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Court of Appeals offers alternatives to law students whose bar exams were postponed due to the pandemic

Law students who were preparing to take the bar exam this year now have the option of taking the exam virtually in October, or delaying the test until next year if they work under a supervising attorney until then, the Maryland Court of Appeals announced in new orders Friday.

The two orders issued Friday attempt to accommodate law students who were expected to take the in-person exam in July that was postponed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Law students can now opt to remotely take the bar exam on October 5 and 6, or they can apply for “Temporary Supervised Practice” authorization, which requires them to be supervised by a practicing attorney with at least five years’ experience. If they take that route, the applicant must take the bar exam by February 2022, the orders said.

“[T]he Court believes that, for those applicants who remain uncomfortable with taking the October 2020 remote bar examination during the current pandemic, it is also in the interest of justice to offer an option to apply for a temporary special authorization for supervised practice of law in Maryland, in lieu of taking the October 2020 remote bar examination,” the court wrote.

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The orders come after recent law school graduates and law school deans expressed concerns about students being able to take the exam.

Several bar applicants filed a petition July 31 with the court requesting the waiver. Some applicants included impact statements in their petitions, describing lost postgraduate job offers because of the delays. Others expressed concerns about taking the exam virtually.

Deans Donald Tobin of the University of Maryland’s Francis King Carey School of Law and Ronald Weich of the University of Baltimore School of Law also expressed support for the petition.

Weich said the virtual exam could pose a challenge to recent law school grads who do not have reliable internet service or lack access to a quiet space for two uninterrupted days.

Del. Haven Shoemaker, who wrote a letter signed by other lawmakers pushing for still requiring the bar exam, said he was pleased with the decision.

“I think the Court has struck a rational balance between the difficulties presented by the pandemic and the public interest in making sure that lawyers are competent,” Shoemaker said in a statement.

The court’s orders issued Friday say exam applicants will be held “responsible for any mechanical failure or malfunction of the applicant’s computer or other equipment, including equipment involved in accessing the internet.”

Additionally, the orders require the State Board of Law Examiners, which administers the bar exam, to work with law schools and other entities to provide testing locations for “applicants who lack a quiet location without distraction in which to take the examination.”

Christine Condon contributed to this article.

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