Yesterday, Michigan’s first day of remote exam bar examinations were interrupted by site crashes and security breaches. What do mounting online bar exam challenges mean for this year’s bar applicants?
As many aspects of our daily lives transition “online” due to the risks posed by the spread of COVID-19, many U.S. jurisdictions have announced plans to transition bar exams to online formats. However, not everyone believes that moving to an online exam format will be a feasible solution and are concerned that they will pose potential accessibility, potential bias, and security issues, disproportionately more likely to impact bar applicants that already are more likely to face barriers within the legal industry. In fact, one of the most debated topics within the legal community since the outbreak of COVID-19 has been how states should handle the upcoming bar exam.
Some weren’t surprised to hear that the first day of online exams didn't go so well in Michigan, adding to the already mounting list frustrations for recent law school graduates and other bar applicants this year. Upon beginning the exam, countless users reported site crashes and other malfunctions. A large number of test-takers shared their experiences online, tweeting screenshots of the website, and expressing their frustrations with the malfunctioning platform.
Kerry Martin, a recent Michigan Law graduate tweeted, “The online #MichiganBarExam is currently malfunctioning. The website where they post passwords for each of the modules has crashed. Only finished 1 module. I'm taking the test near 3 other people having exact same problem. IT hotline won't answer.”
After issues began, some test-takers even began frantically searching for help from one another to overcome tech issues. Some even turned to Reddit threads for help.
After malfunctions, ExamSoft publicly shared passwords for exam modules in an effort to overcome hurdles, leading many to question whether or not the exam was being securely administered.
Following issues yesterday, ExamSoft, the testing software company used to administer the bar exam in Michigan and several other states, released a statement stating that issues with the exam administration in Michigan were addressed and remedied. A few hours later, they released another statement citing a cyberattack as the primary cause for yesterday’s exam malfunctions, after sharing passwords publicly while the exam was in session.
This isn’t the first time ExamSoft software has been linked to issues for bar examinees. Last week, Edwin Prado filed a lawsuit against ExamSoft. According to Prado, he was falsely accused of cheating on the bar exam due to glitches in the company’s software. Though he was eventually barred nine months later, he spent over $25,000 in legal and expert witness fees, to prove to the Ethics Committee of the Florida Bar that his exam score was valid.
Michigan also isn't the first bar jurisdiction to run into issues with a remote exam. After glitches in software during test runs of the online exam, Indiana and Nevada postponed their bar exams to August 8 and August 11, respectively, in an effort to improve the performance of the platforms that they will use to administer the exam. Many are skeptical that this will allow enough time to remedy issues.
Another way forward?
For weeks, many have been advocating for bar jurisdictions to grant this year's applicants diploma privilege. While not everyone seems to agree that diploma privilege is the best option forward, as frustrations continue to mount for bar applicants and legal employers in need of licensed attorneys, it is likely support for diploma privilege will continue to grow. As this alternative path to licensure has gained support in recent weeks, advocates and groups like United for Diploma Privilege have organized efforts to petition courts and legislatures across the country for emergency diploma privilege, started awareness campaigns and even compiled data to document limitations and lack of accessibility of an online bar exam option.
Currently, several bar jurisdictions, including California, New York and D.C., still plan to administer online bar exams to this year's applicants, according to the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE). Still, many hope that jurisdictions will eventually offer another, more feasible and equitable path to licensure, so that bar applicants can finally move forward with their careers and begin practicing law.