Fla. Bar Applicants Can Work In Temporary Program

By Carolina Bolado
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Law360 (August 24, 2020, 8:39 PM EDT) -- The Florida Supreme Court said Monday that law graduates who have not yet been able to take the bar exam because of the COVID-19 pandemic and online testing software failures will be able to work under the supervision of a licensed attorney until one month after the February 2021 bar exam results are released.

Applicants to the Florida Bar who were registered to take the July 2020 bar exam that was pushed to Aug. 19 and later canceled will be able to work with a Florida attorney while they wait to either take the rescheduled exam in October or the regularly scheduled February exam, according to the high court's order.

The order lays out the framework for the work program that was announced Aug. 16 when the Florida Board of Bar Examiners canceled the bar exam less than 72 hours before the scheduled test because of problems with the testing software.

Each applicant's supervising attorney — who must be a lawyer in good standing with at least five years of experience — will assume professional responsibility for all services provided, according to the court.

Applicants must be graduates of an American Bar Association-accredited law school who have received a letter of clearance as to character and fitness from the Florida Board of Bar Examiners, according to the order. They also need to have already passed the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination, a test run by the National Conference of Bar Examiners that is required for admittance to the bar in almost every state.

The court is requiring that the FBBE prepare and make available an application form no later than Aug. 31 for the program.

In the run-up to the planned online exam, test-takers reported hardware issues on their computers as well as compromised bank accounts and email passwords that were changed without their permission. The FBBE canceled a planned test run set for Aug. 10 and told applicants that ILG Technologies Inc., which makes the software that was to be used for the exam, had hired a cybersecurity firm to look into the testing software.

But users continued to report problems the following week after downloading the updated version of the software, which forced the FBBE to cancel another trial run as well as the test itself.

The email from the FBBE sent at 10:52 p.m. on Aug. 16 sent law school graduates scrambling to figure out whether promised job offers would be withdrawn and how they would pay for expenses until a new exam date in October, which has yet to be announced.

Applicants have pushed for alternative ways to show that they can competently practice law, whether through additional continuing legal education courses designed for this purpose or periods of supervised practice.

On Wednesday, Florida Chief Justice Charles Canady issued a video statement apologizing to bar applicants and acknowledging the failure of officials responsible for the test. He said that the FBBE, which is an arm of the high court, has learned from the experience and will put alternative plans in place so that "one way or another, there will be an October administration of the bar exam."

"Our inability to offer the bar examination in August was a failure," he said. "We apologize for that failure."

The executive director of the FBBE did not respond to a request for comment on Monday.

--Editing by Emily Kokoll.

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