December 30th, 2021
The Covid-19 Omicron variant and the California Bar exam
With California being the first state to confirm an Omicron case in the U.S. on December 1st, a question worth asking is whether an in-person bar exam is safe for prospective California attorneys? In October of 2021 after nearly 18 months of remote testing, the Supreme Court of California issued an order confirming that the two-day exam would be given at testing centers Feb. 22 and 23, “subject to any restrictions that may be imposed by any state or local public health orders in effect on those dates.”
That ruling however was issued prior to Omicron rearing its ugly head. Yes, COVID protocols will be in place for the February 2022 exam including double masking and mandatory vaccine requirements. Or in the alternative, negative PCR tests, but is that enough?
The recent surge in COVID-19 outbreaks aboard cruise ships perhaps should serve as a cautionary tale to exam takers. Major cruise lines imposed mandatory vaccine protocols for their passengers, yet ships were still recently banned from passenger disembarkation due to rising COVID cases. As of 12.30.21 cruises are discouraged by the CDC even for fully vaccinated passengers.
Why not then allow for a remote testing option? In June of 2021 the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) announced that February 2022 bar exam materials will be made available to jurisdictions for paper-based in-person testing only, unless restrictions by a public health authority prohibit a jurisdiction from administering the February exam in person”. https://www.ncbex.org/news/ncbe-anticipates-return-to-in-person-testing-for-february-2022-bar-exam. California however, at least as of today’s date maintains that it will not be possible for anyone to test remotely for the February 2022 exam citing that the NCBE is not allowing remote testing and that the bar exam relies on test material developed by the NCBE.
The obvious barrier to entry in the California lawyer world is a license issued by the State Bar of California which only can be realized by a passing score on the California Bar Exam. A reconsideration of how the exam is administered amidst the ongoing pandemic is certainly worth exploring. Yes, the remote testing option had some hiccups, but overall, we were able to test and admit thousands of new lawyers to practice. The bar exam experts at Executive Bar Review were able to prepare its applicants for both testing scenarios. No testing environment is perfect every time. Neither is the practice of law.
Applicants should not be forced to choose between health concerns and the chance to practice their trade.
October 1st, 2021 Update
California Bar Exam Returns to In-Person Testing
After over 18 months of remote testing, The February 2022 California Bar Examination will be administered in person. Due to the pandemic, the State Bar of California in conjunction with the National Conference of Bar Examiners offered prospective California attorneys a remotely proctored exam. The entire examination was administered on-line and was remotely proctored. This gave applicants the opportunity to sit for the California Bar Exam from the comfort of their homes or offices. The remote exam however was not without problems. Many applicants cited technical failures, while others complained that the on-line exam was too difficult to navigate from the confines of a 15-inch laptop computer. All valid concerns to say the least. Details of the February 2022 California Bar Exam can be found here: https://www.calbar.ca.gov/Portals/0/documents/admissions/Examinations/Feb-2022-Bar-Exam-FAQs.pdf
Before the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, the California bar Examination was administered at several test locations across the State. The largest number of applicants come out of the Southern California region and testing locations could accommodate upwards of five thousand people. This type of testing environment would seem counter intuitive to the social distancing mandates we have all been adhering to over the last 18 months. The State Bar of California assures that COVID protocols will be in place and that all state and Federal guidelines will be adhered to strictly. That means that all applicants must double mask or wear a KN95/N95 at all testing locations. Further, should a particular testing location exceed 1,000 applicants, proof of vaccination or a recent negative Covid test will be required prior to entry. Space between applicants will be provided according to State Bar sources.
Fedora Nick, managing director of Executive Bar Review, says “returning the exam back to in-person is a good thing.” “The ability to manipulate hard copies of exam questions is key”, she added. “Applicants should have the ability to see an exam question, mark it up, circle key words, highlight, etc. before committing a response on a laptop”. The remotely proctored exam required applicants to view exam questions and answers on a small screen without the use of scratch paper. “The remotely proctored exam was unfair to seasoned attorneys sitting for the California one-day Attorney Exam,” Nick said. “Not all applicants are readily familiar with the technical requirements of the remote exam, and not all applicants have the same facility with newer technology. Further, while I am confident that the Twitter/Snapchat/TikTok generation had no problems acclimating to the remote format, many applicants who are a little more old school prefer to take a test in an appropriate testing environment”.
