Most U.S. bar exams are standard, but law school graduates will encounter starkly different Covid-19 precautions next month depending on the state where they take the test.
Michigan requires masks, but not Texas. New York requires vaccination proof—though not in Buffalo and Albany—and Florida doesn’t. Ohio will use bathroom monitors to enforce social distancing, and Georgia promises extra scrutiny for test takers with a runny nose.
Welcome to in-person bar exams, 2022-style. States that adopted differing patchworks to battle the Covid-19 pandemic are extending the variation to law graduates taking the biggest test of their lives.
“For many, an already stressful experience will be made more stressful,” said Aaron Taylor, executive director of the AccessLex Center for Legal Education Excellence. “I surely wouldn’t want to take a bar exam alongside maskless and unvaccinated peers.”
A Bloomberg Law examination of the 10 largest states by population shows a wide range of precautions for the Feb. 22-23 tests.
Test takers in New York City and Westchester County must prove they’ve been vaccinated, according to rules issued by the New York State Board of Law Examiners. The state’s other two sites, in Buffalo and Albany, have no such requirement, though the unvaccinated must show a negative Covid-19 test.
Florida doesn’t require masks, vaccination proof or negative Covid-19 tests, according to the state’s Board of Bar Examiners. Test takers will sit six feet apart and “are encouraged to wear masks while not at their desks,” the board said on its website.
Georgia requires masks though no vaccination proof. There are exceptions, however. Georgians who have a cough, congestion or runny nose must show vaccination proof or submit a negative Covid-19 test, according to the state’s rules.
The inconsistencies at U.S. testing sites are disturbing, particularly as the Covid-19 omicron variant rages in many areas, said a statement from the National Association for Equity in the Legal Profession.
“Jurisdictions continue to pick tradition over the lives and health of bar examinees and their loved ones,” said the group’s co-founders, Pilar Escontrias and Donna Saadati-Soto.
Ohioans must wear masks though they don’t need to prove they have been vaccinated, the Supreme Court of Ohio said in a notice. “Proctored restrooms” will help ensure social distancing, and organizers “will do their best” to avoid putting those who voluntarily show they have been vaccinated in the same room with those who haven’t been vaccinated.
North Carolina requires masks and either vaccination proof or a negative Covid-19 test. To ensure distancing at check-in, test takers will see floor markers and clear plastic barriers on tables, according to a Board of Law Examiners notice.
In Illinois, where masks are required, those who don’t show proof of vaccination must submit a negative Covid-19 test on the first day of the bar exam.
Texas, which encourages masks but doesn’t require them, is joining Maryland and several other states in trying to boost social distancing by holding exams in more locations than usual. Pennsylvania, Maryland, the District of Columbia and others also are implementing seating limits.
Covid-19 forced most large states such as California and New York to offer online tests starting in July 2020. Those online exams didn’t go smoothly—many test takers complained of technical glitches.
The National Conference of Bar Examiners, which develops bar exam materials, said last June that for the February 2022 tests it would provide only “paper-based in-person” test materials. The announcement was a signal that online tests were over unless public health authorities said otherwise.
The NCBE said earlier this month it anticipates most jurisdictions will follow through with in-person tests. If that changes, examiners said they will make materials available for make-up dates in late March.
“We realize the need to be flexible,” said Bradley Skolnik, executive director of the Indiana Board of Law Examiners.
So far, just one state, Nevada, plans an online test as its primary bar exam option next month. The Supreme Court of Nevada in late December sought the move as a “precautionary health measure.”
States that for now are following NCBE’s lead said they will continue to consult with local health authorities as they get closer to the February test dates.
“We have to be guided by the science,” said Jonathan Azrael, former chairman of the Maryland State Board of Law Examiners.