Age, Technology, and the California Bar Examination.
Can an attorney over 40 successfully navigate the new online bar exam experience?
The COVID-19 pandemic created a brand-new landscape for exam applicants hoping to take the California Bar Examination. After months of uncertainty surrounding whether the California Bar Examination would actually go forward, October 5th, 2020 will mark California’s first-ever remotely proctored online bar examination. Traditionally thousands of applicants each year filter into various auditoriums and convention centers throughout the State of California. Exam proctors walk the aisles to ensure exam integrity, sounds of clicking keyboards fill up the room, and if you listen closely, the rapid heartbeat of nervous applicants reach audible levels. Now, for the first time in history, candidates must isolate and remove from their surroundings anything that moves or breathes. No one to give you that reassuring smile, hand you scratch paper, or help with the problems that our laptops seem to give us during a time-pressured exam. You are alone, for the entire exam.
Mature attorneys taking the California Attorney’s exam are now faced with two potential barriers to entry: age and technology. In the past, we offered sound advice on how a mature attorney can be successful on the California Attorney’s exam. With proper time and appropriate instruction, attorneys, by and large, can manage the voluminous material tested on the exam. We often proffer that attorneys have the benefit of experience and the level of sophistication that a practicing attorney can convey on an exam far outweighs what a recent law graduate might be able to articulate. With practice, individualized instruction, and bar exam experts providing much needed feedback, attorneys are prime candidates for admission to the California Bar. Similarly, memorization techniques specifically designed for the experienced brain are optimal in ensuring attorneys can in fact retain the long list of bar exam subjects tested in California.
Now California is throwing us an additional curveball: the on-lime exam. Recently, the State Bar provided bar exam candidates with over 20 instructions on how to properly prepare a laptop for the California Bar Exam followed by detailed instructions on how to take and upload a mock bar exam. Applicants now have to review minimum system requirements, login, register, download, upload, install software, do a mic check, test video, make sure the webcam is properly working (yes you will be recorded), and even consent to capture biometric information.
And “Don’t worry” – at first, we did not know what that meant either. Simply stated, you need to consent to have your picture taken. And if that is not enough to send you running, here is the “fix” for technical issues: “turn off your device by pressing and holding the power button, wait five seconds, and then restart your device”. If that doesn’t work, the instruction is then to “call for help” –from the phone you are not allowed to have or use while you are taking the exam. Yes, seriously.
Mature attorneys are not as familiar with technology as are their younger counterparts. Many still use dictation as a method of drafting documents, and many rely on support staff for technology related issues. These obstacles, though inconvenient, are not insurmountable. The solution as with the exam content itself is practice. Attorneys need to practice with technology just like they need to practice writing bar exam answers. A seemingly obvious solution, but the tried and true adage that practice makes perfect is just as relevant to mastering technology as it is to mastery of the elements of a binding contract or the exceptions to the hearsay rule.
Study the instructions as if you were studying the rules. Print out the instructions and memorize the sequence to upload your exam file. Make a cheat sheet that you can study from. Create a mnemonic and practice. The new technological requirements are nothing more than additional study materials. If you are able to master the concepts of Due Process and Equal Protection and master the accounting methods set forth in the Pereira and Van Camp cases, you can do this too.