Paul L. Caron

Friday, May 8, 2020

Florida To Proceed With July Bar Exam With Temperature Checks, Social Distancing, Masks, And 14-Day Quarantines For Out-Of-State Applicants

Florida Board of Bar Examiners Release (May 5, 2020):

Florida BarThe Florida Board of Bar Examiners, with the approval of the Supreme Court of Florida, plans to proceed with the administration of the General Bar Examination on July 28 and 29, 2020 in accordance with Rule 4-14 of the Rules of the Supreme Court Relating to Admissions to the Bar.

The Board has been working closely with the Florida Department of Health (“FDOH”) and other medical experts to identify and implement protocols that the FDOH requires for the safe administration of the exam for all involved, including applicants, administrators, and proctors. Those protocols will include:

  • Administration in Tampa and Orlando. The Board will administer the July 2020 General Bar Examination at the Tampa Convention Center and the Orange County Convention Center to create additional space for social distancing. The Board will assign each applicant to either Tampa or Orlando.
  • Screening Questions and Temperature Checks. FDOH officials will ask screening questions and check the temperature of all applicants, administrators, and proctors before they can enter an exam site. Applicants with a temperature of 100.4° or higher will not be allowed to sit for the exam. Applicants who leave the exam site will be required to be screened again before re-entry.
  • Social Distancing. Only one applicant will sit at a table, and tables will be at least six feet apart in all directions. Applicants must remain six feet apart when in line to enter or exit an exam site and during the administration of the exam.
  • Wearing Masks. All applicants will be required to wear a mask during the exam and when in line to enter or exit an exam site. Applicants will not be allowed to sit for the exam if they do not wear masks. Applicants will be asked to leave the exam if they remove their mask during the exam. Administrators and proctors also must wear masks.
  • Out of State Applicants. The Governor of the State of Florida has issued Executive Orders 20-82 and 20-86 relating to persons traveling to Florida from out of state. Based on these or any subsequent Executive Orders, applicants traveling to Florida for the bar exam may be required to quarantine for 14 days or some other time period prior to the start of the examination.

The Board will waive fees for any applicant who postpones to the next administration of the General Bar Examination. For applicants who postpone, examination and laptop fees already paid will apply to the next administration of the exam.

The Board’s plan to proceed with the General Bar Examination in July is based on currently available public health information. As the COVID-19 situation continues to evolve, that information may change and the Court and the Board may consider other options, including postponing the July exam. Applicants are expected to check the Board’s website regularly for additional announcements about the July 2020 General Bar Examination.

Cathren Koehlert-Page (Barry University Law School) has started a petition (with over 400 signatures thus far) to Get Florida Bar to Offer Safer Exam to Protect the Public and Bar Takers:

During the middle of a pandemic that has already infected over a million Americans and over thirty-seven thousand Floridians, the Florida Bar Examiners have decided to group hundreds of law graduates into auditoriums for two days straight to take the bar exam. The bar exam has become increasingly harder over the years, and the failure rate has risen in Florida and nationwide. Some speculate that already licensed lawyers are trying to eliminate the competition for jobs and clients while meanwhile so much of the public remains underserved in our legal system.

This new development takes that notion to a gruesome extreme. The temperature measures the examiners have in place will fail with respect to the asymptomatic. Graduates will have to choose between risking their health and lives, their loved ones' health and lives, and their careers. 

Moreover, students should not have to take an exam under such apocalyptic conditions. Many have had their lives overturned due to family job loss and death, and they have all had to adapt to a semester of online learning with stressed out, still adapting professors. They will now have to adapt to studying online for the bar with bar study programs that were not designed to serve so many would-be takers online.

This issue also disparately impacts disabled students and students with fewer economic choices. Statistically, these students often enter public service. 

Importantly, this issue impacts us all in Florida and beyond. Those who contract the illness at the exam or while publicly studying for the exam can spread it to someone who can spread it to someone and so on. 

Instead, the bar examiners could apply one of several other options as other states have done. They could delay to the fall, which even Georgia has done, or offer an additional bar in the fall. They could allow students to practice under an attorney's supervision, which states like Arizona have done. Alternatively, they could explore an online test as Kansas is exploring. They could also explore various other options to protect students with health conditions.

Why do I care? I will soon be a professor in another state, so my self-interest is fine regardless of bar stats, and I am acting in my individual capacity. Aside from caring about human beings in general, some of these graduates were my students. They are people who went to law school wanting to make the world a better place--the idea of a world without them in it breaks my heart. 

TaxProf Blog coverage of the July 2020 bar exam:

For complete TaxProf Blog coverage of the coronavirus, see here.

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