Georgia Chief Justice: New Lawyers Allowed To Practice Without Taking Bar Exam
The Georgia Supreme Court postponed the state bar exam, but recent law school graduates can practice law under special provisions.
The exam was pushed from July to Sept. 9 and 10, Chief Justice Harold Melton said last week, but lawyers who graduated within 18 months from a bar-accredited school can still practice law in the state under supervision.
Melton said lingering concerns about the spread of COVID-19 led to the court's decision.
“As we carefully considered all of our options, it became clear that the bar exam should not go forward in July,” Melton said. “Up to 1,500 people take the July bar exam each year, and almost all sit close together in the same convention hall. The Court took this step after consulting with the Georgia Department of Public Health.”
The situation creates a unique circumstance for graduating law students, many of whom have already made plans for the next step in their career. Typically, lawyers are required to pass the bar exam before they can practice law in the state they work in.
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The "provisional admission" process requires a graduate to present a certificate of character and fitness from the Board to Determine Fitness of Bar Applicants and be certified as competent to practice law by the graduate’s dean or law professor. They also cannot have previously failed the bar exam.
The decision comes after a period of uncertainty surrounding Georgia's graduating law students. As the pandemic worsened around the country and law schools took their classes online, questions lingered about how the change in procedure would affect their eligibility.
Emory University sent an email to law students explaining that they were working to resolve concerns around the bar exam both in Georgia and nationwide, GPB News reported last month.
"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. "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."
At the time, Emory law student Ingrid Bilowich expressed concerns about the logistics of taking the bar.
"We don't even know if there's going to be a bar exam scheduled, or how they're going to accommodate 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?"