Colorado Supreme Court Says February 2021 Bar to Be Remote

Despite in-person bar in 2020, court decides online is the best option in light of rising COVID cases

The Colorado Supreme Court has announced that the February bar exam will be administered remotely, which is contrary to the choice  made for the July exam. Then, prospective lawyers sat for an in-person exam and law license aspirants complained about fears of exposure to a COVID-positive test-taker.

According to a Nov. 6 release from the court, online administration of the exam is justified because an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases is expected this winter. February bar applicants will be able to take the exam online by means of a computer with video capability and internet/Wi-Fi connection.

“The Office of Attorney Admissions is talking with states that recently administered a shorter online bar exam about their ‘lessons learned’ so that Colorado’s first remote bar exam administration is as successful as possible,” Colorado Attorney Regulation Counsel Jessica Yates said.

In October the National Council of Bar Examiners announced initial plans for remote options for the February 2021 exam. The plan NCBE announced was for a “full set of bar exam materials available for remote administration” on  the same dates as in-person exams. The organization said it expected each jurisdiction to select the mode it would use.

“NCBE plans to equate the MBE, calculate scaled scores for the written components, and provide UBE and MBE score transfer services for both the in-person and the remote administrations,” according to the NCBE news release.

The two-day exam is traditionally given in-person in a single room. The July bar exam took place in-person, placing applicants in many rooms and at three different locations and following pandemic protocols. Nevertheless, one group of examinees was exposed to an applicant who had tested-positive and learned of the exposure only after the exam had been completed. No other students reported contracting the virus.

Ten states across the country have opted to provide  online bar exams in February, according to NCBE’s website. 

This year marked the first time that any bar exam in the nation had been conducted electronically, according to NCBE. More than 20 jurisdictions successfully administered bar exams in October; those exams were completed by approximately 30,000 examinees. Data from the autum bar exam executions is still coming in, but the “results, so far, are very encouraging.”

The latest reported pass rate for Colorado examinees who sat for the in-person July exam is 78%, according to NCBE. Taylor Volkman, a July bar examinee and one of the students exposed to COVID, said he wasn’t surprised by the Supreme Court’s decision to provide an online bar exam. Like many fellow testees, he was concerned about the chances of being exposed to the novel virus and even  worried less about passing the exam than about spreading the pathogen.

“I consider myself very lucky to not have brought COVID home to my high-risk parents after sitting next to an asymptomatic carrier for the entire exam,” Volkman said. “In retrospect, and as an attorney who scored well higher on the exam than needed to pass, I can confidently say that the exam is a hazing ritual and a poor indicator of competency.”

He noted that several online exams this year were affected by technical difficulties with the exam software and said he hoped those problems have been fixed during recent months. 

Glitches were not limited to test day. In Michigan,  the results weren’t without some technical difficulties. More than 700 aspiring attorneys who sat for that state’s July 2020 exam faced a sudden system crash, which that state’s supreme court said was due to a “cyber attack.”

The software for provision of the Michigan bar exam,  manufactured by ExamSoft Worldwide Inc., locked examinees out at the start of the second module of the five-part test, according to the Detroit News. The situation was dealt with in short order and, within 10 minutes, 200 students were able to commence online testing again. The rest were able to access the exam within 37 minutes.

Examsoft was a defendant in a 2015 class-action lawsuit,  which the company settled with a payment of more than $2 million.  The plaintiffs in the case claimed that a glitch in the company’s technology caused  numerous lawyers to fail the multiday test, according to the Courthouse News Service.

 Statistics related to the remote October exam provided by ExamSoft  show that, in total, 98% of applicants who downloaded the exam files started their exams as planned, while only 2% did not start the exam.  Less than 0.3% of October examinees experienced  technical problemswith the software that required an additional response. The most common technical problem was the use of  a device that did not meet the minimum system requirements for the exam.

— Avery Martinez

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