Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

As­pir­ing at­tor­neys must ‘as­sume risk’ of COVID-19 at bar exam

- Bruce Viel­metti South Africa News · Education · Infectious Diseases · Health Conditions · Madison · Iowa · Kentucky · Twitter · Madison · University of Wisconsin–Madison · Minnesota · Michigan State University · Michigan · Racine, WI · Wisconsin · Wausau, WI · Marquette · University of Minnesota · Middleton, WI · Kenosha, WI · Michigan State University College of Law

With a week to go be­fore the Wis­con­sin bar exam, those reg­is­tered to sit for the two-day test in Madi­son aren’t just cram­ming, they’re wor­ried about get­ting sick.

Re­cently, peo­ple reg­is­tered for the exam re­ceived waivers they must sign as they en­ter the test­ing site as­sert­ing they are free of COVID-19 or symp­toms, haven’t been ex­posed in the past 14 days to some­one who has tested pos­i­tive for the dis­ease and are know­ingly as­sum­ing the risk of ex­po­sure to coro­n­avirus by tak­ing the exam.

Tay­lor Soule, 27, grad­u­ated from the Univer­sity of Iowa’s law school in May and just moved to Wausau, where she hopes to start her new job as an as­sis­tant pub­lic de­fender in the fall and con­tin­ues prep­ping for the exam.

“I’m pretty frus­trated and scared at the thought it could be can­celed or post­poned at the last minute,” Soule said, not­ing Ken­tucky just can­celed on July 9.

As some­one with an au­toim­mune dis­ease, she’s also a bit fear­ful of tak­ing the exam among up to 150 other peo­ple, say­ing she might not re­act like a health­ier 27-year-old ex­posed to the coro­n­avirus.

“It’s ridicu­lous we’re be­ing ex­pected to take the exam in per­son dur­ing a pan­demic,” she said. “Peo­ple might have kids at home or care for el­derly par­ents. It just seems short-sighted of peo­ple’s differ­ent life con­sid­er­a­tions.”

As of July 20, Wis­con­sin was just one of five states that hasn’t can­celed, shifted on­line, listed a fall backup date or post­poned this July’s bar exam, or adopted or ex­panded some pro­vi­sional li­cens­ing rules, be­cause of the coro­n­avirus pan­demic. Twit­ter has been filled with news of the changes and prospec­tive lawyers’ angst over de­lay­ing the start of the paid work (usu­ally de­pen­dent on pass­ing the bar exam) and risk­ing their health or both.

Last month, the Supreme Court an­nounced the exam would be given as sched­uled July 28 and 29 in Madi­son, against the ad­vice of the Board of Bar Ex­am­in­ers, which ad­min­is­ters the test, that it be resched­uled.

Sev­eral states had ear­lier can­celed their July ex­ams and resched­uled them at later dates this year, or offered grad­u­ates of ac­cred­ited law schools ad­mis­sion to prac­tice by “di­ploma priv­i­lege,” with­out tak­ing the state’s exam.

Wis­con­sin is the only state where di­ploma priv­i­lege is the norm, but only for grad­u­ates of its two law schools, at Mar­quette and the Univer­sity of Wis­con­sin-Madi­son.

In April, some state res­i­dents who grad­u­ated law school at the Univer­sity of Min­nesota this year pe­ti­tioned the Supreme Court to ex­pand the priv­i­lege this year, in case the exam was can­celed and they couldn’t be ad­mit­ted to prac­tice and start their Wis­con­sin lawyer jobs.

The bar ad­mis­sions would be con­di­tional un­til the young lawyers com­pleted 360 hours of su­per­vised work and some course­work on Wis­con­sin-spe­cific law.

When the court said the exam would definitely hap­pen, they dis­missed the grad­u­ates’ pe­ti­tion as moot.

Ap­pli­cants will en­counter sev­eral spe­cial con­di­tions at the exam. They

must all wear masks at all times. Their tem­per­a­ture will be checked be­fore they en­ter at stag­gered times and will sit at their own ta­bles, six feet apart.

A read­ing of 100.4 de­grees or higher means you can’t sit for the exam, which will be held at the Madi­son Mar­riott West in Mid­dle­ton.

If an ex­am­i­nee de­vel­ops symp­toms dur­ing the exam they will have to leave.

James Jol­ing, 25, of Kenosha, grad­u­ated in May from Michi­gan State Univer­sity Col­lege of Law, and has been weigh­ing his ca­reer and his health ever since.

“The sec­ond my law school went on­line, I started think­ing about the bar exam,” he said, won­der­ing if it could hap­pen if the pan­demic hadn’t been quelled by then. “There was no clar­ity un­til af­ter peo­ple had al­ready started bar prep,” in mid-May, he said, re­fer­ring to the cram cour­ses most ap­pli­cants take in the sev­eral weeks lead­ing up to the exam.

He has al­ready started his job with Racine law firm — work­ing as a para­le­gal un­til he passes the bar exam. He’s al­ready think­ing like a lawyer though; he said the li­a­bil­ity waiver ap­pli­cants must sign be­fore sit­ting for the exam seem con­trary to state law and prob­a­bly isn’t en­force­able if a test taker were to con­tract COVID-19, be­come ill and sue.

Jol­ing doesn’t see why the Supreme Court didn’t agree to ex­tend di­ploma priv­i­lege in Wis­con­sin this year, but would rather take the exam than wait months to be­come li­censed and start work­ing, and earn­ing, as a lawyer. While he knows there’s no way to as­sure pro­tec­tion in a large in­door gath­er­ing, he feels safe enough with the re­stric­tions in place.

“But I’m afraid I won’t be as fo­cused as I would if I were tak­ing the exam with­out the pan­demic,” Jol­ing said. “What if I cough? Are they go­ing to dis­miss me?”

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