Law Students

Several States to Proceed With In-Person July Bar Exams, Despite COVID-19 Health Risks
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Recent Law graduates are getting more anxious each day as states are still scrambling to decide how they’ll administer the next round of the bar exam. Some are postponing the licensing test to later dates; others are opting for an online exam. Emergency Diploma privilege campaigns also have sprung to life over the past weeks across the country. On top of all, states are frequently changing the plans for administrating the bar, adding to the pressure and uncertainty.

To say law grads couldn’t get a worse welcome to the profession would be a euphemism.

While several states canceled in-person July bar exams because of COVID-19 health risks, others appear blatantly devoted to keeping things as is—even in states experiencing notable infection increases.

  
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Rather than opt for an emergency diploma privilege or remote exam, these states are giving applicants the option of delaying the exam to protect their health or assume the risk and take the exam.

Arizona is one of the high-risk states proceeding with the in-person July exam, with 109,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 1,973 deaths to date.

Despite the effort to postpone the Arizona Bar Exam scheduled for a later date because of the state’s spike in coronavirus cases, the state’s highest court has said the July exam remains a “choice,” and postponing it is not logistically feasible.

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“July’s in-person bar exam will be as safe an environment as it can be and promotes social distancing and safety protocols that are not available in most places of public accommodation,” the Arizona Supreme Court wrote in a July 1 news release.

Arizona supreme court also announced plans for a remote exam in October, which will be limited to state accreditation.



Recent law grads signed a petition asking the court to grant temporary diploma privilege to the first-time graduate, to lower the UBE cut score from 273 to 266.

Alexis Boumstein, a recent grad of the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University, and co-author of the petition told the ABA Journal she is disappointed with the court’s decision.

“We think we will see a lot more people fail. If you look at the impact statements with our petition, it’s just heartbreaking how much it affects people,” Boumstein said.

Arizona test takers must submit an official statement declaring they have tested negative for the virus, and they haven’t had symptoms, including fever, coughing, and shortness of breath, within two weeks of the exam.

If bar applicants have any symptoms and fail to disclose them, they could be denied bar admission on character and fitness ground, Boumstein told ABA Journal. Test-takers would also undergo temperature checks and if someone has a fever higher than 100.4 on exam day, they would have to forfeit the exam.

Boumstein says given that Phoenix in July often has triple-digit temperature, those waiting outside before the exam are more likely to have a temperature above 100.4, even if they aren’t sick.

Idaho is another jurisdiction planning to go ahead with July in-person bar.

The state set a record with 472 COVID-19 cases on June 29 and added 40% of its confirmed in the past seven days.

“We’ve worked with our supreme court, and that’s still the direction they want us to go,” says Maureen Ryan Braley, associate director of the Idaho State Bar. The exam will be given in Boise and Moscow.

Test-takers in Idaho are required to wear masks in common space, but there hasn’t been a decision on whether wearing a mask will be a requirement while taking the bar exam.

Several other states with plans for in-person July exams made test site rule changes.

North Carolina, with 77,735 confirmed coronavirus cases and 1,470 confirmed deaths, is another jurisdiction that is planning to administer an in-person July test.

The state board of bar examiners this week announced that test-takers must respect the social distancing rules and sit six feet away from one another as well as wear masks while taking the test. The board initially had said that applicants are not obliged to wear masks while taking the exam.

Gov. Roy Cooper issued an executive order on June 24, requiring North Carolina residents to wear face masks in public with an exception for government agencies.

Kimberly Herrick, chair of the North Carolina Board of Bar Examiners, told the ABA Journal the board plans to post signs at the testing site, with language stating applicants acknowledge and voluntarily assume all risks of exposure or infection with the virus by attending the bar exam.

Despite the devastating impacts the disease has had in Florida, the state Board of Bar Examiners has not changed its stance since announcing May 5 that the exam would proceed as planned in late July.

Florida reported roughly 146,341 COVID-19 cases as of Monday with more than 3,400 deaths.

Florida Board of Bar Examiners said it would expand its Tampa test location to the second site in Orlando, and that several social distancing precautions would be enforced.

In an online petition to the FBBE, law grads are urging the organization to consider a better solution for administrating the test, like an online exam or a diploma privilege.

Several state legislators have shown support for temporary diploma privilege as well.

A number of other states including Alabama, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, and North Dakota are planning to proceed with the in-person July exam.



 

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