National Law Journal op-ed: An 'Immodest Proposal': Bar Exam Requires Innovative Accommodations Amid Pandemic, by Judith Welch Wegner (North Carolina; co-author, The Bar Exam and the COVID-19 Pandemic: The Need for Immediate Action):
As bar leaders and examiners across the nation collectively face the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic, I write with an “immodest proposal.”
In his 1729 essay “A Modest Proposal,” Jonathan Swift ironically proposed that poor Irish toddlers be fattened and sold as food for the wealthy, to control overpopulation and unemployment and improve the economy. In writing, he hoped to shock the policymakers of his time to move beyond simplistic and ineffectual responses to the Irish plight. However, I fear that Swift’s description is all too accurate in describing how bar licensing authorities and senior bar leaders are approaching the COVID-19 pandemic as it affects graduating law students.
In using this analogy my point is to remind decision-makers of the stark realities facing graduating students and desperate citizens if recent law graduates are placed into a prolonged professional coma with crippling adverse effects. Let’s look those realities in the eye.
While several states have already decided to postpone their upcoming bar exams to fall, it’s worth noting that a traditional September bar exam may not be viable. Unfortunately, we face a future in which COVID-19 may result in ongoing limitations on public assemblies, particularly if a second wave of infections materializes. The upshot would be a second rescheduling, likely in February, with other solutions harder to achieve because of lost time.
Further, a September—or later—bar exam ignores the costs to students. Graduating students have no ready way to secure the funds they will need to survive for the added months before the proposed September 2020 rescheduled bar exam. These costs are significant: bar prep courses, living costs and lost wages for those displaced from part-time jobs. Mental health costs will also rise, as the stress of caretaking responsibilities and uncertainty about the future cause anxiety to grow. ...
[I]t’s time to mitigate immediate problems through supervised practice rules. ... Bar leaders should also consider adopting an emergency provisional licensing system. For example, grant registered bar candidates a one-year provisional license that functions as an enhanced training and evaluation period.
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