The summer bar exam is doubtful because of Covid-19 pandemic, leaving 46,000 very tense final law year students, waiting for the high-stakes test. The National Conference of Bar Examiners which develops the exam, raised the possibility that the July test may not be conducted. But it doesn’t plan to decide soon, leaving some 46,000 future law graduates in limbo.
Law students have planned for three years around this stressful and important test. And now the uncertainty drama about the July test not being offered as it needs hundreds of students and invigilators to gather at a single location, potentially exposing everyone the virus.
Pushing for an earlier Decision
The Bar Examiners’ Conference manages the bar exam, making it available to the Courts and others. Each administrator will decide independently about July tests, which may not be released if there’s not enough interest. The Conference has added two added administrations of the test on September 9-10 and September 30-October 1. Bar Exams are offered twice a year in a huge convention hall but due to the Covid-19 lock down, administering the exam in July is difficult. Academics pleaded the test’s administrators to choose alternatives quickly as the young lawyers serve disadvantaged populations (poor people and immigrants) and carry the heaviest student debt. 20% of law students come from disadvantaged back-grounds and struggle to deal with this financial disaster, if the bar exam is postponed. The goal is that by May 5, more informed decisions are possible, giving third-year law students finishing the semester, time to plan for either a July or a fall exam.There is utter confusion and some states have already opted for a fall administration as many places are off limits now and politicization about re-opening of States is being debated due to spikes in new cases and continuing deaths.
Challenges for Remote Testing
Offering the test remotely is challenging as technology can fail and home environments are crowded with distractions. Supervising online tests requires additional vigilance and more supervisors. Alternatives include breaking test-takers into smaller groups or placing law school graduates, as a one-time measure, into “supervised practice” under respected veteran attorneys or allowing this year’s class to practice with just a law degree and no bar certificate. Wisconsin has such a system of “diplomaed privilege” , as lawyers need not take a bar exam. People are used to the idea of the bar exam with a rigid fixation on multiple choice tests. There are no complaints that Wisconsin lawyers are committing malpractice at higher rates than other states.
The American Bar Association Board of Governors urged recent graduates be allowed to practice law in a limited way, if the July test is postponed /cancelled. Experts favor the diplomaed privilege option over any bar exam delay. By fall, the dense material learned in law school will not be fresh and delays in the next scheduled date, in February, will interfere with personal issues on hold during studies. Some opt not to work during the final year of school to concentrate on classes or being on the student bar association or editing the Law Review. Law students do not know when they can take the bar exam, pass the bar, and if anyone will hire them.