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Simotas, Hoylman push bar exam exemption for law grads serving low-income clients

July 15, 2020 David Brand
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A pair of state lawmakers have introduced legislation to allow law graduates to continue representing low-income clients during the COVID-19 pandemic, even if they have failed the bar exam twice.

The bill sponsored by Astoria Assemblymember Aravella Simotas and State Sen. Brad Hoylman would allow repeat test-takers to represent some clients under the supervision of a licensed attorney while they wait to take and pass the lawyer licensing requirement.

The July bar exam was postponed until September, leaving repeat test-takers unable to try again. A rescheduled September exam may also face postponement as COVID-19 surges across the country.

“New York needs to be mindful about who will be immediately affected by limiting the pool of experienced professionals who can assist indigent clients during the COVID-19 pandemic — seniors, tenants being evicted from their homes and immigrants,” Simotas said.

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“We have an obligation to mitigate the risks to New Yorkers during this health crisis, and ensuring that the indigent have informed legal representation is an important way in meeting our duty,” she added.

The issue of out-of-work law grads unable to sit for the bar exam was first brought to light by Law 360, a legal publisher, in May.

Law grads who have yet to pass the bar exam can perform some legal duties, but earn a significantly lower rate of pay than bar-admitted attorneys. The state has limited seating for the September bar exam and prioritized first-time test-takers, further jeopardizing repeat test-takers’ ability to sit for the test.

At the same time, low-income New Yorkers navigating Housing Court, unemployment and COVID-related debt face an even greater need for counsel, Hoylman said.

“Given the extraordinary circumstances COVID-19 has imposed on the legal profession, law school graduates who are currently representing immigrants, low-income tenants and seniors for legal aid organizations should be able to continue their hard work on behalf of these New Yorkers,” he said.

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