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Indiana applicants can use laptops to take bar exam

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While the state Board of Law Examiners considers making substantive changes to the Indiana Bar Exam, technology has already ushered in a change to how the test is taken.

February 2012 applicants were the first allowed to use their laptops on the first day of the exam. They could type their essays as opposed to handwriting their thoughts in the traditional blue book.

The push for the ability to use computers came from the test-takers themselves, said Brad Skolnik, executive director of the Indiana Board of Law Examiners. Over and over as the applicants turned in their essays, they commented this was the first time they had ever written their compositions by hand.

Use of laptops during the test has been growing dramatically. Since the initial introduction of computers when 60 applicants participated in the laptop pilot program, the number of keyboard users jumped to an estimated 60 percent in July 2012 and rose again to nearly 70 percent in February 2013.

Skolnik anticipates 80 percent of test-takers will be using laptops in the near future.

“We’ve been very pleased with the reaction we’ve received and the success of the program,” he said. “Test-takers as a whole have reacted very favorably to having the option to use laptops.”

When Cohen & Malad LLP attorney TaKeena Thompson took the bar exam in 2009, she did not have the option of using a laptop. She admitted she was a little distressed at the beginning because, like many attorneys of her generation, she used computers all through law school to type notes and take tests.

Yet, Thompson discovered she liked handwriting her essays. She believes she understood the material and presented her thoughts better than if she had used her laptop. In fact, she has since advised some test-takers to opt for writing the essays by hand.

Indiana was one of the last states to allow laptops into the bar exam. The state uses software from ExamSoft, a national vendor that provides bar exam programs to a majority of the bar exams across the country.

At present, only the essay portion of the bar exam can be taken on a computer. The Multistate Bar Exam multiple choice questions still must be completed by hand, but Skolnik expects in the near future that part of the test will become automated as well.

Applicants download the program from ExamSoft onto their own computer. They will not be able to access the software until exam day and once they launch the program, they will not be able to access anything else on their computers.

Being able to use a laptop, Skolnik said, ensures applicants have the opportunity to use many of the same exam-taking skills they used in law school.

In addition to using their own computers, applicants must pay an extra $125 for the laptop option. The fee covers the cost of the software as well as helps pay for the extra IT support in the venue where the bar exam is given, Skolnik said.

Stephanie Williams, a clerk for U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Dinsmore, paid the fee and used her laptop during the essay portion of the bar exams in both Indiana and Illinois. Initially, she said having a computer helped her boost her scores.

“If I wrote it, I could not say I would have had the same outcome,” she said.

Then she stopped and reconsidered, noting if she had practiced taking the bar by hand she likely would have passed. Still, she continued, the computer enabled her to neatly insert additional points into her essays whereas if writing by hand she would have had to make a notation up the side of the paper. Moreover, her handwriting can be illegible when she is writing quickly, so the examiners might not have been able to decipher her thoughts.

Skolnik said the BLE does not keep statistics of the passage rate of those who use laptops versus those who take the test by hand.

Williams’ advice to exam-takers is not to make changes on test day. Whatever the applicants did in law school, she said, they should not switch for the bar exam.•
 

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  5. I whole-heartedly agree with Doug Church's comment, above. Indiana lawyers were especially fortunate to benefit from Tom Pyrz' leadership and foresight at a time when there has been unprecedented change in the legal profession. Consider how dramatically computer technology and its role in the practice of law have changed over the last 25 years. The impact of the great recession of 2008 dramatically changed the composition and structure of law firms across the country. Economic pressures altered what had long been a routine, robust annual recruitment process for law students and recent law school graduates. That has, in turn, impacted law school enrollment across the country, placing upward pressure on law school tuition. The internet continues to drive significant changes in the provision of legal services in both public and private sectors. The ISBA has worked to make quality legal representation accessible and affordable for all who need it and to raise general public understanding of Indiana laws and procedures. How difficult it would have been to tackle each of these issues without Tom's leadership. Tom has set the tone for positive change at the ISBA to meet the evolving practice needs of lawyers of all backgrounds and ages. He has led the organization with vision, patience, flexibility, commitment, thoughtfulness & even humor. He will, indeed, be a tough act to follow. Thank you, Tom, for all you've done and all the energy you've invested in making the ISBA an excellent, progressive, highly responsive, all-inclusive, respectful & respected professional association during his tenure there.

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