How COVID-19 Has Impacted New Attorney Licensing in PA

My name is Dillon Harris and if you’ve been following this blog over the summer, you may have seen my recent articles about how the closing and staggered reopening of Pennsylvania businesses has impacted shooting ranges. This article will focus on the predicament that I, and other similarly situated students/graduates, find ourselves in as we attempt to become attorneys.

Generally, the requirements for bar admission that students must meet are: 1) receipt of an undergraduate degree from an accredited college or university; 2) receipt of a Juris Doctor from an accredited law school; 3) achieve a passing score on the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE), usually done sometime between the 2nd and 3rd year of law school; 4) achieve a passing score on the Bar Exam; and 5) demonstrate the character and fitness becoming of a member of the profession.

Under normal circumstances, the bar exam is a two day exam offered on the same days across the country twice a year, once in February, and once in July. There are two types of bar exams, the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE), which is offered and accepted by 35 states not including non-state jurisdictions like D.C., and state-specific exams, which are offered by the other 15 states. In February 2020, I sat for, and passed, the UBE in Vermont. However, Pennsylvania is one of the 15 states that will not accept a transferred UBE score.

At the time, there were still fewer than 100 confirmed cases of COVID in the U.S. and in the months since, most states postponed the July exam to sometime in September or October. Some states that formerly offered the UBE are now offering online state-specific exams, some are offering a diploma privilege requiring no bar exam at all, and some have even taken the drastic step of not allowing everyone to even take the exam at all (like New York). You can check out this map created by the National Conference of Bar Examiners for a bird’s eye view of how widely the status of the July bar exam has changed across the U.S.

The Pennsylvania Board of Law Examiners postponed it’s state-specific bar exam to September 9th and 10th and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court created a temporary and limited license to practice law. I received one of these limited licenses earlier this week. Under direct and ongoing supervision, I am now permitted to:

  1. Counsel a client with respect to legal issues.
  2. Prepare documents on behalf of a client, including documents that will be filed in a court, administrative tribunal or agency of the Commonwealth.
  3. Appear for any activity subsumed within the practice of law.

I can continue to practice under the limited license up until the results are released for the next administration of the Pennsylvania bar exam, which I estimate will be sometime in December. Then, if I pass, I can continue until I am formally admitted to the general practice of law.

My name is Dillon Harris and I am a 2020 Limited Licensee in Pennsylvania. I am also in the process of transferring my UBE score to gain full licensing in Maryland. If you would like to follow my path through licensing under these uncertain circumstances head on over to my Facebook page or keep an eye on our blog.

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