Letter Deans Chemerinsky (UC-Berkeley), Faigman (UC-Hastings), Jennifer Mnookin (UCLA) & Song Richardson (UC Irvine) to the Class of 2020:
We know that many of you are interested in the Zoom meeting that the California law school deans had this morning with members of the California Supreme Court and representatives from the California State Bar. Here is a brief high-level summary of that meeting. We thought it made sense to share this jointly, as we were the four deans who represented the ABA deans on the call.
Three members of the Court joined the call, Justices Cuellar, Groban and Liu. The Chief Justice’s senior attorney was also in attendance. An assortment of senior leaders from the State Bar and its consultants also joined the conversation.
The call began with Bar representatives outlining the exam choices they were confronting and their experience with the on-line version of the “Baby Bar,” administered last week. That bar was taken by around 280 candidates and the experience, it appears, was indeterminate.
Much of the early discussion from the State Bar folks focused on the choice between a September and October exam, with the decided recognition that a September in-person exam was almost certainly impossible. The strong sense of the early part of the meeting was that the State Bar was fairly set on the October date, though latter parts of the meeting seemed to belie that conclusion. Moreover, it was strongly intimated that a no-exam pathway was not being seriously contemplated by the Bar. But, again, this sentiment may not have been shared by the Justices, who later said that they were keeping open minds about the best path forward.
As many of you know, the deans of all of the ABA law schools coordinated our message to the Court and Bar, and four of us acted as spokespersons for the group.
As a number of you have asked for further detail, the four of us are compiling our remarks in a single document and should be able to send that to you later today.
In short, the four of us, on behalf of all of our ABA colleagues, advocated strongly for an emergency diploma privilege for 2020 candidates for the California Bar. The current unprecedented times demand unprecedented and courageous solutions. COVID-19 has created a climate involving multiple crises, including physical health, mental health, and financial health. Multiplying the anxiety and despair of these crises, the nation is confronting and must find solutions to the systemic racism and deep inequalities endemic in our society. At this unparalleled moment in history, even using the traditional bar exam as a point of departure feels like an affront.
Although our very strongly stated preference was for a diploma privilege, with some measure of supervision—“diploma privilege with guardrails” as we are calling it—we also addressed the question of a September versus an October administration. For an assortment of compelling reasons (again, better provided in our collected statements to be sent later today), we argued that a one-day early September exam (all essay) would be far superior to a two-day October exam.
We also addressed the need for a provisional Bar admission for those candidates who are unable to take the exam because of health, financial or other circumstances. This discussion included concern for candidates that need accommodations that cannot be met with an online format.
In conclusion, we emphasized the absolute need for certainty on a plan as soon as possible and that scoring of the exam should have to be completed by mid-December, at the very latest.
We each want to thank you for the many emails we received regarding this meeting with the Court and the Bar, and your thoughts and suggestions for how best to advocate for you.
Finally, as you know, the State Bar has invited applicants to present their views on these issues next week. We would encourage you to take the time to make your views known.
Dean and Jesse H. Choper Distinguished Professor of Law
University of California, Berkeley School of Law
David L. Faigman
Chancellor & Dean & John F. Digardi Professor of Law
University of California Hastings College of the Law
Jennifer L. Mnookin
Dean and Ralph and Shirley Shapiro Professor of Law
University of California, Los Angeles School of Law
L. Song Richardson
Dean and Chancellor’s Professor of Law
University of California, Irvine School of Law
Here is a separate email sent by Dean Chemerinsky to his UC-Berkeley graduates:
The Recorder, Law School Deans Lobby California Court for Diploma Privilege in Virus Era:
The deans said the justices gave no indication of which exam option they may favor. State Bar officials, however, appeared early in the meeting to be leaning in favor of an online exam in October, they said.