The bar exam is a ritual, a rite of passage and a way to find out if individuals have mastered the skills necessary to be a practicing lawyer. However, in four states, people can practice law without having to pass the bar exam.
The COVID-19 crisis is the primary reason the bar exam has been waived. When the Louisiana Supreme Court waived the requirement, Chief Justice Bernette Johnson wrote, “we believe that our action today is not only warranted, but necessary during this public health crisis.” This implies there could soon be a shortage of attorneys, or there already is.
The three other states that do require bar exams are Utah, Washington and Oregon. In each case, the pandemic was part of the reason.
What is lost when someone who wants to become a lawyer does not have to take the bar exam? First, the exam is part of the legal system in dozens of countries, which shows a great deal of the bar’s value in the eyes of the legal systems in places around the world.
In America, the exam used in almost all states is the one created by the National Conference of Bar Examiners. Questions about local legal practices are sometimes added. The process is arduous. The test usually lasts two days. A law degree is almost universally a requirement to be allowed to take the exam.
The bar exam is nothing if not difficult. In some states, barely half of those who take it the first time pass. The number nationwide is 58%. In several states, the percentage is much lower. For example, in Nevada, the number is only 52%, and it is only 51% in Arizona.
The bar exam has been the standard to become a practicing lawyer for decades. In some of the states that have waived it, they have some other set of requirements in place. In Louisiana, a person has to have received their law degrees no earlier than December. Second, they must already have registered for the 2020 bar exam in Louisiana. Third, they cannot have previously sat for a bar exam in any other state. They must also take 25 hours of continuing legal education and a monitoring program. Each of these may constitute a bar, but not a high one.