Indiana Planning Online, Open Book Bar Exam

Other states consider postponing, cancelling their exams.

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Indiana has announced it will administer a one-day, online bar examination this summer instead of the usual two-day, in-person test.

Other states have delayed their exams until the Fall, and at least one state has cancelled this year’s test altogether.

But Indiana is the first state in the country to go so far as to shorten the exam, rewrite the essay questions, and administer it remotely.

“As a result of the circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, it is unclear whether the State Board of Law Examiners will be able to safely administer a two-day, in-person Indiana bar examination on July 28-29, 2020 as scheduled or at any later date in calendar year 2020,” according to this order from the Indiana Supreme Court.

Nevada has proposed a two-day, open book exam to be administered online in July. California is also planning for a remote test. New York, Illinois and other states have postponed their exams until September.

And Utah wants to ditch this year’s exam in favor of an emergency diploma privilege that will allow 2020 law graduates to become licensed if they complete 360 hours of supervised legal work and meet other requirements.

“Jurisdictions have been struggling with what to do about the upcoming bar exam,” says Law.com. “Some, including Florida and Texas, are moving ahead with plans to administer the traditional two-day test on July 28 and 29, with some health and safety measures such as requiring test takers to wear masks and increasing the space between tables and examinees. Others, including New York, California, and Illinois, have pushed the exam back to early September—one of two alternative fall dates offered by the National Conference of Bar Examiners, which designs the bar exam.”

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Indiana Approves Online Exam
The Hoosier State is rewriting its exam to fit the abbreviated online format.

“Half of Indiana’s modified, one-day exam will consist of Indiana-specific essay questions, while the other half will be short-answer questions based on topics that are tested on the Multistate Bar Exam,” writes Karen Sloan in the Law.com piece.

The Indiana test will jettison the formal Multistate Bar Exam, although certain topics will be addressed in short-answer questions. As for the open book aspect, officials say it’s no big deal because applicants who don’t know the material won’t be able to search for answers in the limited time available.

Here are the details of the Utah proposal, per Law.com: “To qualify, [applicants] must graduate from a law school with a first-time pass rate on the July 2019 bar exam of 86 percent or higher; they must have been registered for the July exam in Utah by April 1; and they must complete 360 hours of supervised practice under the observation of a Utah-licensed attorney by the end of 2020. If they meet all those criteria, they can be fully admitted to practice in the state.”

The National Conference of Bar Examiners – which has a vested interest in keeping things as they are – is opposing moves for online exams or emergency diploma privileges.

“Careful study is needed before jumping to a decision,” the NCBA says in this white paper. “There are good reasons the jurisdictions have relied upon the bar exam for decades as a fair, objective, valid, and efficient method for making licensing decisions, rather than relying upon diploma privilege. Those reasons are still compelling in the face of the current crisis.”

Read more on this issue here, here and here.

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