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Our View: If bar exam is important any other year, it should also be required this year | COMMENTARY

Standards are in place for a reason. And if standards are important, they shouldn’t be compromised, even during trying times. So we agree with Del. Haven Shoemaker, R-5, came out against the movement to waive the bar exam for recent law school graduates.

Shoemaker penned a letter, also signed by four of his Republican colleagues in the Maryland General Assembly, to Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera and associate judges of the Maryland Court of Appeals in response to an Aug. 13 letter sent by 25 other General Assembly members that argued “diploma privilege” should be bestowed upon recent law school graduates, allowing them to forgo the bar exam and immediately enter the profession because it is unsafe to administer the bar in person.

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Maryland courts have already delayed the two-day bar exam, which is usually scheduled in July, until Oct. 5-6 in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Applicants to the bar filed a petition July 31 with the Court of Appeals to request a waiver. The dean of the University of Maryland’s Francis King Carey School of Law and the University of Baltimore School of Law also delivered a letter in support of the petition to Barbera. Diploma privilege existed in Wisconsin prior to the pandemic and has since been temporarily adopted in other states, including Washington state, Utah and Louisiana.

Shoemaker, of Carroll County, Del. Jason Buckel of Allegany County, Del. Daniel Cox of Carroll and Frederick counties; Del. Susan McComas of Harford County; and Sen. Chris West of Baltimore penned the letter on Aug. 18. All of those who signed have worked as attorneys. Maryland’s State Board of Law Examiners said on Thursday that it believes prospective attorneys should take the bar exam remotely in October. The Maryland Court of Appeals accepted public comment through Monday afternoon and could rule at anytime.

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Shoemaker, who took the exam in 1992, said in his letter that the bar gives credibility to attorneys and that clients “deserve to have confidence that their attorney possesses some level of legal acumen associated with admission to the Bar.” Shoemaker also wrote that the pro-waiver letter raised logistical questions.

Shoemaker’s letter likened the bar exam to professionals in other fields such as accounting and plumbing, who need to demonstrate proficiency before they can begin work. The letter reads, “… in order to instill faith in our system of justice, recent law school graduates should be subjected to an examination of the basic tenets of law just as generations of prospective candidates for admission to the Bar have been before, even in times of turmoil.”

It comes down to this: Is the bar exam an important, even essential, determiner of whether a law school graduate has what it takes to practice law in Maryland?

If the answer is no, then by all means, give the recent grads diploma privilege and let them get started with their careers. But if the answer is yes at any other time, the answer has to be yes at this time.

The coronavirus has made virtually everything aboutlife a challenge, but you can’t allow a group of people entering into a profession — whether that is medicine or accounting or plumbing or the law — without the requisite training and qualifications just because things got challenging.

We hope that the court does not decide having a diploma is good enough to practice law right now and that future attorneys will be able to take the bar exam, virtually or in person, in October.

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