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The Bar Exam and COVID-19

The Bar Exam and COVID-19

The Bar Exam is a pivotal event in any aspiring attorney’s career path. Pretty much everyone, whether a lawyer or not, has heard the stories of the high stress and months of preparation that bar applicants undergo to get ready to take the exam. Many who have taken the bar exam will also share their experiences of taking the exam and the pressure that consumes them during that time, or of witnessing other examinees succumb to some of the pressure and stress during the examination period. Typically, the bar exam is administered in a highly regimented in-person setting. Examinees are only permitted to bring certain items into the exam, in clear plastic bags, and must check any non-approved items at the door. Examinees must present various documents of identification, showing that they are indeed the examinee who has been registered and approved to take the exam, and are assigned examinee numbers and a specific seat and workspace at which they must remain throughout the exam. Use of the bathroom is monitored and examinees are not permitted to leave the examination area for any other reason until the time for that portion of the exam is called. Hundreds, and sometimes even thousands, of applicants sit in the same room to take the exam.

With the recent situation surrounding COVID-19 and the need for social distancing, in-person test taking situations, such as the bar exam, have been reevaluated. Different jurisdictions have decided that, for the first time, alternative ways of administering the bar exam are an option. Some states have opted to postpone the bar exam, which is usually administered at the end of July, for a few months, while others have postponed it indefinitely and will determine how and when it will be administered at a later date. Other jurisdictions have issued orders allowing the exam to be taken remotely, via online means. Yet other states have reduced the exam from multiday testing to a single day of examination, done either in person or remotely. Certain jurisdictions have taken additional steps to help alleviate any delay to bar applicants’ ability to get started working in their new career, including expanding the ability for recent law school grads to obtain “student practice” licenses that will allow them to work under the bar license and supervision of an attorney who is already licensed in that jurisdiction, much like when law students serve as legal interns in a law school clinical setting. 

The willingness of the various states to adapt to the unprecedented current situation and facilitate the progression of budding legal careers is commendable. Studying for the bar exam is a stressful and time-consuming experience, and it would be an additional element of stress for applicants to have “no end in sight” for their preparation and anxiety over the test. It is also great that bar applicants will be able to keep learning and preparing for their career through student practice licenses, which will help keep them motivated and prevent them from feeling as if their career development is stalling due to delays in taking the bar. For a full list of how states have decided to adapt to the administration of the bar exam in light of COVID-19 concerns and restrictions, check out this website: http://www.ncbex.org/ncbe-covid-19-updates/july-2020-bar-exam-jurisdiction-information/.

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