The return to in-person however is not without its own problems. Even immunocompromised individuals cannot test remotely. This seems somewhat unfair but given that the California Bar relies on test materials developed by the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE), and the NCBE is not allowing remote testing. An applicant can petition for a private room so long as supporting documentation is provided.
Applications for the February 2022 California Bar examination are available on October 1, 2021. Applicants are encouraged to register quickly in order to secure a testing site. Ms. Nick finally adds that “everything with the State Bar of California is subject to change with little to no notice. We saw a July exam get cancelled, a suggestion of an August exam and finally the administration of an October remotely proctored exam. Nobody saw that coming”. Preparation is key, and applicants should start preparing for the February 2022 bar examination sooner than later. Executive Bar Review provides exceptional one-on-one preparation for the California Bar Examination. Good luck to all prospective examinees.
July 20th, 2020 Update
Today, the State Bar of California released the details on the format of the October 5-6 California Bar Examination. The link to the Bar’s FAQs section can be found here:
As previously noted, the October bar exam will be administered over a two day period. Day one of the exam (October 5th) will consist of five one-hour essay questions with a one-hour lunch break. Day two of the exam will consist of a 100 question MBE exam followed by a 90-minute Performance Exam. All exam questions will be administered digitally, and examinees will not have access to a hard copy of the questions. Of particular note to qualified out-of-state attorneys, the “one-day” attorney exam will now take place over a two-day period. Attorneys will be required to complete the five essays on October 5th and then complete the afternoon session (Performance Test) of the exam on October 6th.
The technological requirements for the exam are posted on the above-referenced link. Applicants should be aware that they will only be able to use their laptop computers and applicants will not be able to use desktops or connect external monitors. The use of scratch paper is split into two categories: digital scratch paper, and physical scratch paper. For the essay portion and MBE portion of the exam applicants will have the use of digital scratch paper limited to approximately 70,000 characters. That translates to roughly 16 pages of actual scratch paper. For the Performance Exam, however, applicants will be able to use actual blank sheets of physical paper. Applicants will have to show each piece of paper, front and back, to their AI and remote proctors. During past exams, applicants were able to freely move between each essay question or Performance Exam in either the morning or afternoon session. Now, once one essay is complete, an applicant cannot go back to edit/access that essay. You will only have access to one essay or PT at a time.
Examinees will be recorded during the entire exam process, and video logs will be reviewed via Artificial Intelligence. Anything that the AI flags will then be reviewed by human proctors. Any applicant suspected of violating any of the exam rules will receive a Chapter 6 Notice with an opportunity to respond.
Results of the October examination will both be made available until mid-January 2021 which begs the question as to whether a February 2021 exam will be available. The State Bar is actively working on shortening the grading timeline. As more details emerge, we will certainly keep you posted.
We will follow up on the appropriate study techniques necessary to ensure successful on-line examination results.
July 16th, 2020 Update
California Bar Exam Update. California will administer an October 2020 Bar Examination
As expected, the California Bar Exam continues. In its July 16, 2020 missive to the Board of Trustees, the California Supreme Court handed down its protocol for the implementation of an online exam citing the COVID-19 pandemic as the reason for the change. Read here.
The Supreme Court entertained public comment last week and allowed registered bar exam applicants to voice their concerns about an in-person exam. Many advocated for diploma privilege, but the Supreme Court exercised its better judgment in rendering that a non-starter. The Court did implement a temporary supervised provisional licensure program but made that only available to 2020 graduates. The Court made it clear that 2020 graduates would have to take and pass the California Bar Exam by June 1, 2022. What that basically translates to is that 2022 grads can forgo the October 2020 exam but must take the bar exam either in February 2021, July 2022, or February 2022. Details on the supervised licensure program will be made available in the coming days on the California State Bar website.
