Problems, complaints absent from remote bar exam

After a series of software failures, increasing anxiety and a quick pivot to another format, Indiana administered the state’s first remote bar exam Tuesday without an apparent glitch.

The outcome was a relief after the normal tensions and worries over the bar exam were compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic. Unprecedented changes were made to the test, including some at the last minute, but, according to the Supreme Court, more than 500 applicants sat for the exam “which went very well.”

One applicant also said the remote bar “went really well” and, despite the prior problems with the testing software, championed the idea of allowing future applicants to take the exam from their homes. Even in pre-pandemic times, the administration of the traditional two-day in-person exam comes with additional distractions and stress for the applicants who have to drive to Indianapolis and stay in hotel rooms. However, the applicant said being able to remain at home and close to her support network of neighbors and family allowed her to relax and do better on the test.

The Indiana Supreme Court announced in May the test would be would be given in one day, rather than the usual two, and would contain all short answer and essay questions written by the Indiana Board of Law Examiners. More significantly, all July 2020 applicants would take the exam from their homes or another remote location instead of coming to Indianapolis for an in-person exam and risk contracting COVID-19.

However, the ILG Exam 360 testing software from ILG Technologies never functioned properly and updates to the program did not fix the problems. The Supreme Court was forced to push the July 28 test date back a week before it decided to quit using the software altogether. Days before the exam, the Supreme Court announced the questions would be emailed to the July 2020 applicants.  In addition, the applicants would not be proctored while they took the test and they were allowed to consult their class notes and materials while they answered questions.

One applicant said she and her colleagues believe the open book format is more akin to practicing law. Attorneys, the applicant said, are supposed to do research when they are confronted with a legal question or area of law they do not know and then apply that knowledge to help the client.

According to one applicant, the open book format “made me feel like a lawyer.”

The July 2020 applicants had advocated they be permitted to consult outside resources during the exam and on July 27 went a step further, asking the Supreme Court to grant them diploma privilege. They argued the ILG Exam 360 software was too unreliable and potentially delaying the test again would hurt the applicants financially and professionally.

The Supreme Court did not allow diploma privilege but apparently did consider it. Throughout the evolution of the exam this spring and summer, the Court said stayed in contact with attorneys, bar associations and Indiana’s law schools.

“The input has been invaluable and the Court is grateful to the leaders to Indiana’s legal profession for their feedback and collaboration,” the Supreme Court said.

Justice Geoffrey Slaughter reached out to the Lake County Bar Association to get the members’ thoughts on licensing the July 2020 applicants without requiring them to pass the bar exam, according to Matthew Fech, president of the Lake County Bar Association. The bar association’s executive committee rejected the idea.

“Lawyers are unique in the sense we police ourselves,” Fech said. “In order to maintain the integrity of the practice, we have to make sure the Indiana bar provides best representation to clients. It’s important people take the bar and pass the exam to practice in the state of Indiana.”

One applicant said, in the end, she was glad the Supreme Court did not grant diploma privilege. The bar exam provided a validation to all the work she had done while being allowed to practice without passing the exam might have led to people questioning her abilities.

“All in all, it was a unique situation that went well,” she said.

Currently, the Indiana Board of Law Examiners is grading the exams as it normally does.

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