Michigan has joined the small but growing list of jurisdictions that plan to administer the July bar exam online amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Michigan Supreme Court on Monday ordered that the attorney licensing exam, which normally takes place in person over two days, will be reduced to one day and given remotely July 28. Indiana on May 7 became the first jurisdiction to commit to giving an online bar exam. The Nevada Supreme Court has asked for public comments on a similar plan—under which the test would be open book—and is expected to make a decision by May 22. Massachusetts and California have also said they might give an online bar exam in September, after postponing their July exams. And Utah has created a pathway for some recent graduates to skip the bar exam altogether.

The move demonstrates the extraordinary changes to bar licensing that states are implementing to deal with the unprecedented interruption brought on by the pandemic.

“The board conducted extensive research and consultations to make this decision, including outreach to Michigan public health officials and law school deans, while monitoring developments in the pandemic and approaches of other states,” said Michigan Supreme Court Justice Brian Zahra, in an announcement of the decision. Zahra serves that the court’s liaison to the Michigan Board of Law Examiners.

The Board of Law Examiners recommended moving the exam online because state health officials could not “predict with certainty that any in-person examination could be safely administered in 2020,” according to the announcement. Additionally, predicting the lead-time necessary to secure testing facilities, proctors and safety equipment in the current conditions present significant challenges, the board said. Michigan is a midsize bar exam jurisdiction—641 people sat for the July exam in 2019.

The one-day exam will consist only of Michigan essay questions. It eliminates the Multistate Bar Exam, which is the 200-question multiple choice test that is given over one day. (Michigan is not a Uniform Bar Exam jurisdiction, meaning that the elimination of the Multistate Bar Exam won’t compromise the ability of test takers to transfer their scores to other Uniform Bar Exam states since they cannot do so anyway.)

Indiana and Nevada also plan to eliminate the Multistate Bar Exam in their pared-down July exams, as does Louisiana, which is still giving its test in-person, but has reduced it to a single day.

“I am confident the Michigan essay examination will adequately test the applicants’ legal knowledge and skill,” Zahra said. “The public can be confident that those who pass this exam will have requisite knowledge of state law to become a member of the Michigan bar.”


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