Law Grads Could Practice Prior to Taking Bar Exam

The Colorado Supreme Court updated its coronavirus orders April 27

This spring’s law school graduates might be entering the job force before they take the Colorado bar exam.

The Colorado Supreme Court quietly announced April 27 that the latest coronavirus orders include an emergency rule allowing new law school graduates to practice law before taking the bar exam if the July exam is postponed because of the coronavirus. The bar exam is likely to be held in September. 

Earlier this month, the American Bar Association urged states to cancel their bar exams and allow limited practice. 

Colorado would join other states including California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts and New York, which are delaying their bar exams. 

“No one can doubt these decisions are necessary to public health and safety,” the resolution states. 

“Yet there also can be no doubt that canceling or postponing a bar exam will significantly affect the lives, careers, and immediate personal plans of law graduates, their families, and the lawyers or other organizations with whom they might otherwise practice.”

The Colorado Supreme Court’s April 27 order also says that attorneys just joining the bar after taking the February bar exam will be sworn in via WebEx ceremony. The Supreme Court announced that 150 test takers passed the February bar exam.

In addition to the changes for new lawyers, the court had made statewide changes to how the judicial system will function during the coronavirus pandemic by allowing remote hearings, amending the criminal and juvenile rules to halt in-person trials and by working with the State Court Administrator’s Office to move many court functions to virtual or remote proceedings.

Many of the announcements have already come out through judicial committees without much in the way of public announcement from the court. The court’s initial order, on March 16, suspended all jury calls in state courts, except those for criminal trials facing imminent speedy trial deadlines.

“Because we have no authority to revise our constitution, and statutory amendments are up to the legislature, we turned to our court rules as potential tools to address the current crisis,” Chief Justice Nathan Coats writes in the April 27 order. “With the assistance of several of our advisory committees, each of which includes judicial officers and attorneys, we have amended a number of rules to address challenges and protect public health during this pandemic.”

Despite making a list of statewide changes, the court largely leaves decisions to chief judges around the state. 

According to the April 27 announcement, Coats has discussed with chief judges the need for reducing  jail populations, the harms of issuing eviction and foreclosure orders and the need to continue hearing non-criminal matters, but the announcement also states that chief judges are in the best position to make decisions: “Among other things, each of our non-appellate courthouses is owned and controlled by the county in which it is located, which means that local relationships are essential. As well, courthouses differ in their capacity to hold proceedings consistent with CDC recommendations and in their audio-visual capabilities.” 

— Tony Flesor

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