Even as a deal to temporarily end the partial federal government shutdown came Friday afternoon, it remained uncertain whether law graduates who expected to sit for the bar exam in the District of Columbia next month would be able to do so. Meanwhile, test administrators in New Jersey and other states are allowing for alternative plans to take the test in their jurisdictions.
The deadline for registration in New Jersey is Feb. 1, according to a recent notice from the New Jersey Board of Bar Examiners.
The District of Columbia Courts’ Committee on Admissions has been 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.)
The National Conference of Bar Examiners recently 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. “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.
It was reported Friday afternoon that President Donald Trump and lawmakers had reached a deal to partially end the shutdown and fund the government until Feb. 15.
Meanwhile, New Jersey and at least three other jurisdictions—New York, 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.
New Jersey has given D.C. bar registrants until Feb. 1 to sign up for the exam on Feb. 26-27. The test was originally opened up only to those affiliated with the state: those who live or have worked in the state, or graduated from a New Jersey law school.
On Friday, the test was opened up to others, though those affiliated with New Jersey will still get priority treatment going forward, with out-of-state test takers accommodated on a first-come, first-served basis, according to New Jersey Supreme Court Clerk Heather Joy Baker
As of Friday, there were 10 people who had applied, or inquired about applying, to take the exam in New Jersey, Baker said in an interview.
As for the temporary end to the shutdown, Baker said test administrators in New Jersey would forge ahead with the situation still unclear in D.C.
“Because it’s kind of the unknowable, we’re going to continue to offer this … as long as it makes sense,” though Baker hopes that those who originally planned to take the test in D.C. ultimately will be able to do that, she said.
She said the idea to accommodate D.C. test takers in New Jersey “bubbled up” at a recent conference of bar exam administrators, and subsequent Listserve correspondence among those people.
“There’s a very close-knit community of board of bar exam professionals across the country,” said Baker, who became clerk last November and who in her prior role as counsel to the court helped transition New Jersey to the UBE. “People started generally talking about, ‘isn’t this a shame?’”
But it became more than talk, as the idea made its way to Baker, who found support from New Jersey Chief Justice Stuart Rabner and acting Administrative Director of New Jersey Courts Glenn Grant, she said.
“We put together the best accommodation that we thought we could,” Baker said, adding that the test is limited to those with ties to New Jersey “because we just don’t have the capacity at this late stage to open up to what could be 600 to 900 displaced applicants.”
The specific location of the exam had yet to be determined as of Thursday, but it was to be held either in Atlantic City or Edison.
The cost is $675, according to the notice.
In New York, there are similar concerns about capacity. Exam administrators have 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.
The D.C. courts, which are federally funded, remain open. But several committees, including admissions and the marriage bureau, closed during the shutdown.
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, was postponed. That ceremony will be rescheduled , 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.