University of Montana law graduates asked the state Supreme Court to license them without taking the bar exam. It has been reported that law graduates in the states of California, New Hampshire, New York, Illinois, Washington, Colorado, Oregon, Utah have also asked their states Supreme Court to not take the bar exam for licensing. The main reason for not wanting to partake in the bar exam was due to COVID-19. The filing stated that having the state grant them privilege to start practicing law right away would limit infection risk to themselves and others.
Petitioners tried hard with getting their point across and heard. They all understood that throughout their law school experience they knew that they would have to take the bar exam. What they did not anticipate was taking the exam in person with a global pandemic happening. The petitioners in Montana asked for diploma privilege. This meaning that individuals who intend to practice law in the state of Montana would use diploma privilege and be able to start working immediately as a lawyer without having to stop and study for the bar exam. The bar exam is scheduled to be taken here in Missoula in the University Center Ballroom on July 28th and July 29th. In those two days, it is said that 45-90 students will sit for the bar exam for 12 hours over two days.
Recently, the Montana Supreme Court denied the petition saying to make a move like this would put the public at risk. The reasoning stated by the Supreme Court was that a passing rate in 2019 of first-time test takers was just over 81%. Assuming a generous 85% pass rate on this year’s exam, this would mean if the court did grant diploma privilege, 14-15 individuals would be admitted to the practice of law in the state who would otherwise not be admitted. Furthermore, they made it clear this could put our public at risk and is not fair to other practitioners. The test on July 28th and 29th will be monitored and temperatures will be taken upon arrival, as well as, spacing out the test takers. With Montana’s new rule of wearing masks in public spaces it might be that all test-takers will have to wear a mask. Hopefully with all these safety measures put in place it can help to ensure a safe testing environment for all.