The July Bar Examination in Texas will go forward as scheduled, but test-takers may also choose to take the exam in September or at a later date for no additional fee, the Texas Supreme Court ordered Wednesday.

The capacity for the July exam will be decided after the Texas Board of Law Examiners consults with public health authorities “regarding best practices for administering the examination safely,” the court wrote in its Thirteenth Emergency Order Regarding the COVID-19 State of Disaster.

The order also updates the rules to allow unlicensed law students and law school graduates to practice under supervision. The new rules are effective May 18, according to the order, but may be changed following public comment “and as rapidly changing circumstances warrant.”

“We are very pleased that under the guidance of public health authorities, we will be able to put on the July exam as scheduled, but we have this system in place so they can begin their practice under supervision while they wait to take the bar,” said Justice Brett Busby, the court’s liaison to the Texas Board of Law Examiners.

The court wrote in the order that “disruptions to personal and professional lives caused by the pandemic,” may result in some applicants not having time to prepare for the July bar, or that some may no longer want to take the July exam for personal health reasons.

If the board cannot accommodate all who registered for the July exam, the board will prioritize based on registration date, and automatically register the extras for the September exam.

Susan Henricks, executive director of the Texas Board of Law Examiners, said she expects about 2,000 people will register to take the test in July or September, and the board should be able to accommodate all of them between the two dates.

She said plans call for about 1,000 test-takers on each date. “We are going to have people spread out, six feet apart. We’ve ordered 5,000 surgical masks,” she said.

Scores from the September exam are likely to be released in a quick turnaround of about three weeks after results from the July exam are made public.

Brett Busby 14th Court Justice Brett Busby.

Busby said Texas has allowed supervised practice for many decades. Unlicensed law graduates generally have 14 months from graduation to practice under supervision. But the court has now relaxed the rule, so graduates who are clerking and may have graduated a year or two ago still have a 14-month period from now. Busby said the previous rule only allowed for one attempt at the exam, and now allows for two attempts.

“There are two pressures right here,” Busby said. “We want to make sure the graduates can take the bar exam so they can get started with their practice, but we also want to make sure they can do it safely,” he said.

Michael F. Barry, dean of South Texas College of Law Houston, said Texas law school deans were pleased that the Texas Supreme Court and the board included them in discussions about scheduling the exam in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.

“The board did a nice job of recognizing that some students really do want to take the July bar exam—they have been preparing for it and a delay is a financial and an emotional challenge for them—but also acknowledging that some people have been affected by the pandemic,” Barry said.

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