The next administration of the Florida Bar Exam is currently scheduled to take place in person on July 28 and 29, 2020 for over 2,000 examinees.
Typically, the Florida Bar Exam is held twice annually at the Tampa Convention Center for all examinees. On May 5, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Florida Board of Bar Examiners announced its intention to proceed with the July 2020 in-person exam by adding a second location and randomly assigning examinees either to Tampa or to the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando. The Board also announced that it will require test takers to wear masks and have temperature screenings before entry each day of the exam, as well as a plan for all desks in the testing center to be located six feet apart.
This new plan was a surprise for most of us, particularly after the deans of 12 Florida law schools submitted a comprehensive letter to the Board on April 7 advocating for several options other than an in-person exam. And yet, when the Board of Bar Examiners announced their plan, we accepted it. We were less than thrilled with the idea of gathering to take a two-day-long, eight-hour-a-day exam with masks on, but we went forward with the optimistic outlook that COVID-19 would be under control in Florida by late July.
Unfortunately, this has not been the case.
Now in mid-June, Florida has experienced a major increased outbreak of COVID-19 cases. On June 24, with only 34 days until the scheduled bar exam, Florida shattered its one-day coronavirus record with 5,500 new cases, bringing our state’s total to nearly 110,000 cases. Mandatory mask orders have been issued in the city of Tampa as well as in Orange County. CNN recently reported that Florida is showing signs of becoming the “next epicenter of the national health crisis.”
The landscape of COVID-19 in Florida grows grimmer and grimmer by the day. On June 19, Governor DeSantis noted that the median age of Floridians diagnosed with the virus has dropped from the mid-60s a few months ago to now the mid-30s—frighteningly close to the age of many registered bar examinees. The day after, Governor DeSantis informed us that the “vast majority” of new COVID-19 cases in the state are from asymptomatic young people. Also on June 20, the Florida Department of Health issued an advisory urging all individuals to refrain from participating in gatherings of more than 50 people. And on June 21, most tragically, it was reported that the first Florida teenager died from the virus, just north of Tampa.
As it is, the exam requires not only sitting in a room for two days with a thousand other students. It also requires travel to and from the exam city (and for those traveling to Orlando, this means a city filled with new Disney World visitors from around the country), staying in a hotel for several nights, eating meals from local restaurants—all of which are potential exposure risks. Moreover, examinees coming from out of state are being required to quarantine in Florida for 14 days prior to the exam—and then will possibly have to quarantine for 14 days again upon their post-exam return home. This is asking for more than 28 days of these students’ lives just to take an exam in person.
And yet, the Florida Board of Bar Examiners finds no issue with holding this exam in person.
To add insult to injury for us bar examinees, the Florida Bar itself has shown that accommodations need to be taken for the legal profession to prevent the spread and impact of the pandemic. From June 15-19, the Bar Association held its annual convention virtually. And on June 15, Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles T. Canady extended the term of the Florida Bar’s COVID-19 workgroup through the end of 2020.
Why are these “privileges” of assured health and safety only being afforded to members of the bar and not those who are currently trying to earn a license to practice law?
A number of other states have already enacted measures to ensure the health and safety of its bar examinees, ranging from diploma privilege opportunities to administering the exam online to postponing the exam to the fall.
Further, several Change.org petitions have been created out of concern for Florida bar examinees’ safety. One petition that advocates for a safe exam has nearly 1,000 signatures. Another more recent petition requesting that the Florida Board of Bar Examiners consider all other options to an in-person exam now has over 500 signatures. The earliest petition on this matter, which advocates for diploma privilege, has over 3,200 signatures.
The Florida Board of Bar Examiners is recklessly and irresponsibly placing at risk not only the examinees, proctors, and citizens of Tampa and Orlando, but also of the cities and towns from which they all come—both in Florida and across the country.
A number of Florida state legislators recognize this already and are concerned about the massive spreading event that this in-person exam might pose. State Senator Annette Taddeo tweeted to the newly elected President of the Florida Bar, Dori Foster-Morales, encouraging her to consider diploma privilege opportunities or an online exam. State Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith has asked a simple question in regard to packing thousands of students together as new COVID-19 cases surge: “Why are we doing this???”
We have been working tirelessly for years to become lawyers. We went through three years of law school to become zealous advocates for our future clients, and we endured it all knowing that the bar exam was the final obstacle on our path to licensure. We have been studying for the last two months in the face of unprecedented conditions caused by a global pandemic as well as social unrest that some characterize as a second Civil Rights Movement. We have been trying to make this work, but the sheer anxiety caused by the likelihood of contracting and spreading COVID-19 once exam day arrives is insurmountable.
Sadly, the complete lack of empathy and understanding from the Board of Bar Examiners has been totally disheartening. As one of our peers tweeted, this “has shown me that the powers that be aren’t super concerned with my wellbeing. I’m not alone in feeling that way.”
Why do we need to so seriously consider placing our health—and that of our families and communities—at risk in order to be granted access to this career that we have been working so tirelessly toward?
Florida Bar Exam Petition Organizers are a group of May 2020 law school graduates registered to take the July 2020 Florida Bar Exam. They strongly and urgently request that the Florida Board of Bar Examiners consider all other alternative measures instead of an in-person exam administration.
Suggested Citation: Florida Bar Exam Petition Organizers, Florida Bar Examiners: Consider All Other Options to an In-Person Bar Exam in July 2020, JURIST – Student Commentary, June 24, 2020, https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2020/06/fl-bar-exam-petition-organizers/.
This article was prepared for publication by Brianna Bell, a JURIST Staff Editor. Please direct any questions or comments to her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Opinions expressed in JURIST Commentary are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of JURIST's editors, staff, donors or the University of Pittsburgh.