Orlando, Tampa July Bar exams expected to be in-person, raising concerns
A scene from a Florida bar exam. Image via Tampa Convention Center.

BarEXAM
July events could each gather 1,200 applicants in convention centers.

In a month, more than two thousand law school graduates will gather in Orlando and Tampa to take the Florida Bar Exam. This event has some applicants worried during a time of rising coronavirus infections seen in both cities and Florida in general.

The Florida Board of Bar Examiners has scheduled the exam for all Florida wannabe-lawyers to be administered in person at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando and the Tampa Convention Center, throughout July 28-29.

The board indicated it has been working with the Florida Department of Health and has laid out a list of physical-distancing and mask-wearing requirements for the applicants, based on what the board calls “currently available public health information.”

“The board considered several options for the administration of the July 2020 General Bar Examination,” Board of Bar Examiners Executive Director Michele A. Gavagni said in a written response to Florida Politics. “Based on extensive discussions with the Florida Department of Health and other medical experts, we concluded that the best way to safely administer an exam that is fair, reliable, and secure is by administering the exam in-person, in July, at two sites, implementing multiple levels of safety protocols identified and required by the health authorities. The board continues to confer regularly with public health experts on the latest COVID-19 news and data.”

But on social media and in communications with Florida Politics, some applicants say they are unconvinced that safety can be maintained, and are worried.

They also expressed concerns that appropriate accommodations are not being provided for any applicants with high-risk conditions. They also have raised concerns that they might prepare for the July exam, only to find it canceled if Orange and Hillsborough counties continue seeing rising levels of COVID-19 infections.

One applicant, who asked not to be identified out of concern for his career, which has yet to start, complained in a message that the state is forcing people to take a test “in very risky conditions which makes immunocompromised people chose between getting an income or waiting ’till February.”

Another posted on a message board that she is concerned about, among other issues she enumerated, “mass spreading as we go back to our communities from the filth that is Orlando and Tampa.”

Yet another mused about spending six hours a day, for two days, in a room with more than 1,000 strangers: “They’ve got the National Guard coming in to take our temperatures. A lot of people are asymptomatic. That’s just a fact.”

Alternatives have been proposed.

In April, the deans of all 12 of Florida’s law schools wrote to the Florida Supreme Court suggesting several alternatives, including this plan: that the exam is held in classrooms in each of the law schools, thereby separating applicants into much smaller groups. They offered 202 available classrooms.

According to the National Conference of Bar Examiners, various other states have taken different approaches. Many have postponed their bar exams until the fall, hoping for a better environment. Some, including Michigan, Indiana, and Maryland, are trying out limited remote bar exams. Some of those states are providing provisional approval, allowing those who pass the remote tests to work until a full, in-person exam can be administered at a later date.

The Florida Bar Exams are given twice a year, in February and July. For the July run, the Board of Bar Examiners has announced that the following rules would be in place:

— Applicants will be assigned to either Orlando or Tampa.

— Applicants and staff will be asked screening questions and have their temperatures taken before they are admitted to the sites. Anyone with a fever will not be allowed in.

— Only one applicant will sit at each table, all set at least six feet apart. Applicants will be required to remain six feet apart when in line to enter or exit, and at any time during the exam.

— All applicants will be required to wear masks and will be asked to leave if they remove masks.

— Anyone from out of state would have to comply with Gov. Ron DeSantis’ applicable executive orders, including a required 14-day quarantine for some, before arriving.

— The board is willing to waive applicant fees for anyone who decides to postpone taking the exam until February due to coronavirus concerns.

On Sunday, Florida topped the 100,000 threshold in COVID-19 cases, with more than 20% of them being recorded just in the previous seven days. Orange County and Hillsborough County have struggled with the state’s most significant new outbreaks in recent days. Hillsborough County crossed 5,000 cases Saturday, now with 5,973 after recording 393 new positives. Orange County has 5,157 total cases, with 243 new reports on Sunday.

Scott Powers

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.


6 comments

  • A. Nonymous Bc. They're Vindictive

    June 23, 2020 at 3:28 pm

    It is important to note that many students sitting for the July exam are living on Bar Exam loans in order to meet the demanding schedule. Students are expected to study from May 18- July 27th, 8-10 hours a day 6 days a week- at a minimum. In order to accomplish this, students who are not supported by a spouse or wealthy parents must take out private loans to cover the costs of housing, food, bills, bar exam prep course fees (usually between $1200-$2500) and bar admission fees (in FL, between $675- $1000). These private loans are added to an enormous amount of student loan debt for the average law student. These factors alone disproportionately affect lower-income people in normal circumstances. In addition, those with children have to consider how to manage children at home during a pandemic while being expected to maintain intense focus on studying for 60-80 hours a week. On top of an already stressful, exclusionary, and highly biased system, 2020 graduates are dealing with social unrest, a pandemic, and a crashing economy. Many students are wondering when they will be able to work. The uncertainty of whether all of this hardship will actually pay off when a bar exam is likely to be canceled because of rising numbers of COVID cases is nearly too much to bear. This will hit students of color and low-income students the hardest, as usual. It is a shame that a profession that is on notice about the effects of the profession has taken this approach. Depression, suicide, anxiety, addiction, and eating disorder rates soar for law students, graduates studying for the bar, and lawyers. Again, this is true in normal times. The Florida Bar is being reckless with our health and wellbeing and should be held responsible for the wide economic and psychological effects their decisions have caused. Starting in March, students begged the Florida Board of Bar Examiners to come up with a better solution because everyone knew that a second wave was coming. We begged our law school deans to stand up for us, to take a stronger stance. The FBBE and our law schools deans have failed us miserably. Profit over people… that is not what the profession should stand for.

