Recent Louisiana Law Grads Don’t Need Bar Exam Due to Virus

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Since Louisiana’s July bar exam was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, recent law school graduates can practice law without the exam, the Louisiana Supreme Court said in an order Wednesday.

But the court also said the graduates must take extra courses and go through mentoring by the end of 2021 to keep their law licenses.

“The additional educational and mentoring requirements … will serve as guardrails to ensure the competency and integrity of the newly-admitted attorneys during their first year of practice,” the court said in a news release.

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Chief Justice Bernette Johnson wrote the order and said the action was “not only warranted, but necessary during this public health crisis.” Three of the seven justices dissented, two of them describing the change as a giveaway to more than 500 people who have earned law degrees since the start of December. The state Supreme Court estimates that 441 would qualify, deputy administrator Robert Gunn said in an email.

“Gifting a license to practice law is wrong,” wrote Justice William J. Crain. He said only three other states — Washington, Oregon and Utah — have waived the bar exam because of the pandemic.

Justice James Genovese wrote, “This Order labels this free pass as an ‘emergency admission.’ And I ask, ‘Just what is the emergency?’”

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Crain noted that the test was not waived even after Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana in 2005, destroying many graduates’ exam records and forcing them to retake the test. “Not even in the face of flood-induced homelessness, near complete displacement, and death did we eliminate this prerequisite,” he wrote.

One-fifth to one-quarter of all graduates who take the bar exam fail it, according to Genovese and Crain.

Justice Jefferson D. Hughes III also dissented, calling Wednesday’s order an overreaction to the overreaction of canceling the test.

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The bar exam was waived in 1953 because of the Korean War, according to the court’s news release.

On July 15, the state’s highest court canceled a July 27 bar exam date, saying it would be “imprudent for health and safety reasons related to the COVID-19 virus.” The date for either an online exam or an in-person test in four cities around the state had been approved when cases of the disease had fallen and some restrictions had been lifted, but cases are now on the rise. All four cities where the test had been planned were in areas with the highest infection rates, the court said.

The Louisiana Department of health reported Wednesday that the number of people diagnosed with the COVID-19 illness had risen by 2,771, to 99,354 — the largest single-day increase ever in Louisiana — and 3,558 of them have died. The 1,581 currently hospitalized patients comprise the largest number since 1,588 on April 23.

The heads of the four law schools in Louisiana — at Tulane, Louisiana State, Southern and Loyola universities — wrote to the state Supreme Court the day after the July exam was canceled, asking for a “clear path forward” for their graduates.

To be eligible for the program, students must have graduated in December or later from a school accredited by the American Bar Association, and be first-time bar exam applicants who have completed registration for the July or October test and don’t plan to take one in any other state or territory this year.

To remain qualified they must complete 25 hours of continuing legal education and the Louisiana State Bar Association’s “Transition Into Practice” mentoring program by Dec. 31, 2021.

The court said people who registered for the exam but don’t meet the definition of “qualified candidate” can take the exam remotely on Aug. 24 or Oct. 10. Graduates who take the bar exam and don’t pass it cannot participate in the emergency program.

By AP reporter Janet McConnaughey


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