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Florida Bar exam canceled for August

Examiners planned to test remote software this week, but instead will reschedule for October.

The Florida Bar exam scheduled for Aug. 19 has been cancelled.

The Florida Board of Bar Examiners said a physical exam cannot take place amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and there are too many concerns pending to run such a test remotely. The organization also nixed a trial for exam software scheduled on Monday.

“Despite the board’s best efforts to offer a licensure opportunity in August, it was determined that administering a secure and reliable remote bar examination in August was not technically feasible,” reads an announcement from Examiners.

It’s not a huge shock, considering lawmakers were hearing complaints last week about bugs. Brian Heckman, an FIU law student, told WCTV last week that he was experiencing major issues just trying to download the software ahead of the test. “When it crashes, my computer remains locked down and I have to reset it multiple times,” he told the local news station.

For now, the Florida Bar expects to reschedule the test for October, using the same content expected on the August exam.

Reps. Carlos Guillermo Smith and Anna Eskamani, both Orlando Democrats, urged Florida Supreme Court in a letter last week to grant a one-time emergency licensure to those registered to take the exam.

The letter noted both Indiana, Nevada and Louisiana all ultimately had troubles this year administering exams through ILG software.

“Many examinees have reached out to our offices voicing concerns about the software being utilized by the Florida Board of Bar Examiners,” the letter from the lawmakers reads. “The concerns include the lack of ability to call for technical support while taking the exam, general concerns regarding whether the software will actually work, privacy concerns regarding non-attorneys serving as proctors, and a myriad of other issues.”

Eskamani and Smith suggested a one-time emergency licensure for those registered to take the exam, with requirements such as continuing education over a three-month period, or for the court to allow an email-based open book exam, the solution adopted in Indiana and Louisiana.

The board’s rules for the online exam and technical problems with the ILG software used for the test sparked a furor among prospective test-takers and their advocates, including the deans of 10 Florida law schools.

College leaders asked the Florida Supreme Court and the board to adopt a “contingency plan” that would allow an open-book exam and essay questions submitted by email. The Supreme Court has authority over the board.
The law-school deans, including deans of schools at Florida State University, Stetson University and the University of Miami, also urged the board to “examine critically” the use of the multiple-choice exam, “and to consider whether it can be administered at all if the ILG software is deemed to be unworkable.”

“Announcing this sort of contingency plan in advance will inspire confidence among applicants that the examination will proceed in some form, unhindered by technological obstacles. It also will help lessen the understandable stress and anxiety of our graduates, who will welcome (and deserve) the additional clarity and reassurance,” the deans wrote on Friday.

The Bar said it plans to work with courts and create a “supervised practice program” much like the existing legal intern program.

“The board will partner with the Bar and expects the program to begin no later than mid-September, which was the soonest date that grades would have been released had the examination occurred in July as initially scheduled,” the Bar announcement reads. “Details regarding eligibility and rules for participation will be announced once they are finalized.”

The new program will “allow for practice with supervision by a member of The Florida Bar,” Sunday’s announcement said. The program will begin in mid-September, when grades would have been released for the July test, the board noted.

“Details regarding eligibility and rules for participation will be announced once they are finalized,” the announcement said. But the supervisory program isn’t the equivalent of being a full-fledged lawyer, critics of the board’s decisions maintain. Tallahassee lawyer G.C. Murray II scolded the board on social media late Sunday night.

“It seems clear to me that the Florida Board of Bar Examiners (#FBBE) never had an adequate secondary (or tertiary) plan in place,” Murray, CEO of the firm Association G.C., wrote in a Facebook post. “This is a failure of foresight, transparency, and execution at the highest levels of the #FBBE and I hope that members of The Florida Bar and The Florida Bar Young Lawyers Division ask the Court to conduct a thorough review into the actions of the executive leadership team at the #FBBE.”

There is still no new date for an October exam.

In other states like Louisiana, diploma privileges have been granted to individuals even though they completed a test administered via email and with open books.

Nevada did hold an online exam using ILG, but did not employ many of the features utilized for the Florida exam and therefore faced fewer glitches.

This is the second time the exam has been cancelled since the start of the pandemic, which forced in-person tests in July to be called off. Plans were then put together for a first-ever online exam, initially planned for Aug. 18 before complaints it would conflict with the state primary and rescheduled for the following day.

The October date has yet to be slated, but takers also have the option of waiting until February.

The last-minute cancellation, issued on the eve of a scheduled live trial of the examination software, ignited a frenzy on social media among people planning to take the exam and their supporters, who have urged the Board of Bar Examiners to drop the test altogether this year or to replace the multiple-choice exam with essays submitted by email, as some other states have done amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It just devastated me,” Theresa Black, who earlier this year had signed up to take the in-person test, told The News Service of Florida on Monday.

Black, a graduate of the Loyola University New Orleans law school who lives in Alabama but wants to move back to Florida, called the board’s last-minute move “negligence at its finest.”

“Now, we don’t even know what date the exam is going to be. We’re just left hanging and hanging and hanging,” she said.

The board’s July 1 decision to hold the exam online came after an outcry from graduates, law school professors and legislators, who argued that holding the test in person was contrary to health officials’ social-distancing recommendations and posed a danger to test-takers with underlying medical conditions who have a higher risk of complications from the virus.

The delays have started to have a dramatic impact on the law practice in the state of Florida, and the choice to cancel with no backup plan in place draw criticism on line.

“We will be dealing with this for 2 more months,” wrote Miami law grad Johnny Carver on Twitter. “I have watched my classmates crowdfund utilities to pay for their apartment. People had to buy new computers.”

Popular blogger Lawprofblawg tweeted to 25,000 followers: Bad planning leads to cancellations, delays, and undue stress for bar examinees. Good planning would predict the #barpocalypse. Even if you didn’t go the path of #diplomaprivilege, options were available early on that became closed as bad decisions compounded.”

Some advocates have faced backlash for suggesting that the exam should be waived this year. Critics accuse the law-school graduates of using COVID-19 to skip out of taking the test.

But Black, who has an autoimmune disorder, dismissed such accusations.

“I don’t think this is a pass. Nobody has had to study under these conditions. The amount of stress, just COVID alone. You can’t leave the house. The children are running around. The libraries are closed. The schools are closed,” she said. “The biggest problem with the delay is my family wants me back. I feel heartbroken.”

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Reporting from the News Service of Florida was used in this report.

Written By

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at jacobogles@hotmail.com.

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