NY, Mass. Postpone July Bar Exams Over Pandemic

By Frank G. Runyeon
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Law360 (March 30, 2020, 2:18 PM EDT) -- The New York and Massachusetts bar exams will be postponed from July until unspecified dates in the fall due to the coronavirus pandemic, court and bar officials in both states announced.

Bar examiners announced the postponement of the July 28-29 exams with few additional details amid a dramatic rise in COVID-19 diagnoses and bans against large gatherings of any kind. New York said Friday its exam will be "rescheduled for dates in the fall, to be determined," while Massachusetts announced Monday that its test is "postponed until fall, on dates to be determined."

In making its decision to push the July exam, the New York Court of Appeals weighed many factors, a spokesman told Law360 on Monday, from input by national test administrators to more practical concerns posed by the coronavirus outbreak.

"Our primary testing center in New York City is the Javits Center," said Gary Spencer, spokesman for the court, referring to the cavernous Manhattan convention center. "Which is now a hospital."

Jurisdictions across the country will make their own decisions about whether or when to hold the July examination. However, the National Conference of Bar Examiners, or NCBE, said Thursday it will make a decision around May 5 about whether to "deploy" the uniform bar exam at all. The NCBE's test is used by most jurisdictions.

"NCBE's decision will be based on whether there would be a sufficient number of jurisdictions and examinees to support equating of scores and all the scoring support and grader training associated with the exam," the national organization said in a statement posted on its website. The group noted that the six-week time frame allows leeway for each jurisdiction to understand the impact of the virus on its area and make an informed choice.

"The goal is that by May 5 we will all know more and can have more confidence in our decision about whether there will be a July exam anywhere," the organization said.

NCBE noted that it was preparing separate examination materials, with different questions than the July exam, for the fall exams.

NCBE President Judith Gundersen said the organization is speaking with bar examiners across the country to develop a unified approach to the bar exam during the pandemic.

"We’ve been working together on this for several days and are working toward a coordinated response among jurisdictions to the extent that's possible, given that each jurisdiction will make its own decision about whether to administer a July exam," Gundersen told Law360 on Monday.

"We really don’t know at this point" whether other states may delay their exams or which states are actively considering delays to the July bar exam, the NCBE head said.

"A national situation that impacts administration of the bar exam across the country has not happened before — it's unprecedented, as far as I know," Gundersen added.

The coronavirus pandemic has affected bar examiners far beyond delaying the summer examination in New York and Massachusetts. "All operations may be impacted given the restrictions in place," Gundersen noted.

"For example, ceremonies to swear in newly licensed lawyers are being impacted, the supporting documentation required for background investigations may be difficult or impossible for candidates to obtain and on and on," Gundersen said, adding that NCBE staff are working remotely to grade previously administered tests and report scores.

"We understand the anxiety and frustrations that law students have regarding the uncertainty of the July bar exam in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis," Gundersen said. "We are doing everything we can to help ensure that they'll have an opportunity to take a bar exam in a safe and timely way."

--Editing by Stephen Berg.

Updated: This story has been updated with additional information.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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