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  • Writer's pictureLee Meadows

Know a future lawyer that's taking the bar this year? Give them a hug.

Michelle Obama failed the bar exam the first time she took it. As did Franklin D. Roosevelt. So did Hillary Clinton. Several state governors, congressmen, and mayors all failed it the first time they took it.

And they didn’t have to take it during a pandemic.

The bar exam is a time-tested tradition for all prospective lawyers entering the profession. It is a rigorous multi-day exam that costs hundreds upon hundreds of dollars to obtain a seat in the test. Not to mention the money spent in studying tools and online programs devised to help students pass.

This year with the spread of Covid-19, brick and mortar stores have limited hours, mask mandates are in place, bars, gyms, pools and movie theaters all remain closed. Sports are slowly coming back but without an audience. Yet the numbers of positive covid-19 are still on the rise in multiple states across the nation.

The fear of catching covid-19, for those that are immunocompromised, or have pre-existing conditions, has changed the way bar exams are conducted. As a result, there has been chaos across the nation as state bar councils decide how to conduct exams in a way that honors the spirit of the bar exams, but also prioritizes the health of its test takers.

It’s a thin line to walk, and several states have indeed fallen short this year.

Washington, Oregon, Utah, and Louisiana are offering diploma privilege which allows future lawyers to waive out of the bar exam if they provide proof of their diploma from an ABA accredited law school.

Most states opted to do remote testing, with 23 of the states confirming that they will be holding their bar exams online with specific software vendors they have contracts with.

Only one state, Delaware, has decided to do away with the bar exam this year, and instead hold one as soon as it is deemed safe to do so. This presents questions for the would-be test takers of what they’re going to do in the meantime as they are limited by their lack of licensing.

Opting to do bar exams remotely has come with its own host of problems. Michigan’s software got hacked with a cyberattack overloading their DDOS, causing all 773 students to be locked out of the website at the beginning of their second module. At least 200 students were able to get back within 10 minutes, but others had to wait at least a half hour before they could get in.

Indiana also had difficulties administering its exam. The state bar council opted to not administer its test remotely using software. They discarded their vendor after repeated times working with the software to see if it could support all 457 test takers at once. The software could not live up to the promise, and as a consequence, the bar association decided to administer the test over email, and allow the test to be open book, open note.

Technical difficulties aside, there are questions by both law students and faculty about the disadvantage for some who may not have access to private spaces, or reliable internet, as well as the socioeconomic and racial disparities that are exacerbated by allowing the bar to be taken remotely.

Bottom line, taking the bar is hard. Preparing to take the bar during a pandemic is even harder! On the bright side of things, as more bar exams are administered remotely, the states will learn from previous mistakes, and eventually it will be done right in a way that honors both the tradition of the bar, and the health of the future lawyers.

In the meantime, if you know someone who is taking the bar soon, give them a hug. They’ll need it.

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