Mass. First To Promise Online Bar Exam As Plan B

By Brian Dowling
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Law360 (April 23, 2020, 2:01 PM EDT) -- A Massachusetts-only version of the bar exam could be proctored online if state testing officials determine it's unsafe to hold it at the end of September as planned, administrators and the Supreme Judicial Court said Thursday.

The Massachusetts Board of Bar Examiners said it plans to hold the Uniform Bar Examination in person on Sept. 30 and Oct. 1 at Hynes Convention Center in Boston, "if that exam can be conducted safely, with social distancing in place for all examinees."

If the exam can't be given safely in person, the board said it will allow people to take an alternative exam online that will grant admission only to the Massachusetts bar. The alternative test would be made up of similar subjects as the uniform exam, so test-takers won't have to make major changes in their preparation.

In a letter to law school deans outlining the plan, Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants said it's his belief that Massachusetts is "the only state in the nation that has made this commitment to an online exam if that becomes necessary."

He also said the Massachusetts focus refers only to limiting admission to the Bay State's bar, not to the exam's content.

"This exam would not be testing only Massachusetts law and how it differs in some respects from the law of other states," Gants said.

The National Conference of Bar Examiners is exploring the feasibility of online testing and other options in the event that state restrictions preclude holding the usual mass, in-person examinations, according to spokeswoman Valerie Hickman.

Hickman said the organization had not received word that any other state has committed to administering the bar exam online.

People who want to take the uniform exam to be admitted to other states will need to wait until it is safe to administer the test in person, the board said.

In either case, the board said it would expedite grading its character and fitness examinations in order for grads to get results in mid- to late December, resulting in an eight-week delay from normal timelines for results.

Bar admission ceremonies will then be held the week of Jan. 11 to Jan. 15, the board said. People with a pressing need for earlier admission to the bar can make arrangements with the clerk of the Supreme Judicial Court to do so.

In late March, the board canceled the test dates for July due to the coronavirus pandemic and indicated it would set dates in the fall.

Massachusetts residents are under a stay-at-home advisory and the state has banned gatherings of 10 or more people in confined spaces. About 43,000 people in the state have tested positive for the novel coronavirus and about 2,200 people have died from COVID-19.

--Editing by Stephen Berg.

Updated: This story has been updated with comment from the National Conference of Bar Examiners.

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