In furtherance of its decision, the Supreme Court also provided the following important information:
• The minimum passing score for the California Bar Exam (including the October 5-6 exam) is now 1390 and will be applied prospectively.
• Registration for the October 5-6 is now extended to July 24, 2020
• High-speed internet access for the online exam will not be required. System requirements will be provided to applicants by the State Bar.
We will follow up on the details of this decision as well as appropriate study techniques consistent with an online exam.
June 11th, 2020 Update
COVID-19: The Ebb and Flow of the 2020 California Bar Exam
As California Bar Exam applicants await instructions on how the bar exam will be administered in light of COVID-19, the California Supreme Court yesterday threw yet another wrench into the ever-changing cycle of licensing drama.
In a prior missive, the California Supreme Court gave directives to the State Bar of California to come up with a viable work plan for the administration of a September 2020 California Bar Exam. Consistent with that request, on May 11th, the State Bar presented the Court a detailed timeline for a September 9-10 Bar Examination. Although the details of how that exam would ultimately be administered are still unclear, applicants began to make plans in preparation for the early Fall exam.
Now, in a letter dated June 10, 2020, the State Supreme Court is exploring the option of moving the California Bar exam to October 5-6, 2020. The National Conference of Bar Examiners on June 1stagreed to support jurisdictions with an emergency remote testing option for local admission during the COVID-19 pandemic. That remote exam will be made available on October 5-6; after all current bar exam dates are completed.
All prospective California Bar applicants however should keep in mind that the decision to yet again move the exam is not final, and all efforts to continue a study plan with the September 9-10 exam in mind is strongly encouraged. The State Bar of California has made it clear that they are not changing any registration deadlines to accommodate the possibility of an October test.
We will continue to provide applicants with updated information, and we will provide further guidance on how applicants should undertake a study plan with fluid timelines.
May 12th, 2020 Update
State Bar Workplan for upcoming Bar Examination
On May 11th the State Bar of California unveiled its work plan (follow the link to PDF) for the delivery of the September 2020 California Bar Exam.
On April 27th, The California Supreme Court directed the State Bar to come up with a viable plan to administer the California Bar Exam in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. TheState Bar was asked to address issues surrounding exam security and integrity among other details. As we predicted early on, the California Bar Exam will be administered, albeit under modified conditions. We alerted prospective applicants to the possibility that the exam would be administered online in a secured, proctored environment. This is exactly what the State Bar is proposing. In its communication to the California Supreme Court, the State Bar outlined two distinct goals:
• The first would be to deliver the September California Bar Exam online utilizing yet to be determined “remote proctoring”. The proposed goal ventures to provide appropriate accommodations to all applicants regardless of their access to technology. Applicants are able to either handwrite the exam or submit answers via laptop through secured testing software. The proposed goal suggests that these two options will remain in place. Further, the goal ensures an appropriate testing venue, yet does not indicate where these venues might be.
•. The second, more aggressive goal, would be to administer the California Bar Exam in person at to be determined locations statewide, inclusive of testing accommodation sites. This plan assumes that the COVID-19 pandemic is in a manageable state, allowing travel to California without risk of further exposure, and of course an ease of restrictions for group gatherings.
This second goal would, no doubt, create a multitude of logistical concerns, considering possible travel restrictions and future quarantine orders. A viable solution would be to give California Bar exam applicants the choice of taking the exam in person or on-line. Should an applicant live in either Los Angeles or San Francisco (two proposed testing sites) then an in-person exam would be a logical choice. If an applicant is coming from another state or even overseas, an on-line exam would be the safest and most practical approach.
In any event, as stated before in prior installments of this post, the California Bar Exam continues. The advantage of a September exam is that it gives prospective applicants an excellent amount of time to study and prepare. We will continue to update as we receive further guidance and information.
