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Fate of July bar exam uncertain given coronavirus pandemic

As the coronavirus pandemic upends plans nationwide, the National Conference of Bar Examiners has announced it will leave to state bar examiners the decision on whether to hold the bar examination in July or to postpone it until the fall. 

The NCBE said Thursday that it would decide “on or about” May 5 whether the exam would take place in July anywhere in the United States.

“By that time — roughly six weeks from now — each jurisdiction should be in a better position to determine whether administering a July exam is possible,” the organization said in an online post.

The Maryland State Board of Law Examiners plans to discuss the issue with Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera, according to the board’s chairman, Jonathan Azrael, from Azrael, Franz, Schwab, Lipowitz & Solter, LLC in Towson.

“It’s a big decision; a lot of events have already been pushed into the fall,” Azrael said Friday. “In terms of logistics, for some of these states it’s a real issue. There has to be some coordination among all the jurisdictions to say, ‘OK, we can do it on this date.’ We’re trying to see what flexibility there is for Maryland.”

Azrael said that he thinks Maryland “isn’t a big enough player” to sway the national decision and that he anticipates the state waiting until May 5 to make a decision about the date of the Maryland bar exam.

“It’s a lot more serious in California and New York, since those states have more cases and restrictions than a lot of other places,” he said.

An important factor is whether the Baltimore Convention Center will be safe enough to serve as a testing site or whether the exam can be conducted elsewhere, Azrael said. 

Ronald Weich, dean of the University of Baltimore School of Law, said the exam’s status is in “a very uncertain posture now.”

“We’re all waiting to see,” Weich said.

If a state’s exam is moved to the fall, the exam will contain a different set of questions than those used in the July exam, the NCBE said in its statement.  

“We recognize that this is a very stressful time for law school graduates who want the opportunity to take the bar exam,” the NCBE said. “To those graduates, we offer our support and the assurance that we are working hard to find solutions that permit them to sit for a bar exam and become licensed.”


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