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The novel coronavirus COVID-19 has profoundly disrupted life in the United States. Schools and universities have closed throughout much of the country. Businesses have shuttered, and employees are working from home whenever possible. Cities and states are announcing lockdowns in which citizens may leave their homes only for vital errands or exercise.

Medical experts advise that at least some of these restraints will continue for 18 months or more—until a vaccine is developed, tested, and administered widely. It is possible that localities will be able to lift some of these restrictions (such as lockdowns and school closures) intermittently during those months, but other restraints (social distancing, limits on large gatherings) are likely to continue for a year or more.

Under these conditions, jurisdictions will not be able to administer the July 2020 bar exam in the usual manner. Even if some of the most rigorous restrictions have been lifted by July 28, prohibitions on large gatherings are likely to remain. Attempting to administer the bar exam to hundreds of test takers in a single room would endanger the test takers, staff administering the exam, and the public health. The variation in jurisdictional outbreaks and public health responses may also compromise the ability to set a single test date across the country.

At the same time, it is essential to continue licensing new lawyers. Each year, more than 24,000 graduates of ABA-accredited law schools begin jobs that require bar admission. The legal system depends on this yearly influx to maintain client service. The COVID-19 crisis, moreover, will dramatically increase the need for legal services, especially among those who can least afford those services. We cannot reduce entry to the profession at a time when client demand will be at an all-time high.

In this paper, we explain why it is urgent to maintain the flow of new lawyers into the legal system, and then outline six options for sustaining that supply. As we explain, three of those options are risky and likely to fail. The other three, however, offer significant promise for assuring competent legal services to the public. Just as courts are temporarily adapting their practices to keep the justice system in place during this pandemic, we need to temporarily adapt our licensing system. We cannot afford to close the doors to the profession in these precarious times.