April 27, 2020 Update
The California Bar Exam will go on…
As suspected, California will administer the July 2020 bar examination. In its April 27th response to the State Bar of California Board of trustees, the Supreme Court of California outlined its directives for the upcoming bar examination. The July 2020 bar examination will be postponed to September 9th and 10th 2020, and the exam will be administered remotely. This decision is optimal for several reasons. First, administering the exam maintains the integrity of the profession. Anything short of a bar exam would compromise the profession. Second, an online or remote model will protect the health and safety of the public and erase any anxiety associated with administering an exam in close quarters or requiring prospective applicants to travel to California during the current pandemic. Highlights of the Supreme Court’s decision are as follows:
• The July 2020 California Bar Examination is postponed to September 9-10th 2020.
• The National Conference of Bar Examiners will facilitate an online administration of the Multistate Bar Examination (MBE)
• The September 2020 California Bar Examination will be graded in a swift manner with results expected no later than December 31, 2020.
Prospective applicants should commence their studies now that a plan is in place for the next bar examination. We will certainly keep our applicants up to date on the logistics of the upcoming exam.
April 16, 2020 Update
Best case: The California Bar Exam continues. Worse case: The California Bar Exam continues
On April 15, 2020, the State Bar of California Board of Trustees sent the California Supreme Court two suggested scenarios for the administration of the California Bar exam in the wake of COVID-19. The first scenario termed “the preferred option” moves the California Bar Exam to September 9-10. As previously discussed, The State Bar of California has the infrastructure to administer the exam by safe and appropriate means, including administering the exam on-line. So, with this option, the exam continues.
A second, less preferred option is to cancel the July 2020 exam and administer the exam as scheduled in February. Even with this less than ideal scenario, the bar continues.
COVID-19 is not an automatic “out”. Candidates will still have to sit for and pass the California Bar Exam. It will continue to be a prerequisite to licensure. The upside here is that prospective applicants now have considerable extra time to study and should take advantage of the opportunity regardless of when the exam is administered.
Things will change quickly, and we will all be in a rush to get back to any semblance of normality. Coupled with the need for additional lawyers in the very near future, California will see a massive uptick in the number of lawsuits filed as a direct result of the global pandemic. We want to make sure that the public has access to qualified, licensed California attorneys ready to offer legal guidance when needed.
The administration of the California Bar exam protects the public against unethical professional conduct and provides a safeguard for all that may require legal assistance.
April 13, 2020 Update
Given California’s early response to COVID-19 it is now almost certain that the California Bar Exam will be administered in a somewhat timely fashion. The National Conference of Bar Examiners is giving States an early May deadline to decide individually when they will offer the next bar exam. The current trend, as of today’s date, is to either administer the July exam as scheduled or to move the bar exam to early or late September. In either event, it will happen.
After a week of speculation surrounding the ill-advised “diploma privilege”, only a very few States are offering recent graduates the limited opportunity to practice under direct supervision. This does not mean that these law graduates are exempt from the bar exam – it simply means they will have to take the first available exam administered in their home jurisdiction.
California has the largest number of bar exam applicants in the nation, and currently, California has over three hundred thousand licensed attorneys. The thought that Californians would have diminished access to justice due to a canceled or postponed bar exam is ludicrous. While the logistics of how to administer the exam are still in the works, the integrity of the legal profession in California will simply mandate the administration of the California Bar Exam.
California is aggressively flattening the curve and is leading the nation on the road to recovery. We are doing our small part by continuing to provide our exam applicants with the tools necessary to achieve a license to practice law in California.
March 31, 2020 Update
Please read to the end for a discussion of the ill-advised “Diploma Privilege” request to the State Bar on 3/30.
March 30, 2020 Update
• As a reminder, the timely deadline to register for the July 2020 California Bar Exam is Wednesday, April 1st. As of today’s, date, the exam is scheduled to take place at the end of July. We anticipate, that consistent with a news advisory released by the State of New York, the possibility exists that the California Bar Exam may be moved to the Fall. With that said, California will still administer two bar exams, (one in the Fall and one in February) so we encourage all prospective applicants to register very soon. Spaces at the currently available locations are filling up rapidly, and the State Bar California may decide to limit the number of bar applicants for each sitting.
