​​​​​​​DC Moves Bar Exam Online, Set For October

By Khorri Atkinson
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Law360 (June 9, 2020, 1:40 PM EDT) -- The D.C. Court of Appeals has said the next District of Columbia bar exam will take place remotely in early October, marking the second time the examination has been delayed in the wake of continued widespread disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The D.C. bar exam has been delayed for the second time and will take place remotely in October, the D.C. Court of Appeals said Tuesday. (Andy Dunaway/USAF via Getty Images)

The standard in-person exam was initially set for July but was later rescheduled for September. The court, however, signaled in May the possibility of another delay if it concluded that the exam could not be safely administered.

In a statement Monday announcing the online-only exam for Oct. 5 and 6, the court said this alternative is convenient due to the "significant demand" for seats, space limitations and logistical challenges for social distancing in locations where hundreds of law school graduates would be taking the test. Moreover, the "continuing health concerns made an in-person exam untenable," the court added.

"We heard from numerous recent law school graduates, and consulted with the DC Bar and local law school deans, about the need to offer a bar exam to more people than we thought we could safely test in a 'bricks and mortar' facility," Chief Judge Anna Blackburne-Rigsby said in the announcement. "We understand that recent law school graduates have already had their final semester turned upside down by the pandemic, missed the traditional in-person graduation ceremony, and are anxious about taking the bar exam and beginning their careers."

Judge Blackburne-Rigsby asserted that sufficient research has been done to ensure the remote exam is still proctored and fair and that "our bar's standards would remain as stringent as ever."

The move by D.C. comes as other states are postponing or mulling potential alternatives to holding their bar exams amid the continued COVID-19 restrictions and health concerns.

The Philadelphia Bar Association in April threw its support behind a statewide proposal from a group of area law school deans to allow this year's crop of graduates to begin provisionally practicing law even if the pandemic forces the postponement of the summer's scheduled bar exam.

Also in April, the New Jersey Supreme Court announced it had rescheduled its bar exam for September but noted the new dates weren't set in stone given the uncertainty surrounding when social distancing protocols would be relaxed. Law school graduates in the state will also be able to start practicing law ahead of the exam under the supervision of attorneys in good standing, the court said.

Massachusetts has also pushed its test to September while also committing to proctoring the test online if state testing officials determine it's still unsafe to hold it at that time. And the New York Bar Association said in March it was considering possible alternatives to holding the July bar examination, including postponing or administering the test remotely.

D.C. has now joined Indiana and Michigan in offering the exam online. However, when the California Supreme Court in April pushed back the summer bar exam from July to September, it also ordered the state bar to do its best to administer the test remotely.

The D.C. remote exam is open to anyone qualified under D.C. Court of Appeals rules, including repeat test-takers, according to Monday's announcement. The court also noted it doesn't know of any other jurisdictions that have said they would accept the D.C. remote exam score to qualify for their bar admission.

The court will issue an order later this week to formally announce the online exam and provide details on reopening the application process. All applicants who have already received exam registration ID numbers for the September exam will automatically be registered for the October remote exam, according to the announcement. 

--Additional reporting by Hailey Konnath, Mike LaSusa, Brian Dowling, Jeannie O'Sullivan and Matt Fair. Editing by Orlando Lorenzo.

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

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