National Survey Finds Support for Bar Exam

Four out of five Americans support in-person or remote bar exam for law school graduates

A national survey, representative of the adult US population, shows that the American people overwhelmingly support the requirement that law school graduates pass a bar examination before being allowed to practice law.

When asked how the bar exam should be administered during the COVID-19 pandemic, 60% of respondents support a supervised in-person bar exam with masks, social distancing, and compliance with all other local health guidelines during the pandemic. Nineteen percent (19%) support a bar exam that would allow for online or other remote testing. Just 1 in 20 (6%) favor eliminating the bar exam during the pandemic. Fifteen percent (15%) had no opinion.

When respondents were asked about the post-pandemic environment, support for the in-person bar exam increased to 70%. Fourteen percent (14%) favor offering the bar exam remotely once the pandemic passes. Just 5% support eliminating the bar exam requirement and allowing graduates from accredited law schools to be licensed to practice law.

High courts in most jurisdictions make the decision about whether or not law school graduates must take the bar exam, which has traditionally been held in person and supervised. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, several courts have been petitioned to waive the bar exam requirement in favor of what’s known as “diploma privilege,” which allows graduates from accredited law schools to be licensed to practice law with no licensure exam.

Consistent with the role of the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) to provide admission authorities, courts, the legal education community, and candidates with information and educational resources, NCBE commissioned a nationwide survey to better understand attitudes of the American people toward the bar exam. The findings show that the American people want lawyers, like other professionals in high-stakes fields, to pass an exam before being licensed to practice.

“The bar exam, like other high-stakes professional licensure exams, is critical to the protection of the public interest and to ensuring that new lawyers have demonstrated possession of the basic knowledge and skills required to obtain a general license to practice law,” said Hulett “Bucky” Askew, chair of the NCBE Board of Trustees and former Consultant on Legal Education to the American Bar Association.

“Lawyers are entrusted to protect the legal interests of the American people and are called upon for everything from the mundane to the extraordinary, from fender benders to murders. Could you imagine a campaign to allow doctors or commercial pilots or engineers to skip their licensing exams and begin operating or flying or building bridges? It’s not a good idea for those professions, and it's certainly not a good idea for recent law school graduates,” said Hon. Zel M. Fischer, a judge on the Supreme Court of Missouri speaking on his own behalf.

The survey was conducted as part of a national “omnibus” questionnaire created by public opinion research firm Prime Group and distributed by YouGov America among 1,135 adults statistically representative of the US population in September 2020.

 Results from a survey about the bar exam during the COVID pandemic. A bar graph