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Bar Exam Accommodations: Expectations v Reality

Updated: Nov 1, 2022



Expectation: Diversity Matters in the Legal Profession


The American Bar Association recently published a statement indicating that they want to continue their long-standing mission to increase diversity in the legal field and that includes individuals with disabilities. But the pathway to diversity is a small and not easily accessed one, and as a result, many do not even know the pathway exists. This means each student's individual experiences matter even more.


Case Study: Minnesota Bar Exam


Recently, I was reading an article written by an attorney who used to be responsible for responding to appeals to bar exam accommodations denials for the Minnesota State Board of Law Examiners. The lawyer had indicated that the number of examinees is small compared to other states- only about 800 take the exam- so the number of disability accommodations applicants is manageable. At just over 5% of the total number that sit for the exam, the disability applicants are treated fairly, even if the decisions are not always favorable.


I would consider Minnesota’s process very much the paradigm of what the disability accommodations process should look like. Minnesota is about affirming the student’s experience, even while often recognizing that disabilities that have previously warranted accommodations will not necessarily be deemed reasonable and appropriate on this exam to avoid failure, which is the standard on this exam as opposed to a grade on a bell curve like the SAT, ACT, or LSAT.


In truth, many students are denied bar exam accommodations by Minnesota, or are not provided the exact accommodations they request. But as the paradigm, they are still doing it in an applicant-leaning way that keeps the "spirit of disability law" alive.


Reality Check: We Are Not Appealing And We Should


Of the fifty-or-so students a year applying for accommodations in Minnesota, only about 5 ever appeal their decision. This is troubling, especially considering we are all future attorneys and need to access a fair process designed to support students with disabilities. But what is more troubling is that denials and appeals multiply in the three states with the largest numbers of bar exam takers- New York, California, and Florida.


It is clear that bar exam takers are receiving disparate treatment amongst state bars, and two students with the same disability history might not both be accommodated and would have to go through different processes even to make the request from start to finish. There is no acceptable reason why any bar exam taker would or should receive disparate treatment amongst state bars, especially those that use the Uniform Bar Examination.


If you need assistance with your bar exam accommodations or appeal, contact our legal team today. We're here to help.

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