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After Testing Delays, Petition Calls For Lifting Florida Bar Exam Requirement

This week's scheduled Florida Bar exam was cancelled due to technical issues, according to Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Canady.
Vitalii Vodolazskyi
Adobe Stock
This week's scheduled Florida Bar exam was cancelled due to technical issues, according to Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Canady.

Pointing to “extreme financial hardships,” dozens of attorneys Thursday asked the Florida Supreme Court to waive a requirement that law school graduates pass the Florida Bar exam to practice law, after a state board this week postponed the test for a second time.

The attorneys filed a petition a day after Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Canady issued a public apology for the latest postponement of the exam. Law school graduates were scheduled to take the test online Wednesday amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but the Florida Board of Bar Examiners canceled it Sunday night, saying that holding the exam was not “technically feasible.”

The postponement came after the board called off an in-person exam that had been scheduled for July. The delays have left many law school graduates in professional limbo and facing financial problems, according to the petition filed at the Supreme Court.

“The delays along with the haphazard method in which the Florida Board of Bar Examiners has attempted to administer The Florida Bar exam in the summer of 2020 has resulted in more than a delay for the thousands of applicants who had signed up to take the exam,” the petition said. “The disruption of the settled expectations has created extreme financial hardships, loss of employment opportunities, loss of health care and repeated psychological stress. While all lawyers are aware of the stress of taking the bar exam within settled expectations, none have the experiences of these students who cannot reach the finish line for no fault of their own.”

Under the proposal, law school graduates who planned to take the exam in July would be allowed admission to The Florida Bar but would have to practice under a “supervising attorney” for six months.

“The supervising attorney remains fully responsible for the manner in which all activities are conducted by the supervised attorney,” the proposal said. “The supervised attorney may appear in any court or before any administrative tribunal in this state if the person or entity on whose behalf the supervised attorney is appearing has indicated in writing consent to that appearance and the supervising lawyer has also indicated in writing approval of that appearance.”

Johnny Carver, who graduated from the University of Miami law school this spring, praised the proposal. He said people have been study for the exam since April or longer.

“This exam has been postponed and changed more times than is realistically manageable,” Carver told The News Service of Florida. “Bar examinees in Florida are suffering from a significant real-life financial and psychological consequences to no fault of our own. The longer we study, the harder this test has become. We peaked as we were supposed (to) from a memorization standpoint in July and August, and that is beginning to fade. We are exhausted. This petition would put an end to this unfortunate saga and help us survive this pandemic while serving the legal community in Florida.”

The Board of Bar Examiners called off the July exam after graduates, law school professors and legislators argued that holding the test in person would be contrary to health officials’ social-distancing recommendations and would pose a danger to test-takers with underlying medical conditions who have a higher risk of complications from COVID-19.

But the board’s rules for this week’s planned online exam and technical problems with the ILG Technologies testing software sparked a furor among prospective test-takers and their advocates, including the deans of 10 Florida law schools. The board called off the exam Sunday night on the eve of a scheduled live trial of the software.

“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,” the board’s announcement said.

In an unusual move, Canady apologized Wednesday in a video released by the Supreme Court, which oversees the board.

“We acknowledge and accept the criticism that has been directed at the court and the Board of Bar Examiners,” Canady said. “I can’t guarantee you that the path forward will be flawless, but I can guarantee you that we have learned from this mistake and that it will not be repeated.”

Thursday’s petition was submitted by Miami attorneys Matthew Dietz and Brian Tannebaum, with dozens of other Florida Bar members signing on. The petition also included declarations from law school graduates, such as Carver, who detailed how they are being affected by the postponements of the exam.

The petition said Utah, Washington, Oregon and Louisiana have taken similar steps that allow qualified law school graduates to practice without passing bar exams amid the pandemic.

“None of the applicants in any of these other states have suffered in the same way as the applicants in Florida,” the petition said. “Not only has Florida been the center of COVID infections in the United States, the Board of Bar Examiners continued to believe that an in-person examination could be held. Even after other states had decided that the online administration of the bar exam would not be successful, Florida decided that it was infeasible three days prior to the most recent attempt to the administration of the exam.”