the WSJ.

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