More than 300 law school graduates and test proctors will crowd into the Cox Convention Center later this month for the Oklahoma bar exam.
A group who plans to take the test have asked the Oklahoma Supreme Court, the Oklahoma Board of Bar Examiners and Governor Kevin Stitt to reconsider holding the exam at all because of the ongoing spread of COVID-19.
A petition, signed by more than 100 test-takers along with a handful of practitioners and law professors, asks the state to grant diploma privilege for all May 2020 and Dec. 2019 law school graduates who plan on taking the exam this month.
Diploma privilege would grant universal acceptance into the Oklahoma bar, allowing each graduate to practice law in the state.
“Enactment of diploma privilege, or the automatic admission to the Oklahoma Bar, for recent graduates and the class of 2020 would ensure fairness and equity to all law students,” the 9-page petition read.
One signee of the petition, who requested anonymity due to concerns of possible retaliation, said the bar exam presents incredible stress when there isn’t a deadly virus spreading in the state.
“You need to try to pass this grueling examination while dealing with a global pandemic and trying to protect yourself and your loved ones,” they said. “There are other options on how to stay safer.”
The OKBBE is taking several precautions recommended by the CDC to prevent COVID-19 transmission.
Juan Garcia, the chairperson of the board, said everyone entering the building will have their temperature checked, all desks will be stationed eight feet apart and masks will be required at all times during the two-day exam.
“If you’re wearing a mask and I’m wearing a mask and we’re social distancing, we should be okay,” Garcia said, adding that while there is some amount of risk, the state cannot predict how the pandemic will evolve in the future.
“We feel that this is the best time to do it. Is it an ideal situation? Absolutely not,” Garcia said.
One law professor who signed the petition said the bar exam is not worth putting the health of individuals at risk. Stephen Galoob of the University of Tulsa College of Law said normally, a large percentage of graduates typically pass the exam under normal circumstances.
“It’s crazy to think that, of those 300 people, we’re putting everybody at risk to make sure that maybe 15 of those people don’t practice law,” Galoob said.
He also said the bar exam, for the average attorney, becomes irrelevant after they pass.
“I think almost all people who have taken the bar exam would see that it’s really more of a hazing ritual than anything else,” he said. “There’s very little connection between performance on the bar exam and the kinds of core competencies you need as an attorney to help people under the law.”