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Law graduates, lawmakers worry bar exam delay could have ripple effect beyond test-takers

More than 3,000 Florida Bar exam registrants must now wait another two months to take the exam they must pass to practice law in the state.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Since graduating in May from the University of Miami School of Law, studying for Florida’s Bar exam has become Alec Waid’s full-time job.

“The bar exam is everything,” said the Bradenton native. “It’s the end all, be all to be able to start our careers.”

The Florida Bar—the exam which must be passed in order to practice law in the state—was scheduled for Wednesday. But the first-ever online exam was abruptly postponed late Sunday evening due to technical issues with the software. People reported data breaches and glitches allowing people to open their notes while the software was running. The software, from the company ILG, has reportedly been the source of issues in other states.

"It was determined that administering a secure and reliable remote bar examination in August was not technically feasible," reads a statement on the Florida Board of Bar Examiners website.

"The board remains committed to offering an examination to applicants in 2020 and will reschedule the examination for a date to be determined in October."

It’s the third time the test has been postponed after plans for in-person exams scheduled for July in Tampa and Orlando were scrapped over COVID-19 concerns. The decision was made to administer the test online on Aug. 18 but that coincided with the state’s primary election, so the exam was delayed by a day.

Waid says he’s been notified his job offer with the Pinellas County State Attorney’s Office was not being rescinded while he waits to take the test in October, but he knows others aren’t so lucky.

"Normally we'd have this quicker transition into working,” Waid said. “But the Bar is really putting a lot of young professionals at risk because we didn't know we'd have to save money to live to October and we were told that now two days before the exam."

State Representatives Carlos Smith and Anna Eskamani sent a letter to the Florida Supreme Court and Board of Bar Examiners asking for so-called diploma privilege—allowing law graduates with high enough grades to skip the exam—which is what has happened in other states.

Eskamani worries consequences of the delay will extend beyond test-takers to some of the people most

"Right now, we are facing a flood of evictions, a flood of court hearings around issues impacting everyday people and that means the need for pro-bono legal support grows,” Eskamani said. “The incoming attorneys are going to be some of the frontline staff to give their time, to volunteer.”

It’s a concern shared by Waid.

“During the pandemic when cases are loading up higher and higher because there's been delays in the courts, to continue to delay the exam really is going to impact the community—I worry—greater than is realized,” he said.

The Florida Board of Bar Examiners said it would announce the new October test date in the coming weeks. The organization is offering a supervised practice program, which would enable graduates to work under the supervision of a licensed attorney.

Some law graduates plan to protest outside the Florida Supreme Court on Wednesday, the same day the online test was originally scheduled.

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