The Justices of the Supreme Judicial Court and the Massachusetts Board of Bar Examiners (BBE) last week announced a plan for the Massachusetts Bar Examination to proceed amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and an expanded opportunity for graduates to appear in court under the student practice rule.
The plan for the bar examination outlines three elements:
•The bar exam will be conducted using the Uniform Bar Examination (UBE) on September 30 and October 1, if that exam can be conducted safely, with social distancing in place for all examinees.
•If the UBE cannot be conducted safely in-person, an alternative exam will be administered remotely and will grant admission only to the bar of Massachusetts. In that event, the BBE will work to ensure that the exam will be similar in content to the subjects tested on the UBE, so that students who have been preparing for the UBE will not need to make major adjustments in preparing for the Massachusetts only exam.
•Regardless of whether the September 30 and October 1 bar exam is the UBE or a Massachusetts only exam, the BBE will work to expedite the grading of the exam and its character and fitness investigations so that law school graduates will have results by mid-to-late December. Admission to the bar will be postponed by only eight weeks — from the week of November 16-20, 2020, when the bar admission ceremonies were going to be held, to the week of January 11-15, 2021, when they will now be held. If an applicant has a pressing need to be admitted in late December, the applicant can arrange with the Clerk of the Supreme Judicial Court for Suffolk County to be sworn-in, reducing the delay to only five or six weeks.
The Justices also issued an order removing a time restriction applying to students appearing in court under Supreme Judicial Court Rule 3:03. For those students who are most likely to need to appear in court before they can be sworn in, who are generally those who have or will obtain employment with a district attorney, CPCS, a state legal office, or a legal services provider, and who have yet to obtain the SJC Rule 3:03 certification necessary to do so, the order will permit them to obtain such certification at any time before graduation.
On April 22, Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants sent a letter to law school deans outlining the plan. The Supreme Judicial Court also prepared information for law school graduates outlining the plan and the temporary expansion of SJC Rule 3:03.
The BBE is established by G.L. c. 221 §§35 & 36 to evaluate the qualifications of persons seeking admission to the bar of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.