On June 29, 2020, the Oregon Supreme Court heard concerns voiced by the deans of Oregon’s three law schools and the Oregon Board of Bar Examiners relating to the upcoming July 2020 Oregon Bar examination and the spread of the COVID-19 virus. The court approved several measures in response, including a one-time “Oregon Emergency Diploma Privilege” that allows 2020 graduates to be admitted to the Oregon State Bar without taking the bar exam under certain circumstances. All of Oregon’s character and fitness requirements must still be met.
But there’s a hitch! Despite the Supreme Court’s clear—and correct—ruling, 2020 graduates still must decide (by tonight!) whether to accept the Diploma Privilege or take the bar exam (either in July or October). These particular graduates are grappling with this decision after our Oregon Supreme Court carefully considered the issue and approved the Diploma Privilege out of recognition of the extraordinarily difficult circumstances under which these students finished their studies and the health risks associated with sitting for a bar exam.
I want these graduates to know that the Oregon Department of Justice will fully honor the Oregon Supreme Court’s decision. No employer should hold it against those who make the decision to forego the bar exam and elect the Diploma Privilege under these unprecedented circumstances. Today, I call on all other legal employers in the state to make the same commitment.
There are very good reasons why a graduate might decline to sit for the bar exam – including personal health vulnerabilities, vulnerable family members, or financial hardship considerations. We know that the COVID-19 pandemic has been trying for everyone, but we also know that it has disproportionately affected minorities and graduates who come from disadvantaged backgrounds. I agree with and applaud Portland City Attorney Tracy Reeve’s statement that “requiring law school graduates to study for, take, and pass the bar exam during a period of such tumult will perpetuate the continuing effects of institutionalized racism.”
Our highest court has made a difficult call correctly. Now it falls on the wider legal community to accept and implement their prudent decision. I sincerely hope no 2020 law school graduate takes the bar exam this year because they feel pressured by employers to do so. At Oregon DOJ we welcome those who choose the Diploma Privilege as full-fledged members of the bar, and we hope others will too.