CHICAGO — The Illinois bar exam, which was to take place in person in September, has been canceled and will be replaced with a remote version in October “due to continuing public health concerns raised by the COVID-19 pandemic,” the Illinois Supreme Court announced Thursday.
The change comes after months of student advocacy and a letter earlier this week from nine Illinois law school deans to the court recommending a remote exam.
Recent law school graduates seeking to practice in Illinois have been pushing the organization that administers the bar exam to reconsider plans to hold it face-to-face.
In legal back-and-forth between those students and the Illinois Board of Admissions to the Bar, the board declined to do so, even releasing eight pages of safety protocol last week to move forward with an in-person exam.
The Supreme Court also declined last week to grant diploma privilege, meaning they could practice law without taking the bar exam.
The Missouri Bar Exam, a two-day, classroom-style test, is required to receive a license to practice law in the state: 418 graduates — from Missouri and beyond — are scheduled to take the exam July 28 at the Holiday Inn Executive Center in Columbia, and 255 graduates are scheduled to take the exam at the Tan-Tar-A Conference Center in Osage Beach.
However, the admissions board Thursday reversed its decision, referencing Illinois statistics that have “shown discouraging signs of a resurgence” of COVID-19. Illinois has seen an uptick in coronavirus cases over the last two weeks, recording its highest daily case count Wednesday since early June when the state was coming down from the peak of the outbreak here so far.
The remote exam, scheduled for Oct. 5 and 6, will cover the same topics as the in-person exam, the announcement said. It will use questions prepared by the National Conference of Bar Examiners.
Everyone originally registered for the September exam — itself previously postponed from July because of the pandemic — will automatically be registered for October’s exam and has until Aug. 7 to withdraw or defer taking the exam until February 2021, according to the announcement. Registration will also be open for others who want to take the remote exam.
Students are still advocating for the state Supreme Court to grant diploma privilege. They contend even a remote exam will exacerbate disparity issues, especially for students without access to stable internet or needed technology.
The Illinois board has said diploma privilege does not ensure “a necessary prerequisite to licensure, that of competence and public protection.”
One of the aspiring lawyers who fought for the remote exam, Mollie McGuire, celebrated the news on Twitter, writing that a week ago, the bar admissions board “insisted that they wouldn’t plan a remote exam. & now, here we are. No one has to risk their life to take the exam anymore — and that’s a huge win.”
But she noted that the equity issues are “massive” and need to be addressed.
Concerned about COVID-19?
Sign up now to get the most recent coronavirus headlines and other important local and national news sent to your email inbox daily.