How will the Coronavirus Impact the Bar Exam?
Many students are wondering what impact Coronavirus (COVID-19) will have on the bar exam. Will the bar exam be moved online? Delayed? Canceled?
Note: We are keeping track of all of the states that are planning on delaying the July bar exam and offering a fall bar exam instead in this post so please refer to this post for the most updated data!
Update 3/28/20: The State Bar of California is meeting on 3/30/20 to determine what action to take in regard to the July 2020 bar exam and the June 2020 FYLSE. We will update this page when a decision is made.
Update 3/27/20: The New York State Board of Law Examiners has officially postponed the July 2020 bar exam and intends to administer an exam at a to be determined time in the fall.
Update 3/26/20: The National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) released a statement that it plans to make a decision on whether it will send out the July bar exam (MBE, MEE, and MPT) on or about May 5, 2020. Additionally, there will be a fall bar exam with a new set of materials. Read our post on this new information here.
The Illinois Board of Admissions to the Bar said it has no plans to alter the July 2020 bar exam at this time.
Update 3/25/20: The Texas Board of Law Examiners said that at this time they expect the July 2020 bar exam to be administered as normal and there are no extensions to the filing deadlines.
Update 3/23/20: The New York State Board of Law Examiners and the Michigan State Board of Law Examiners are monitoring the situation closely but are unsure of any effects on the July 2020 bar exam at this time. Please continue to check the state’s websites and this blog for updates.
Update 3/18/20: Many students have asked us how COVID-19 will impact the release of February results. The NCBE (the organization that writes the MBE) has stated that they do not anticipate any delay in the release of February MBE results to jurisdictions. Further, since essay grading is done by attorneys generally on their own time, we also do not anticipate that essay grading should be significantly affected or seriously delayed. Read more updates on how COVID-19 will impact February 2020 bar exam results here. Other updates are posted below.
Keep in mind that the bar exam test is developed by a combination of states and the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE). However, the bar exam is administered by the state. Thus, it is the state’s decision as to what steps to take to mitigate the effect of coronavirus on the bar exam. So, the coronavirus could impact the bar exam in different ways, depending on the state.
So far, we have been watching the websites of state bar authorities and they are quiet in terms of the impact that the coronavirus will have on the bar exam. Since the bar exam is about 4.5 months away, it makes sense that state boards are not making decisions right now about what to do. However, we hope they are preparing to make a decision as it is foreseeable that the coronavirus could have a major impact on the bar exam administration.
How will the Coronavirus Impact the Bar Exam?
There are a few options states have in light of the COVID-19 pandemic:
1. Move the bar exam to an online or at-home format.
Due to the concern about cheating on the bar exam, we do not foresee the bar exam moving to an online or at-home format. If the bar exam moved to an online format at a testing center (for example, at Pearson VUE testing centers), this would require more advance planning than 4.5 months. Also, given that all examinees would simply be in a testing center, it does not seem like it would impact the potential spread of COVID-19.
We do not foresee state bar examiners allowing examinees to take the bar exam at home. We realize that some law schools are allowing this option. But the concern over cheating in the short-term and long-term (i.e., taking pictures of bar exam questions) would likely completely preclude this option.
However, this is one option that states would potentially have.
2. Delay the administration of the bar exam.
The bar exam is always administered in February and July. Our guess is that the bar exam would not be delayed unless the American Bar Association, Center for Disease Control, or state authority gave the recommendation that it be delayed until a later date. This might end up being a serious consideration when it gets closer to the bar exam. This would frustrate examinees who want to get the bar exam over with and start practicing. It would also frustrate firms who want their associates to be licensed. However, if safety is a true concern then this is a very viable option.
A potential issue with postponing the bar exam is that there is no telling when the Coronavirus outbreak will subside, thus making it harder to predict a postponement date. And, there is the possibility that the Coronavirus will come back at some point, even if it subsides for a period of time. Thus, a postponed date could be right in the middle of a new outbreak.
As noted above, as of 3/27/2020, the New York State Board of Law Examiners has officially postponed the July 2020 bar exam and intends to administer an exam at a to be determined time in the fall. We suspect that many states will follow suit and that it is possible no July bar exam will be administered.
3. Continue as planned and allow affected people to delay the bar exam at no cost to them.
A third option, (which is what the NCBE recently did with the March 12-13 MPRE administration), is to continue with the bar exam as planned but allow those with COVID-19 concerns to submit voucher requests that could be used to take a later bar exam. This seems likely at this point in time, given that it is what occurred with the MPRE and would be the least disruptive overall. However, whether states choose this option will likely depend on the state of the coronavirus outbreak closer to the exam.
4. Cancel the bar exam.
If the bar exam administration was canceled, this would mean July 2020 takers would have to take the bar exam in February 2021 or July 2021 or at a different point. We do not think that this drastic measure would be taken (we think delaying is more likely) unless society has truly slowed down to a halt.
Update as of 3/18/20: The National Conference of Bar Examiners has released “COVID-19” updates where it will post new information. Keep in mind, bar exams are administered by the state so you should also check your state webpage. The NCBE recently confirmed this and posted, “The bar exam is administered by individual jurisdictions, not by NCBE. We are in close contact with jurisdiction bar admission agencies as they consider possible options for the July exam in the event that shutdowns and prohibitions against large gatherings remain in effect.” You can find more information here.
Ultimately, the state bar examiners will likely take their cues from national and local health official guidelines and act accordingly. We do not expect any major decisions from state bar authorities anytime soon, but we will be watching this closely in the coming weeks and months and keeping our readers updated.
5. Diploma privilege
The diploma privilege is, according to the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s website, “a set of course and grade requirements which, if fulfilled, allowed one to be admitted to practice without taking a bar exam. Wisconsin is now alone in retaining this privilege.” It seems unlikely at this time that states will go this route. However, states could always surprise us!
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