Officials Should Extend Aloha To Hawaii Bar Applicants - Honolulu Civil Beat


About the Authors

Jaime A. Rincon

Jaime is a military veteran and graduate of the University of Hawaii Manoa William S. Richardson School of Law. He served as the vice president of the Student Bar Association and chair of the Class of 2020 Graduation Committee. He will join the Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps in 2021.

Ashley Kaono

Ashley Kaono is a graduate of the University of Hawaii Manoa William S. Richardson School of Law, where she was Ulu Lehua Scholar and received a Certificate in Native Hawaiian Law. She plans to work in disability law, but that plan is now on hold, as she intends to defer taking the bar exam until 2021.


In response to what seemed like a high number of positive COVID-19 cases in March (178), the Hawaii Supreme Court rescheduled the two-day, 16-hour bar examination with 200 applicants to September.

In July, fellow William S. Richardson School of Law graduates organized a forum to share concerns regarding the administration of the bar examination amongst the daily triple digit COVID-19 cases.

The forum received 61 compelling responses, including this one from a 2020 graduate, posted in a Google survey:

I write on behalf of my friends who are not as privileged as I am and are first-generation college graduates, parents, and unemployed law students facing eviction. On the day of the exam, you will see dramatic inequality amongst the applicants. I will have had an additional 2 months of uninhibited bar-prep while the majority have grappled with unusually heavy stress, exacerbated obligations, and fear. It would be an injustice not to speak up for them and support diploma privilege. It is the only ethical solution. These are not entitled, privileged, complaining students attempting to bypass the bar. These are our friends who require support. COVID-19 has not really impacted my life or bar preparation…

To be frank, I am sheltered from COVID-19 and its woes. But I remember an oath I took alongside my peers entering WSRSL: “To advance the interests of those I serve before my own. To approach my responsibilities and colleagues with integrity, professionalism, and civility. To guard zealously legal, civil, and human rights which are the birthright of all people. And, above all, to endeavor always to seek justice.”

Most of the submissions are heart-breaking, because they mirror the difficulties people in our community face as we endure our second round of emergency stay-at-home orders.

Meanwhile, we diligently prepare for the bar exam as the judiciary issues one order after another to address its own safety concerns associated with COVID-19.

UH Manoa William Richardson School of Law.

The UH Manoa William S. Richardson School of Law. Many recent graduates are worried about taking the bar exam during the pandemic.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The judiciary has issued roughly 140 orders, essentially sequestering the public’s access to the judicial system.

The orders address a variety of ways in which the court has augmented its access in response to the ever-growing public health crisis. This includes closing courthouses, postponing civil, criminal and family court trials, and facilitating remote hearings or canceling hearings altogether.

And, despite the court’s efforts, it too sees employees test positive for COVID-19. On Aug. 26, we learned not from the bar admission office but from the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that the Hawaii Supreme Court and Board of Bar Examiners obtained an exemption from the second round of stay-at-home orders to administer the exam.

This was shocking given that the number of cases continues to soar in Honolulu. It remains unclear why the court has sought an exemption for exactly the type of event that the stay at home order seeks to prevent.

We respectfully urge our elected officials to extend aloha to the bar applicants and reconsider the exemption issued for the bar exam at a time when gatherings of more than five are prohibited.

If this was the only option to receive a license to practice law, perhaps the risk to the population at large might be worth holding the exam. However, states across the nation have found alternatives.

So, if all bar applicants sit for the exam, pass, and just one person later dies from the resulting COVID-19 transmission, was it worth it?

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About the Authors

Jaime A. Rincon

Jaime is a military veteran and graduate of the University of Hawaii Manoa William S. Richardson School of Law. He served as the vice president of the Student Bar Association and chair of the Class of 2020 Graduation Committee. He will join the Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps in 2021.

Ashley Kaono

Ashley Kaono is a graduate of the University of Hawaii Manoa William S. Richardson School of Law, where she was Ulu Lehua Scholar and received a Certificate in Native Hawaiian Law. She plans to work in disability law, but that plan is now on hold, as she intends to defer taking the bar exam until 2021.


Latest Comments (0)

If we spend enough time researching statistics regarding pass rates, we would come up with many examples that contradict pass rates as being the standard for excellence. A solution to COVID is not going to happen anytime soon. Our leaders seem to think that the way to fix this is by closing small businesses that are not responsible for the spread. Instead, they’ve put people in the unemployment line while reducing our tax base. The latest order appears to apply to some and not others; that is the point of this article. These graduates have bills to pay including student loans, rent, food, etc. What if a graduate contracts COVID? Who will pay if they become ill? Seeking an advanced degree is challenging under normal conditions. These are not normal conditions and it will not get easier anytime soon.  As a former teacher, I wish the authors of this article all the best. We will need them someday and it would be my honor to call upon them as they have spoken out about this injustice.

2AD · 4 months ago

The comments provided by "73 Surfrider" and "Surfer" do not address the major point of the article which is that our government officials are being hypocritical with their decision to allow the bar exam to take place under these circumstances.  Instead, they choose to downgrade the recent Richardson graduates.  Perhaps this is something you should take up with the law school's administration. Secondly, as a retired teacher, I found that getting into the classroom and doing the work is the best way to learn. I imagine with the multiple lockdowns and restricted gatherings these students were on their own to study without the benefit of study groups or access to a library. I am sure that taking the bar exam is stressful enough but having to worry about catching COVID while testing and the ramifications associated with it greatly compounds the problem. I say kudos to these law students.  This took courage and they are the kind of attorney that I would want to represent me.

DLK · 4 months ago

Each state's bar exam is different (not 100% uniform across all states). Also, each state can decide, for itself, what is a passing score on the exam. E.g., a state can decide that 74/100 is a passing score. That same state can decide that 81/100 is a passing score (on another year's exam).A low pass rate could indicate something about the exam takers. However, a low pass rate could also indicate something about what the state considered a passing score that year.Others can correct me if they think this is inaccurate.This provisional license doesn't mean you never have to take the bar exam.My opinion: postpone the bar exam until it can be safely administered.

Anonymous_Commenter · 4 months ago

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