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April 13, 2020

Philadelphia Bar Association Statement on Pennsylvania Bar Exam Administration and Licensing in light of Covid-19

Chancellor Hon. A. Michael Snyder (ret.) of the Philadelphia Bar Association issued the following statement regarding the Pennsylvania Bar Exam Administration and Licensing in light of Covid-19:

“The Philadelphia Bar Association is committed to maintaining excellence in the profession by supporting, creating, and maintaining programs and activities which give lawyers and judges the skills to maintain professional competence. Further, we support the efforts of the area’s Law Schools to produce graduates who will have the necessary skill sets to enter the profession with a certain level of competence.

“Traditionally, law students who graduate from law school demonstrate a basic level of legal competence by passing the Pennsylvania Bar Examination, a precursor to licensing as an attorney by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.

“The current COVID-19 pandemic has made safe administration of the July 2020 Bar Examination problematic. Because the examination is traditionally administered live in a closely proctored environment, public safety concerns mitigate against a live administration of the Exam at the next scheduled date, which is in July, 2020.

“There is no question that graduating students who may not be able to take the PA Bar Examination in July, because of a postponement, will be adversely affected. These students, who anticipated entering the profession at a time of strong growth, face possible withdrawal of hiring offers, or deferral of such offers, or delays in beginning work, all of which will cause them significant financial hardship. We therefore urge the Pennsylvania Board of Law Examiners to expand efforts to safely administer the Pennsylvania Bar Examination by use of alternative technology during the period of social distancing or quarantining necessitated by COVID-19.

“Being cognizant of these potential adverse effects, the Deans of the Commonwealth’s law schools (as well as the Deans of Rutgers Law School Camden, Seton Hall Law School and Commonwealth Law School Widener) have communicated with the Pennsylvania Board of Law Examiners, requesting various actions by the Supreme Court and the Board of Law Examiners. One of the actions requested by the Deans, on behalf of their students and faculty, is a provision for a granting of a temporary license to practice law, under supervision by licensed attorneys, until such time as the student has an opportunity to take the PA Bar Exam. The temporary license would terminate once the student has taken the examination.

“This procedure would allow students to minimize their financial hardships, but would still require the students to ultimately take the PA Bar Exam. The Philadelphia Bar Association, and the Association’s Committee on Academic Engagement, composed of representatives of all of the area’s law schools, supports such a proposal. It is neither reasonable, nor fair, to allow a group of students to be exempted from a requirement that has existed within the Commonwealth since 1902. The purpose of the Exam is to provide a uniform basis to determine the competence of a graduate to practice law in the Commonwealth.

“It is true that these are unique times, with unique challenges. But the solution to the problems faced by law students who graduate during the pandemic COVID-19 is not to exempt them permanently from any requirement to take a Bar Examination. The Deans of the Law Schools, and the Committee on Academic Engagement have proposed a solution that is cognizant of the temporary challenges presented by the pandemic, but that recognizes the need for consistency in the profession.

“Accordingly, the Philadelphia Bar Association stands firmly in support of the proposals made by the Deans of the Law Schools in their letter to the Pennsylvania Board of Law Examiners. We will continue to support and encourage excellence and competence in the profession, we will continue to provide support and resources to law students, but we will not support a process that may put the public at risk by permanently licensing law graduates who have not proved their competence by passing a time-tested Bar Examination.”

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