Paul L. Caron

Sunday, June 14, 2020

California Deans Urge Supreme Court To Not Leave Class Of 2020 Law Grads In Bar Exam Limbo

Following up on Friday's post, California Bar Exam: July September October Online?:

Letter From California Deans To California Supreme Court (June 14, 2020):

California State Bar (2014)[W]e are writing to express concern and disappointment in the manner in which planning for the summer 2020 bar exam has proceeded. We urge the Court to take concrete actions bearing the needs of the Class of 2020 graduates in mind.

We understand, of course, that circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic have unsettled many settled expectations. We are all dealing with the considerable uncertainties for the fall, including the extent to which groups can gather in enclosed spaces, obviously relevant to the feasibility of an in-person administration of the bar exam. This is a time, however, when there is great need for clarity and transparency. The manner in which planning for the 2020 summer exam has proceeded thus far has not met this need.

The failure to have a concrete plan for the summer 2020 bar exam has created considerable anguish among our recent graduates. They have already suffered as a consequence of the pandemic, being required to pivot to distance education, not having the opportunity to celebrate their accomplishments in law school with their peers, and not being able to attend graduation exercises with their family and friends. They have now begun studying for an exam that may take place in September, or possibly in October, or even might be postponed still later. It is exceedingly difficult for them to plan their bar studies under these conditions. And the substantial uncertainty may also adversely impact the Class of 2020 graduates’ ability to financially support themselves through the exam-taking process, as well their ability to prepare adequately and effectively for the exam itself.

We do fully recognize the challenges of settling on an appropriate timing and method for a fall administration of the exam. It is possible and perhaps quite likely that in September in many parts of the state, no groups larger than 40 will be permitted to be in the same enclosed space, even with physical distancing. At the same time, as of now, only California and D.C. have expressed interest in making use of the October date and NCBE’s potential online materials. There are extremely challenging aspects to remote proctoring and delivery, which it is not clear to us that the Bar or Examsoft have adequate preparation for or vetting to resolve. There are also serious equity concerns with an online administration, given what is required in terms of private workspace, stable internet connection, etc.

Fundamentally, we believe that more attention should be focused on the needs of a cohort— future leaders of the profession—who want and deserve more solid ground, notwithstanding the challenges we describe above.

We therefore respectfully ask the Court to consider the following:

  • First and foremost, we request that the Court meet with a representative group of ABA law school deans as soon as practicable to discuss the path forward for the summer 2020 bar exam. This meeting would permit the Court to hear from deans regarding the practical impacts associated with the options for administering a bar exam this fall. Stakeholder involvement is key to any proposal issued by the Court, both to enhance legitimacy and to ensure that the decision is based on complete and accurate information about the likely consequences of the decision.
  • Second, whether the Court agrees to meet or not, we ask for a prompt decision on bar administration, so our graduates can plan. We have seen in the CBX workplan a July 6th date for a ‘go/no go’ decision on an online bar. Please understand how painful it is for our students to live in this ongoing state of limbo. The uncertainty itself is corrosive and is undermining our graduates’ ability to manage their lives during these extremely challenging times. This is particularly so for those students facing health, social, family and economic obstacles, challenges that disproportionately impact candidates of color and those without the financial resources to meet the demands of this situation.
  • Third, alongside the Court’s plan for a 2020 exam administration, we urge the Court to consider alternative pathways to licensure. In particular, we previously called upon the Court to consider provisional licenses, with supervision and possibly other requirements for admission being met.
  • Finally, assuming that some fall administration of a California bar exam indeed takes place, we urge that steps be taken to ensure prompt grading of the exams. Traditionally, students receive bar results a week or two before Thanksgiving, the latest bar results date in the country. Although we understand that this timing is unlikely with a later administration of the bar, delaying grading could preclude those who do not pass from taking the February bar. Delayed reporting of results also harms the ability of many graduates to start law practice, often with serious financial consequences.

This is an extremely challenging moment and we do recognize that there is not a straightforward path forward or an easy answer. Thank you for considering our views, and we hope that you will be willing to schedule a time to discuss these important issues in further detail soon.

Paul L. Caron
Duane and Kelly Roberts Dean and Professor of Law
Pepperdine University Rick J. Caruso School of Law

Erwin Chemerinsky
Dean and Jesse H. Choper Distinguished Professor of Law
University of California, Berkeley School of Law

Eric Christiansen
Interim Dean and Professor of Law
Golden Gate University, School of Law

Michael T. Colatrella Jr.
Interim Dean & Professor of Law
University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law

Allen Easley
Dean & Professor of Law
Western State College of Law

David L. Faigman
Chancellor & Dean & John F. Digardi Professor of Law
University of California Hastings College of the Law

Stephen C. Ferruolo
Dean and Professor of Law
University of San Diego School of Law

Susan Freiwald
Dean and Professor of Law
University of San Francisco School of Law

Andrew T. Guzman
Dean and Carl Mason Franklin Chair in Law, & Professor of Law and Political Science
University of Southern California, Gould School of Law

Anna M. Han
Interim Dean and Professor of Law
Santa Clara University, School of Law

Rudolph C. Hasl
Interim Dean
Whittier School of Law

Kevin R. Johnson
Dean and Mabie-Apallas Professor of Public Interest Law and Chicana/o Studies
University of California, Davis School of Law

Jenny S. Martinez
Richard E. Lang Professor of Law & Dean
Stanford University, School of School

Jennifer L. Mnookin

Dean and David G. Price & Dallas P. Price Professor of Law
University of California, Los Angeles School of Law

Matt Parlow
Dean and Donald P. Kennedy Chair in Law
Chapman University Dale E. Fowler School of Law

Susan Westerberg Prager
Dean and Professor of Law
Southwestern Law School

L. Song Richardson

Dean and Chancellor’s Professor of Law
University of California, Irvine School of Law

Niels Schaumann
President and Dean
California Western School of Law

Michael Waterstone
Fritz B. Burns Dean and Professor of Law
Loyola Law School, Loyola Marymount University

TaxProf Blog coverage of the July 2020 bar exam:

Coronavirus, Legal Ed News, Legal Education | Permalink


One wonders if the Court even understands the critical role law schools now play in assisting recent law school graduates prepare for the bar exam, including locations to study, financial support and review classes. The lack of transparency from the Court at a time of crisis (now social as well as health related) is inexplicable.

Posted by: Stephen Diamond | Jun 14, 2020 4:04:51 PM