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By Miriam Raftery

July 23, 2020 (San Diego) – Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, for the first time, the California Bar Association will be conducting the California Bar Exam online. The test required for licensing attorneys will be postponed from September 9-10 until October 5-6. The deadline to register is tomorrow, July 24.

The action was ordered by the California Supreme Court in a letter to the State Bar Association on July 16, which also provided for postponement of the exam, provisional supervised licenses for 2020 law school graduates, and reduced scores required for passage.

To assure that recent graduates will be able to begin work without delay, provisional licenses for 2020 graduates will be effective until at least June 1, 2022 or until they can take and pass a California bar exam, for those unable to do so this fall.

In addition, the score required for passage has been reduced from 1439 to 1390, not only for this year’s graduates, but for exams in the future as well. 

State Senate leader Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) issued a statement praising the state Supreme Court for “quickly reaching a resolution on the issue confronting recent law school graduates preparing to take the 2020 bar exam and the call on the legal profession for more inclusion and representation,” adding, “The solution may not be perfect, but we are living in imperfect times. The Court’s pragmatic and compassionate approach will enhance fairness and diversity within the legal system while improving access to the profession. And yet, there is still more work to do. “We will continue to look to the Court and work with the California State Bar to ensure its rules promote equity and justice, both for its practitioners and the people they serve.” 

The high court’s letter to the California Bar Association noted that due to the pandemic, “many law school graduates are being substantially affected by the resulting disruption. Some graduates have lost job offers. Many are about to lose health insurance, cannot find a job to pay bills, or are in fear of deportation if they cannot enter the bar in time to retain job offers. Many more have student loan payments that become due in mid-November, but without a law license and the ability to work, they fear going into default. With these considerations in mind, the court has sought the safest, most humane and practical options for licensing law graduates…”

The court rejected adopting diploma-privilege criteria used by some other states, noting that law schools in California include a diverse array of ABA accredited, California accredited, and California registered schools. 

“If California were to adopt diploma-privilege criteria used by other states, graduates of nearly four dozen California law schools would not meet those criteria and would be excluded,” the court’s letter stated. “With these considerations in mind, the court seeks a path that ensures the fair and equal treatment of all graduates, regardless of law school accreditation status, while also ensuring that protections remain in place for consumers of legal services. 

The court encourages law schools to help graduates who lack internet access at home or lack a place for two days of uninterrupted examination by allowing use of school facilities and equipment as needed.

In lowering the score required for passage, the court noted that California, along with one other state, has the highest required pass score.

Because postponement of the bar may impact employment prospects, and because the pandemic may have put some 2020 grads in a position of being unable to study or prepare for a fall bar exam, the court directed the Bar Association to implement a temporary supervised provisional licensure program allowing grads to practice certain areas of the law if supervised by a licensed attorney. The program is available for graduates of California-based law schools and grads of law schools outside California permitted to take the California bar exam.

The legal professional is not the only one impacted by the pandemic.  Numerous other professional licensing exams have been placed in limbo, as licensing boards scramble to find solutions for graduates in fields ranging from architecture to nursing.


Miriam Raftery, editor and founder of East County Magazine, has over 35 years of journalism experience. She has won more than 350 journalism awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, San Diego Press Club, and the American Society of Journalists & Authors. Her honors include the Sol Price Award for responsible journalism and three James Julian awards for public interest reporting from SPJ’s San Diego chapter. She has received top honors for investigative journalism, multicultural reporting, coverage of immigrant and refugee issues, politics, breaking news and more. Thousands of her articles have appeared in national and regional publications.

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