Technical glitches postpone Florida Bar exams

Problems were reported with a Saturday download of the first-ever online tests, designed to replace in-person exams that were canceled over COVID-19.
The Florida Supreme Court approved the cancellation of the online Bar exam, which will be rescheduled to a date in October.
The Florida Supreme Court approved the cancellation of the online Bar exam, which will be rescheduled to a date in October. [ Times (2019) ]
Published Aug. 17, 2020|Updated Aug. 17, 2020

The first-ever online Florida Bar exams, set for Wednesday, have been canceled amid reports of technical problems with the exam software.

The Florida Board of Bar Examiners announced in a statement Sunday that the exams would be postponed until October. An exact date has not been set.

“Despite the board’s best efforts to offer a licensure opportunity in August, it was determined that administering a secure and reliable remote bar examination in August was not technically feasible,” the statement read.

Test-takers must pass the exams to practice law in Florida. The postponement drew outrage and consternation on social media late Sunday and early Monday. Prospective lawyers expressed concerns about the possibility of lost job offers and health insurance.

A petition circulated, accusing the board’s leaders of incompetence and calling for their resignation. Within hours, the petition had drawn more than 1,200 supporters.

The cancellation came with news that the board will create a “supervised practice program,” which will allow law school graduates to work under the supervision of a licensed attorney.

It is the third time this year the biannual exam has been put off. In-person exams were originally scheduled for July at locations in Tampa and Orlando, but concerns grew over the potential spread of the coronavirus among the thousands of test-takers. The board canceled the in-person exam, pivoting to an online test to be administered Aug. 18. The test was then pushed back one day so as not to coincide with the state’s primary elections.

Concern grew in recent days about the security and functionality of the online exam software, developed by ILG Technologies of Missouri. Some test-takers who downloaded the software reported that it froze or slowed their computers or caused them to overheat. Some said the facial recognition log-in system, a key component in maintaining the exam’s security, allowed access to the software when shown a dog’s face or an open window.

Related: The Florida Bar exam software crashes, freezes and can lead to hacks, examinees say

State Reps. Anna Eskamani and Carlos Guillermo Smith last week sent a letter to the board and the Florida Supreme Court, urging them to consider alternatives to the online exam. They suggested allowing an open-book email-based test, or a switch to what’s known as diploma privilege — a system that allows law school graduates to forego passing the Bar exam.

On Friday, the board said it was working with ILG to try to resolve the problems. Plans called for test-takers to download a new version of the software Saturday with a live trial set for Monday.

But on Saturday, after the new download, there were reports of continued technical glitches.

The board’s decision to postpone the test came with the approval of the Florida Supreme Court.