Nebraska Supreme Court Denies Request to Cancel July 2020 Bar Examination

Nebraska Supreme Court Denies Request to Cancel July 2020 Bar Examination

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Petition Filed by State Bar Examinees

The Nebraska Supreme Court met in a special consultation session to consider a petition filed late Friday afternoon July 10 seeking to cancel the July 2020 bar exam and instead grant a license to practice to all 2020 law graduates, a concept known as “diploma privilege.” The Supreme Court acted quickly to address the concerns raised in the petition. The bar exam is scheduled to take place July 28 and 29 and law graduates are typically studying diligently at this time to prepare for the looming test. The Court wanted to lay to rest any concern as to whether the bar examination would indeed take place.

Pandemic Precautions Taken

Months ago, the Nebraska State Bar Commission, charged by the Supreme Court with administering the bi-annual bar exam, began planning for an exam to be held during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Bar Commission’s goal of preventing spread of illness during the bar examination required ongoing efforts and cooperation from multiple stakeholders. Prior to the Supreme Court’s May 7, 2020 Order setting the dates for the summer 2020 bar exam, the Court consulted with the Deans of Creighton University School of Law and the University of Nebraska College of Law who fully supported holding the summer bar examination. Examinees were informed that a negative COVID test would be required to sit for the exam and a positive COVID test for the July session would result in a deferral of a candidate to a future examination, including the newly added third examination session in September.

The Lancaster County Health Department and State Health Department provided guidance and resources to ensure the safety of the examinees during the exam. In addition to providing staff for on-site temperature taking on the days of the exam, the health department has arranged for drive through COVID-19 testing prior to the exam. Financial assistance is available for those unable to pay for the COVID test. For those unable to take a test locally, the State Bar Commission invited examinees to provide individual testing plans to ensure screening occurred for all examinees prior to the exam. Additional guidance and resources are being provided so all proctors will be masked and wear face guards, and thorough sanitizing of the test site will occur daily. The goal of the advance planning is to create a safe testing environment.

Supreme Court Denies Petition

The Court’s order, a copy of which is attached, declined to cancel the July 2020 exam or grant a state diploma privilege, recognizing the challenging times but finding that protection of the public from lawyers who did not meet minimum qualifications mandated a bar examination. Nebraska does not recognize diploma privilege. The Court noted that the pass rate for Nebraska law school graduates taking the Nebraska exam in the past year was 72.2 percent. Granting diploma privilege potentially would result in providing a law license to over 25% of exam candidates who would not otherwise have been qualified to practice law. Holding the 2020 bar examination with the strict safety precautions fully in place recognizes the examinees’ desire to engage in the practice of law and balances the public health concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic and the need to protect the public.


Click to read Order S-20-0495