Law school deans across Texas are worried that if the COVID-19 pandemic goes on long enough, it could delay the Texas bar exam scheduled in July.
In a joint letter this week, the nine Texas law deans raised the issue with the Texas Supreme Court and the Texas Board of Law Examiners, saying that if the exam must be rescheduled, they hope the new date will come as soon as possible.
“At this point, the planning everyone is doing has taken into account the possibility of this pandemic reaching into the summer months,” said Brad Toben, dean of Baylor University School of Law in Waco. “The July bar exam is only four months away, and that aspect drew the attention to planning now, for what may unfold.”
Texas Supreme Court Justice Debra Lehrmann said the Texas Board of Law Examiners will meet Friday to discuss the issue and come up with a recommendation for the high court’s action. The court wants to make a choice by early May, around the time law graduates begin studying for the bar exam.
“What we’re really hoping is we don’t need to be making a decision in our opinion until May 1, because we don’t have a crystal ball. We don’t know what is going to happen,” said Lehrmann. “It’s a challenging issue because you’ve got all these young people who have just gotten through law school. They really need to start making a living.”
But if the coronavirus outbreak hasn’t stopped by then, it wouldn’t be possible to gather 2,600 test takers into one room, she added.
The law deans’ letter said that the deans hope there’s no need to postpone the test, but added that if the government is developing an exigency plan, that they want the exam to be postponed, and rescheduled as soon as possible. They also want graduates to take the Texas bar exam, and not the Uniform Bar Exam, which is a new format of the test that launches in Texas in February 2021.
“We wanted to offer any assistance that we might provide to you should the nature or manner of the bar exam have to change. Regrettably, each of our schools has had to develop some expertise in the preparation and administration of remote exams,” the deans wrote.
Read the letter:
Susan Henricks, executive director of the Texas Board of Law Examiners, wrote in an email that the board is still planning to hold the test in July.
“The board will postpone the examination only if necessary to comply with state and national directives for protection of the health and safety of examinees and examination staff,” Henricks said, noting that a rescheduling decision would come before May 5.
If rescheduled, the new testing date would be somewhere between Sept. 29 and Oct. 1, she added.
On the national stage, legal educators have been asking bar officials to decide now what to do about the July exam. They’ve said it’s unlikely that the limits on large gatherings will be lifted by July, and proposed six options ranging from postponing the exam, to moving it online, to administering the test to groups of 10 or fewer graduates at one time.
Third-year law student Jolene Robin-McCaskill said she’s constantly thinking about what the coronavirus will do to the bar exam.
“My concern is will we be able to take the bar on time? Will I be able to start work on time,” she explained. “This exam is very important to me. I have a job that’s waiting, so I need to pass this the first time.”
Having a delay from July to September or October is not as big a concern as ensuring she still takes the Texas version of the bar exam, not the Uniform Bar Exam, she added.
“A delay, although certainly inconvenient, is not nearly as disruptive as saying, ‘We’re not going to have this last Texas bar,” she said. “That would be, for me, a huge issue, because then I have to go back and learn the format of the UBE.”