HLS Dean Advocates for Allowing Out-of-State Law Students to Take the New York Bar Exam Amid Restrictions


Harvard Law School Dean John F. Manning ’82 joined deans from 20 law schools across the country in a letter to the New York Court of Appeals advocating for measures to allow more students to take the New York bar exam while respecting public health concerns.

The letter, sent May 1, followed an announcement from the New York Board of Law Examiners stating it would limit the seating available for its September 9-10 administration of the exam and give priority to students who graduated from one of the fifteen law schools within New York State.

“The Board likely will not be able to seat all applicants who wish to take the exam,” the Board’s statement reads.

The deans who collectively penned the letter wrote that they represent the non-New York based law schools with the largest number of students who sit for the New York exam, noting that more than 2,000 J.D. and LL.M. graduates took the exam in 2019. Those schools include Yale, Stanford, and the University of Pennsylvania, among others.


The letter acknowledges the safety concerns brought on by the coronavirus pandemic that prompted the examination restrictions and commends the work done by the Court and the Board of Examiners throughout the crisis.

“We recognize that the Court’s decision is framed against the need to protect public health in the midst of a pandemic that has brought devastating loss of life, with New York hit especially hard,” it reads.

The letter argues the Court’s approach will negatively impact the many students who planned to take the New York exam in the summer or fall, especially those who already moved back to the state or do not have the financial resources to wait longer for their license to practice law.

“We worry that the resulting delay in the exam’s administration and admission to practice will fall hardest on the most economically vulnerable of our graduates and on those whose continued presence in the United States will be compromised by the delay,” the letter reads.

It asks for the Court of Appeals to consider a variety of measures that would allow out-of-state graduates to still take the bar exam, such as offering a second exam date on September 30-October 1 or developing an online bar exam. It also suggests the Court could increase the number of seats available for the exam by adding new locations either within New York or at the signatory schools.

Manning previously joined the deans from all nine Massachusetts law schools in writing an April 15 letter to the Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court following the postponement of the Massachusetts bar exam.

This earlier letter explained that the Court’s proposed implementation of a new online exam that tests Massachusetts law would not provide a feasible alternative to the bar exam for many students, especially since the pandemic has already limited the ability of some students to study.

The letter asked the Court to grant graduates the temporary authority to practice law in Massachusetts provided they work under a supervising lawyer and have scored at least 85 on the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam.

“We encourage the Court to consider this measured, limited, and temporary practice authority for law school graduates,” it reads. “The adoption of such an approach would mitigate the professional and personal impact on these future lawyers while ensuring necessary and appropriate protections for the public.”

Law School Dean of Students Marcia L. Sells addressed the limitations on the New York bar exam in an email to the Class of 2020 on Saturday and assured students of the school’s continued efforts to advocate for its students.

“We are surprised and disappointed by this decision and share the concerns many of you have expressed about the disruption this may cause as you embark on new careers,” she wrote. “We at HLS are working on potential next steps to support graduating students.”

—Staff writer Kelsey J. Griffin can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @kelseyjgriffin.