Bar exam changes lead to uncertainty for graduates

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Photo Credit: Sierra Wiggers | Daily Texan Staff

The Texas Supreme Court ruled to cancel the in-person July bar exam on July 3, forcing recent law graduates to adapt. Graduates must pass the bar exam to be licensed to practice in Texas, according to the State Bar of Texas website. 

The decision came after the Texas Board of Law Examiners discussed comments from students and deans of multiple Texas law schools stating that a bar exam would not be fair for everyone because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The court still plans to have an in-person exam in September and an online bar exam in October. 

Ward Farnsworth, dean of the UT School of Law, was not assigned as a delegate for the meeting, but he said he agrees with the other deans that an exam in the current situation would not accurately test competence. Instead, the deans favored an apprenticeship or diploma privilege, a system where students do not take an exam but are licensed. 

Elizabeth Bangs, assistant dean for Student Affairs at Texas Law, said the Student Affairs Office has offered to speak to students to find the best individual solution for them. She said there is also a small emergency fund available for students struggling financially.

“(Our graduates are) in really terrible positions,” Bangs said. “They're being forced to make choices where none of the choices are good choices. … We do recognize that for many of them this is extraordinarily stressful, and they genuinely feel like their livelihoods are in the balance. We're doing everything we can to support them personally, and we certainly understand their frustration.”

UT Law graduate Lauren Hutton-Work, who was scheduled to take the bar in July, attended the meeting and wrote an op-ed arguing for diploma privilege. 

"We're supposed to be entering a community of lawyers who are … supposed to ensure that we can create a space where the new legal architects can enter the profession to have even more profound impacts on our society and on our communities,” Hutton-Work said. “Really, it seems like these folks who are in the profession are trying to make us jump these insane hurdles to join them.”

An international UT Law graduate said although he has been studying for the bar since May, the cancellation of the exam has left him unsure of his future. 

“My lease, health insurance and my visa expire on July 31 and I have to be out of the country by August 30, so the last week has been very frantic,” the student said. “I have no family in the U.S. (and) I have no family in Texas. … With so much uncertainty in the past week, it has been really difficult to focus, and I haven’t been able to study at all.”

UT Law graduate Mikayla McIntyre, who is starting work in the public sector, said she isn’t sure when to tell her employers that she will be able to work.

“If we have to go to an October online exam, we won't get licensed until December, and we graduated in May,” McIntyre said. “That's a pretty big gap for us to not be able to make any income. …  Those of us who are doing public interest, we can't make any money …  so we're all kind of in a really tough spot financially.”