Law graduates who expected to sit for the bar exam in the District of Columbia next month are in limbo, awaiting official word on whether the test will take place amid the partial shutdown of the federal government.
The District of Columbia Courts’ Committee on Admissions is closed due to the shutdown, and it warned test takers earlier this month that the exam could also be impacted. In a message on its website, the committee said it was still planning to administer the exam on Feb. 26-27, but that it was “closely monitoring any new developments with the federal government shutdown.” The status of the exam could change, it warned. (The federal government controls the funding for D.C., which has a dispensation to keep essential functions operating amid shutdowns.)
On Tuesday, the National Conference of Bar Examiners said it was aware of the situation and looking for potential solutions. But it clarified that it cannot step in to administer the exam should the shutdown persist, because registration and administration for the bar is handled by individual jurisdictions.
Meanwhile, at least four other jurisdictions—New York, New Jersey, Missouri and Minnesota—have said they will accept some applications to take the exam from D.C. takers even though the official registration deadline has passed. All five jurisdictions use the Uniform Bar Exam, meaning their scores are transferable. The D.C. test does not have a local jurisdiction component.
“We are in contact with DC Court of Appeals representatives and are awaiting their decision about the possible need to cancel the exam should the shutdown continue,” reads a message on the national conference’s website.
The D.C. courts, which are federally funded, remain open. But several committees, including admissions and the marriage bureau, are closed.
It’s unclear exactly how many test takers could be affected should the exam be canceled. Last February, 623 people sat for the bar there, and 47 percent of them passed. (The February exam has a higher percent of repeat takers than July.)
Even those who passed the July 2018 D.C. bar exam are getting hit with the consequences of the shutdown, however. Their swearing-in ceremony, scheduled for Jan. 25, has been postponed. That ceremony will be rescheduled once the shutdown ends, the courts said earlier this month.
Law grads already certified to practice by the D.C. Committee on Admissions can apply to be sworn in by absentia.
As for upcoming test takers, New Jersey has given D.C. bar registrants until Feb. 1 to sign up for its exam, but only those affiliated with the state. They’ll have to provide proof of current New Jersey residency, proof that they graduated from a New Jersey law school, or proof of past or current legal employment in the state.
New York has cautioned that the space for its upcoming bar exam is limited, and that preference will be given on the same priority basis as New Jersey. Any remaining seats will be issued on a first-come, first-served basis.
It’s too soon to know how many D.C. registrants will end up taking the bar in New York, said New York State Board of Bar Examiners Executive Director John McAlary in an interview Thursday. The state just announced its late registration option Wednesday evening, after hearing from a half-dozen D.C. test takers looking for an alternative.
“I put myself in their shoes, and through no fault of their own they find themselves in this situation,” he said. “If it were me, I’d certainly be stressed about it.”
McAlary said he expects other jurisdictions to announce late registration for D.C. bar registrants in the coming days. No single jurisdiction can accommodate all the D.C. test takers—should the exam be canceled—since they’ve already booked testing space, chairs and proctors.
“Hopefully, we’ll know more soon, so test takers know whether to sit tight or go elsewhere,” McAlary said.