The Florida Supreme Court has issued an order establishing a supervised practice program that will let certain applicants for the delayed August bar exam temporarily work as lawyers during the pandemic, under supervision of licensed attorneys.
The order came shortly after a group of Florida attorneys on Aug. 20 petitioned the court to allow recent law school graduates to become permanently licensed without taking the exam.
The court’s Monday order is just the latest twist in a Sunshine State saga that’s involved a bar exam delayed three times; fears that the initial in-person exam, which wound up getting canceled, could have exposed test takers to the coronavirus; and more recent concerns over the technical viability of the state’s online exam now slated for October.
The court “recognizes the severe hardship these delays have caused Bar applicants who have been preparing for the bar exam for months,” and is committed to taking steps to mitigate the impact of the delays, according to the statement released Monday by Chief Justice Charles Canady.
The program will allow recent law school graduates the ability to practice, dependent on meeting several conditions, through 30 days after the results of the February 2021 bar exam are released. These grads will be able to take the October online test, and if they fail, to take the test again in February.
To qualify for the program, the would-be lawyers must have graduated from an ABA-accredited law school, have received a letter of clearance attesting to their character and fitness from the Florida Board of Bar Examiners, and have met several other criteria.
Supervising attorneys will need to sign off on several aspects of the applicant’s work, including being present at “all critical stages” of cases in which the applicant represents defendants as appointed counsel.
As Covid-19 cases spiked throughout Florida, the bar examiner board in July moved the test online for Aug. 18 but then, after bumping the test date by one more day, determined it wasn’t technically feasible. The Florida exam then was moved to October, with no date yet set.
Similar technical issues have arisen in other states—as 18 of the largest states and Washington D.C. get set to hold their own online bar exams Oct. 5-6 or 5-7.