Bar exam for Texas’ aspiring lawyers canceled in July due to coronavirus concerns

The Texas Supreme Court on Jan. 15, 2020. Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune

After urging from Texas law school deans and aspiring lawyers, the Texas Supreme Court canceled the two-day in-person bar exams scheduled for later this month, citing growing concerns about COVID-19. The bar exams will be offered online in October.

An in-person exam is still planned for September 9 and 10 but could be canceled depending on recommendations from public health authorities. The Texas Board of Law Examiners will announce assistance for wi-fi and appropriate testing spaces and arrangements for people who prefer handwritten tests.

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The July exam, which was to bring more than 1,000 people into testing centers across the state, was canceled a day after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott banned certain outdoor gatherings of over 10 people unless local officials approve, down from the previous restriction of 100 people.

However, some have voiced concerns that delaying the bar examination could later limit job opportunity or cause professional challenges. Students generally spend 350 to 500 hours studying in the months leading up to the exam and graduate with an average of $107,000 in loans for law school, according to a letter from the 10 Texas law school deans.

The deans, along with some students and others in the legal community, suggested instead of moving the exam online, to offer the option of legal apprenticeships in lieu of an exam or extending diploma privilege — a once-common practice that allowed law school graduates to be admitted to the bar without taking the exam.

Under previous orders, applicants could delay their exam to February and practice law under the supervision of a licensed attorney.

Friday’s decision follows the recommendation that the board made Thursday, after urging from the Texas law school deans, letters from recent law-school graduates, other public input and an online petition calling for diploma privilege.

An additional registration period for the September or October exam will be made available for new applicants. July or September applicants can change their application to the February 2021 bar exam for free.

Before canceling the exam, the court approved shortening the July test and authorized the special September date to reduce the number of bar exam-takers.