By Executive Bar Review
We are receiving many questions surrounding the administration of the July 2020 California Bar Exam.
• How will it be administered?
• Will it be canceled?
• Will it be delayed?
• How does a potential delay or cancellation affect my ability to practice law?
• What if I am already an attorney seeking admission to California?
• What if I have an offer pending admission?
• Will California offer temporary reciprocity with other jurisdictions?
As experts on the California Bar Exam, we also find ourselves in unchartered territory. But because we have immersed ourselves in the California Bar Exam for well over 20 years, we do have knowledge and perspective on how this should, in fact, shake out. So, let’s break this down:
If the exam proceeds in July, how will it be administered?
California is unique in that is has the largest bar exam population in the country. An average of 16,000 applicants sit for the California bar exam each year. The July exam has the largest applicant pool, and so traditionally thousands of applicants are put into large hotel ballrooms or convention centers to take the test. Even assuming the social distancing mandate is softened in the coming months, it is doubtful that crowds of this magnitude will be the norm come this July. The possibility of multiple exam locations might work for smaller States, but the logistics of providing hundreds of exam locations in California would seem untenable.
Another option then would be to administer the exam online. California already uses exam software during the exam that disables a hard drive and prevents the possibility of cheating. Technology exists that tracks eye movement which could provide an additional safeguard. We already provide accommodations for applicants who cannot for whatever reason take the exam in a crowded room. As we saw last year with the “accidental leak” of what subjects were to be tested last July, the State Bar of California is on high alert concerning the integrity of this exam. If necessary, the State Bar will administer the exam electronically.
Will the July 2020 exam be canceled?
Again, California has the largest number of exam applicants in the country. Canceling the exam will have major repercussions. Not only will recent law graduates be stuck in a holding pattern unable to secure employment, but many associate jobs are conditioned upon admission to the California Bar. This is an option the examiners are unlikely to take.
Will the July 2020 exam be delayed?
Looking more and more likely. But delayed until when? We do have two exams per year, and delaying the July exam poses problems for grading, result release dates, application deadlines, etc. Delaying would cause more problems than canceling the July exam altogether.
How does a delay or cancellation affect my ability to practice law?
For applicants waiting for February Bar results, the ability to practice will be dependent on passing the exam as well as meeting the other requirements of admission. For those graduating this year, individual law firms might, at their own discretion, allow new associates to work at firms under the direct supervision of licensed attorneys. Similar to what a summer associate might do. Law firms do not have the ability to individually license applicants – doing so would subject them to multiple ethic violations and engaging in the unauthorized practice of law.
What if I am an attorney licensed in another jurisdiction?
As we all know, California does not offer reciprocity for out of state attorneys. Attorneys licensed in other states may practice in California to a limited extent as in-house attorneys or as legal services attorneys in accordance with the Supreme Court and State Bar rules. This multijurisdictional practice program is very limited. Pro Hac Vice is available if an attorney does not work or conduct regular business in California. Should this be the case, an attorney licensed in another state must formally request permission from the court if they wish to appear on behalf of a client. This option is not available if an attorney resides or works in California. California MIGHT soften this requirement temporarily in order to accommodate out of State attorneys but doing so, again, compromises the integrity of the State Bar and poses additional problems regarding exam administration.
So now what?
With rising concerns over the spread of the novel Coronavirus, many law schools and law firms are operating remotely, and studying and work are completed from the comfort of home. The reality of the situation is that the bar exam must be administered. Canceling the exam or delaying it as stated above causes many more problems than finding a way to administer it this July. Our advice to all prospective applicants is to proceed with your bar prep as if the exam will take place this July. There is only upside to this approach. If anything, you will be that much more prepared. Remember that California has the lowest pass rate in the country, so think of this as an opportunity to simply increase your odds at passing. As we have said for years and years, the only way to master the California Bar Exam is to practice. COV-19 is giving us more time in our day. This virus will pass, and the exam will be administered. The silver lining in all this is that if you use this time now, statistically you will be more likely to pass the bar than before this all started.