Bar exam moves online in response to virus

By Meanie Deeds
Legal News

On the heels of a virtual mass swearing-in ceremony for the state’s newest attorneys, the Michigan Supreme Court announced that the July bar examination for the most recent class of law school graduates would be conducted online as well as the legal community continues to adjust to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rather than the usual two-day in-person examination, the court announced this week that a one-day exam would be administered consisting “solely of the essay portion of the traditional exam.”

“In recognition of the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, in light of various current and projected pandemic-related restrictions, and pursuant to the Court’s constitutional and statutory authority to supervise and regulate the practice of law, 1963 Const, Art VI, Sec 5, and MCL 600.904, and in consultation with the Board of Law Examiners (Board), the Court orders that in lieu of the two-day exam previously scheduled for July 28-29, 2020, a one-day exam will be administered on July 28, 2020,” the court order stated.

Specific instructions will be handed down no later than July 1, according to the order issued Monday.

Any applicant receiving accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act that would preclude remote testing will be allowed to test in person at a location to be determined,  according to the order, assuming that federal and state restrictions permit such examination.

Any applicant that did not register to use a laptop for the exam must contact the Board of Law Examiners if they are unable to take the exam on a computer. Those who complete the test in person will be required to adhere to federal and state health recommendations and requirements.

“Such requirements will, at a minimum, likely require the applicant to answer health-related screening questions, use personal protective equipment, and comply with staggered test times to ensure social distancing mandates,” the order stated.

For those who do not wish to test in July, applications will automatically be transferred to the next available 2021 bar exam. Applicants who wish to transfer their application to the next available exam should notify the board no later by July 1 via email at BLE-Info@courts.mi.gov.

The order stated that those who wish to withdraw from the process, and notify the board via email of that withdrawal no later than July 1, will have their exam fees refunded by the board and their character and fitness fees refunded.

“Applicants have the affirmative obligation to frequently check the board’s website where updates, instructions, and other vital information will be provided,” the order concluded.

Meanwhile last Friday, the Michigan Supreme Court and the State Bar of Michigan joined forces to swear in 128 certified bar passers via a virtual mass swearing-in ceremony.

The candidates were presented by State Bar President Dennis Barnes and officially sworn in by Chief Justice Bridget M. McCormack.

Conducted over Zoom and livestreamed on YouTube, the ceremony was the first ever “virtual” mass swearing in for new attorneys in Michigan.

“Being sworn in to the bar is a milestone that attorneys and their families remember for a lifetime,” said McCormack. “We might not be able to be together in person, but we are together in spirit in supporting these talented and hard-working new attorneys-to-be who are ready to serve.”

Following the ceremony, participants still faced one more step before being called attorneys — filling out the paperwork and paying their dues to become members of the State Bar.

“Please know that we consider you the most resilient group of bar passers ever to be sworn in, and remember, tough times don’t last, but tough people do,” said Barnes. “The practice of law can be a tough business, but this experience will no doubt prepare you for future challenges. It is during times like these that lawyers help provide clarity, security, and a path forward for the rest of society.”

The special event kicked off with the official swearing in of former District Judge Thomas P. Boyd as the new State Court Administrator.

“During this crisis, Tom has been working nonstop to keep Michigan’s judiciary running while protecting the health of the public and court staff,” said McCormack. “Tom’s experience leading so many important reforms in the judiciary and his commitment and his ability to lead and inspire others to do so too has been a big bright light for all of us as we meet the challenge of COVID-19 and return courts to full capacity.”

The Macomb County Bar Association and other organizations throughout the state held virtual receptions and meet-and-greets for attorneys with ties to their areas.

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