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More States Move Upcoming Bar Exams Online in Response to Virus

May 18, 2020, 9:32 PM

Michigan is the latest in a growing number of states that have decided to hold their upcoming bar exams online, as others weigh safety concerns and logistical issues related to administering tests during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Michigan Supreme Court announced Monday that the Board of Law Examiners will administer a one-day bar exam on July 28, in the form of an online, essay-format exam. That’s a departure from the traditional two-day in-person exam that most states have decided to delay, ditch, or both, because of the public health concerns associated with the coronavirus.

Michigan is following Indiana, where Hoosier state officials said earlier this month they’ll be holding their exam remotely on the same day. That state’s one-day exam will include the Indiana Essay Examination and short-answer questions on topics tested on the Multistate Bar Examination. At the same time, several other jurisdictions also are weighing if, and possibly how, to administer their tests online, including California, Nevada, Massachusetts, and the District of Columbia.

“The board conducted extensive research and consultations to make this decision, including outreach to Michigan public health officials and law school deans, while monitoring developments in the pandemic and approaches of other states,” Justice Brian K. Zahra, the court’s liaison to the Michigan board, said in a statement. “I am confident the Michigan essay examination will adequately test the applicants’ legal knowledge and skill.”

Michigan officials were eager to note one benefit of going online: they can stick to the originally scheduled late July date for the exam, as opposed to delaying it until September—which New York and many other states have decided to do, regardless of whether they ultimately hold their tests in-person or remotely, with a form of electronic proctoring.

Holding an online July exam, they said, will place applicants on the same path as prior July test-takers, so that those who pass can be licensed by the state at the same time of year as those who took the exam in previous years. This addresses one of the main issues of graduating law school students anxious to avoid having the starts of their careers delayed by state officials unsure how to proceed.

On April 27, the California Supreme Court delayed its main bar test until Sept. 9-10—and ordered that the state bar “make every effort possible” to administer the test online, with some type of electronic proctoring.

One week later, the D.C. Court of Appeals announced that it too was delaying its exam until September. The court instructed that if it still proved unsafe to give the exam in D.C. in-person, in a “large-group setting,” it might decide to conduct it online, with remote proctoring.

To contact the reporter on this story: Sam Skolnik in Washington at sskolnik@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rebekah Mintzer at rmintzer@bloomberglaw.com; Tom P. Taylor at ttaylor@bloomberglaw.com

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