Fla. Bar Exam Software Sows Chaos For Grads

By Carolina Bolado
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Law360 (August 10, 2020, 10:14 PM EDT) -- A group of law graduates asked the Florida Supreme Court for help Monday as they deal with data security breaches, overheated computers and malfunctioning facial recognition features in the remote bar exam software that will be used for the online Florida bar exam scheduled for Aug. 19.

In a letter to Chief Justice Charles Canady, the Florida bar exam-takers asked the high court to intervene in the relationship between the Florida Board of Bar Examiners and ILG Technologies Inc., which created the software that students say has caused them technical headaches and made them vulnerable to hackers.

The FBBE last month canceled the in-person bar exam as Florida grappled with a dramatic upswing of COVID-19 cases. But now, some test-takers are reporting compromised bank accounts and email passwords that were changed without their permission.

"Our fear is that the well-founded haste to migrate to a remote format in the midst of this unprecedented crisis will expose examinees' private information, including attorney work product from employers, client information, banking account information, and Social Security numbers in violation of privacy rights guaranteed by the Florida and federal constitutions," the test-takers wrote in the letter.

The letter came on the heels of the FBBE's Sunday evening postponement of a live trial exam that was scheduled for Monday afternoon. In a statement on its website, the FBBE said it was working with ILG on the issues that test-takers have identified with the software and said it would update applicants with the new date and time of the live trial exam.

But several test-takers told Law360 that, given the raft of issues with the software, they don't see how the test will be able to proceed as scheduled on Aug. 19.

"I'm not sure what the contingency plan is," Barry University School of Law graduate Ravin Sahadeo said. "We're all pretty burnt out. We don't know what to do at this point."

Sahadeo said he downloaded the software a couple of weeks ago when it was first made available to the test-takers. It "almost destroyed" his MacBook, he said, and it took him about six hours to get it back up and running.

On Friday, after downloading the updated software, he noticed the battery on his laptop began draining at rapid speed. But once he plugged in the computer, it began to overheat, a complaint echoed by several others who spoke to Law360 but asked to remain anonymous because of concerns that complaints will be used against them in the character and fitness screening required for admittance to the bar.

Other test-takers reported suspicious login attempts — sometimes in the middle of the night— to their email and bank accounts and an influx of text and WhatsApp messages from foreign numbers asking about Bitcoin. Test-takers said they were instructed by ILG to disable their antivirus software before downloading the bar exam software.

Moreover, others who managed to test out the software said there were multiple issues with the functioning of the software itself, beginning with the facial verification feature meant to ensure that the right person is taking the test. In the letter to the chief justice, the law graduates included screenshots of the software verifying pets, a window and the back of a head as test-takers.

Others reported that submitted essay answers in practice tests included text that they had deleted or typed only on the digital notepad feature that was not meant for the final draft.

The software was going to be used for online bar exams in both Nevada and Indiana, but both had to scale back those plans after users reported similar issues. Nevada is moving forward with its exam this week using the ILG software, but in "the most stripped-down version possible," as University of Florida School of Law graduate Jessica Lefebvre put it, without a proctor or video streaming.

"Nevada is supposed to be using the completely stripped-down version, and they're still having a ton of problems," Lefebvre said. "Florida has added digital components rather than taken them away."

Indiana abandoned the plan entirely and switched to an open-book test with questions and answers exchanged by email. A similar move would be a complicated one in Florida, where there are 3,400 test-takers and a multiple-choice section of the test.

"If they did move to email, it doesn't look like it would be an easy move and it would occur on Aug. 19," Lefebvre said. "We haven't really received anything from the board or from the court or from our deans to assure us."

ILG's CEO Baris Misman declined to comment on the concerns about the software. The FBBE did not respond to requests for comment.

Johnny Carver, a University of Miami School of Law graduate, said the problems with the software have just added to the frustrations of test-takers, who have been studying for months — often under difficult circumstances because of the pandemic — for an exam that keeps changing. Those who have jobs waiting for them that are contingent on passage of the bar are unsure of what will happen if the exam is pushed back.

"My biggest worry right now is that they're going to go for provisional licensing and we'll have to go back and take the exam in February," Carver said. "We'd have to study while we're working. We're already dealing with the pandemic as it is. We need answers quickly."

Carver and others have reached out to deans of law schools in Florida for help, but he said that for the most part, they have been reluctant to say anything.

"There's a sentiment among deans that this test is easier, and that could not be further from the truth," Carver said. "This is tough to endure. It's like running a race and the finish line keeps moving."

--Editing by Steven Edelstone.

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

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