  • Michael

    June 23, 2020 at 3:53 pm

    “The Florida Board of Bar Examiners has advised applicants that the exam could be canceled as late as two days prior.” That is far from the truth–this is the first time we are hearing them say this.

    Unfortunately, the FBBE’s response has been poor and insensitive. This group of test takers are not only faced with the normal stresses surrounding this exam, but they also have to worry about a global pandemic, nationwide race riots, a legal field that has taken a substantial hit and has seen an overwhelming amount of job losses, and not having the ideal place to study as libraries and other quiet study places are closed. Giving students the option of moving the exam to February if they are concerned is not feasible and feels like a spit in the face. Students spend a substantial amount of money to take this exam, and most students do not work during the studying period. Waiting until the last minute to cancel the exam will financially ruin a lot of test-takers. The number of COVID19 cases are on the rise, and so is hospitalization. Looking at what is going in Tampa and Orlando is not enough, as 4 law schools and majority of the test takers reside in South Florida. The FBBE should be ashamed and do more to support those who are taking the exam.

  • Tampa Reader

    June 24, 2020 at 8:38 am

    The refusal to materially adjust the July exam is a disgrace. Hate to say it, future lawyers, but having practiced for 10+ years, this year’s exam proceeding in unsafe conditions is a career preview. These are the types of decisions you’ll be forced to make over & over during your career. The legal profession continues to demand its members sacrifice their mental stability and safety to participate.

    I fully concur with reader above who notes the Bar’s efforts to address mental health. These efforts read to me like meaningless PR lip service. The Bar wants to trot out fluff policies and fluff articles to distance itself when members’ addiction issues become (messily) public, or, in the most tragic cases, lawyers commit suicide.

    Stacking 1000 people in a room this summer is on par with the profession’s underlying disfunction & the Bar’s complacency.

  • Mz

    June 24, 2020 at 11:10 am

    Due to such extreme unfortunate circumstances it is required to take extreme measurements to remedy the situation. Provide bar exam on line without the MBE. One day exam of essays and performance test for 6 hours.

    License will be given to the passers. However for passers whom are interested to take other states exam when condition of pandemic allows must also take the MBE as well because MBE was not administered due to extreme circumstances.

    On line test can be an open book with limited time. It will be difficult to observe the examiners. The objective is to understand whether one has the knowledge of practicing law. Thus it will be easy to gain such knowledge from the students answers. Also every laptop has a camera and voice, which should be turned on during the exam to be recorded for the bar. Passers of the exam requires the video to be reviewed. If video is clear of any wrong doing then the passer must be licensed.

  • Leo Johnson

    June 24, 2020 at 11:41 pm

    Going forward with the July 2020 bar is reckless. It was foreseeable back in March that Covid-19 was a global issue impacting tens of thousands of people. I understand that there is an element of politics surrounding the exam but the recent record breaking rise in covid cases are extremely concerning. Young kids have died in Tampa and many others are dying daily of this deadly virus. Yet the FBBE is steadfast in still going forward with the exam. The FBBE also waited until the 11th hour to announce what they were going to do back in April about the July exam (at 8pm). They had months to figure this out and they ultimately came back with NOTHING except for the mandatory masks! They also completely disregarded guidance from the FL law schools on possible options to administer the exam safely. The lack of leadership is very concerning and the fact that the FBBE is so hesitant on making decisions is inexplicable. The FL health dept already came out with guidance on a 50 person limit in confined spaces. That being the case, how is the FBBE going to stuff 1500+ test takers in a convention center? I am seriously reconsidering being licensed in FL and I am appalled with the lack of leadership and independence of what is the FBBE.

  • Madilla

    June 28, 2020 at 5:17 pm

    Scott Powers rise above being “just a reporter”, and start some investigative reporting. Uncover the reason why? Follow the money trail, unmask who stands to benefit most monetarily from this testing situation.

    While you are at it, please investigate the FL Board of Chiropractic Medicine, and their refusal to allow more then 10 hours of on-line cont. ed per year. Follow the money trail back to the Florida Chiropractic Association, and their puppets on the board.

    You will find some juicy investigative journalism I am sure. Step up to the plate.

Comments are closed.


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