Emory University has said it is working to ensure students can still sit for their bar exams across the country, in spite of the coronavirus pandemic.
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Emory University has said it is working to ensure students can still sit for their bar exams across the country, in spite of the coronavirus pandemic.

Ingrid Bilowich is one of several Emory University law students worried how coronavirus will affect their ability to take the bar exam.

Emory, along with all other University System of Georgia schools in the state, announced March 23 they were switching to online classes for the rest of the semester as worries about the spread of COVID-19 continued. The school extended its spring break through last week.

In regular circumstances, some state bar organizations have limits on how much distance learning a student can do and still qualify to sit for the bar. This has raised concerns for graduating law students who are applying for the exam this year.

"I didn't even know that was a thing," Bilowich said. "But the bar association can waive that if it's a unique circumstance, and, if anything, this must qualify as unique." 

Bilowich is graduating Emory this year and plans to take the bar exam in New York.

The university's law school sent out an email to students last Wednesday, citing New York as one of the state bar associations that could potentially come into question. 

"In the past, some states have restricted the number of distance learning classes a student could take and still qualify to sit for the bar," Emory said in its email. "Those rules allow schools to apply for a waiver in unique circumstances. (These are unique circumstances.) If we are required to apply for a waiver on your behalf, we will."

In a statement released to GPB News, Emory Law said that it is "continuing to follow guidance" from the American Bar Association.

A February memo sent from managing director Barry Currier said the ABA considers distance learning a "good solution to emergencies or disasters that make the law school facilities unavailable or make it difficult or impossible for students to get to the law school."

Emory reiterated that while they are working to resolve any issues with state bar certifications, it's attention is currently on adapting the rest of the semester to online learning.

"We are currently focused on helping our students and faculty transition to a remote learning environment," the university's statement said.

For Bilowich, the worries extended beyond the bar requirements and to whether or not there will even be an exam to take. 

"We don't even know if there's going to be a bar exam scheduled, or how they're going to accomodate that," Bilowich said. "If there's not supposed to be more than 10 people in a room or we're supposed to be 6 feet apart, how are we supposed to have a bar exam?"

Emory Law Associate Dean for Marketing and Communication Susan Clark said the school understands the anxieties around the unique circumstances.

"This is a time of great anxiety and everyone wants to know everything right away," Clark said. "But every university in the country is really focused on its coursework first."

The university directed any questions about the bar exam towards state bar jurisdictions. Both the New York State Bar and the Georgia State Bar were not available for comment due to their offices being closed because of ongoing public health concerns.

Bilowich is trying not to let the unanswered questions become a bigger anxiety than they already are. 

"There is a good chance that this will be the reality for the class of 2020 going forward," Bilowich said. "This is a worry, but there are so many other things going on in the bigger scheme of things, even if we can't take the bar this year."

Emory sent an email to students saying they would work to resolve issues with their applications to state bar exams.
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Emory sent an email to students saying they would work to resolve issues with their applications to state bar exams.