Citing COVID-19, Minnesota Law Graduates Seek to Bypass Bar Exam to Practice in Wisconsin

As jurisdictions across the country continue to evaluate whether it will be possible to administer state bar examinations as scheduled this July during the coronavirus outbreak, recent law school graduates have requested a temporary suspension of requirements that currently prevent them from practicing without taking the test.

In a Saturday report from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, three graduates from University of Minnesota's law program filed a petition with the Wisconsin Supreme Court in April with that objective in mind. Each student has already secured fall employment at firms based in Wisconsin, according to the outlet, pending results of their respective examinations.

"COVID-19 makes administering a July bar examination impractical and extremely unsafe. Administering the bar examination requires a large gathering of individuals," according to the petition.

Representatives from the state's Supreme Court and Board of Bar Examiners did not reply to Newsweek's request for comment on this story by time of publication.

Information about the petition previously shared to one petitioner's Twitter account had been made private as of Sunday afternoon. The Journal Sentinel's report said the graduates' request acknowledged health hazards associated with holding Wisconsin's bar exam this summer in light of social distancing barriers and asked the state to expand its "diploma privilege" policy instead. In Wisconsin, diploma privilege allows those who graduated from one of the state's two law schools, University of Wisconsin and Marquette University, to practice law in-state without taking the bar exam.

Wisconsin and New Hampshire are the only U.S. states that permitted this prior to the onset of the new coronavirus pandemic. On April 21, Utah's Supreme Court issued a temporary order that extended diploma privilege to graduates of law schools both in- and out-of-state in response to exam cancellations, requiring Utah State Bar applicants to undergo 360 hours of legal practice under the supervision of a licensed attorney as an interim alternative. Alaska has passed a similar order.

"We know that applicants invest several weeks and thousands of dollars preparing to take the bar exam," said Utah Supreme Court Chief Justice Matthew B. Durrant in a statement when the order was passed. "Because of the crisis, not only could we not guarantee that Utah could offer the bar examination safely, we could not tell applicants when they should start to invest the time and money to prepare for the exam."

Per the Journal Sentinel, law school graduates who recently petitioned Wisconsin's Supreme Court are seeking an expansion of the state's diploma privilege to include applicants who studied out-of-state, in line with Utah's temporary ruling. The newspaper's recent report said the court had not yet responded to the petition but had requested additional opinions from deans at University of Wisconsin and Marquette's law programs, as well as the director of the state's Board of Examiners.

An update from the National Conference of Bar Examiners on May 15 noted that Wisconsin, alongside about half of all U.S. states, has not officially cancelled its July bar exam. However, as states continue to monitor their respective outbreaks, the exam schedules could be subject to change. Law school graduates in Ohio petitioned the state's Supreme Court last month asking for an emergency adoption of diploma privilege, and graduates in New York did the same in a request to the State Bar Association.

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