BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WMBB) — A petition has been filed with the Florida Supreme Court to allow law school graduates to practice without taking the Bar exam.
This comes after thousands of Florida law school graduates received an email on Sunday saying that the exam for their licensure was postponed for the second time.
“I saw it at like 6am in the morning,” said 2020 Bar Examinee, Kaitlynn Diaz. “I started yelling and crying.”
In the email, the Florida Board of Bar Examiners (FBBE) said the exam, which was scheduled for only a few days later on Wednesday, August 19th, had been pushed back due to technical issues with the online testing software they’re using because of COVID-19.
Diaz said she has been waiting to take the test for months, after it was postponed the first time in July.
“We feel like our hands are tied, we’re chained down,” Diaz said. “It’s emotional distress.”
Local attorney Larry Perry of Perry and Young Attorneys at Law can attest to the stress, as he’s taken the test multiple times in different states.
“For the two months after graduation and prior to the Bar exam, you put your life on hold,” Perry said, adding that many choose not to work during this time in order to give their full attention to test preparation.
Now, two months has turned into what will be five months until examinees will possibly be able to test. Then, it takes additional time for examinees to receive their results, meaning that many will spend months out of work and living under the weight of the exam.
“We need to figure it out, this is outrageous,” Diaz said. “You are toying with people’s lives.”
Perry is a part of a lawyer wellness group; he says mental health among Bar exam applicants is on the decline.
“They’re already talking about, for all Bar examinees, not just here in the state of Florida but for other Bar examinees, there’s thoughts of suicidal ideation, the anxiety level, the financial strain that they have placed themselves and their families under,” Perry said. It’s tough on them, it’s tough on their families, they’re bearing a tremendous burden.”
He said it has local repercussions as well.
“Currently in our area, we need more lawyers,” he said. “I know that that’s going to strike people strangely.”
He said the state attorney and the public defender’s offices are low on lawyers where new lawyers sometimes go to gain experience. He added that across the Panhandle, lawyers are in low supply.
“Overall, we’re underserved and underutilized with the lawyers that we have,” he said.
Diaz said it’s time for action.
“We all know COVID is crazy and this pandemic, we understand that, but we need to figure it out,” she said. “Other states have figured it out.”
Perry said he understands the standard of the exam must be upheld, but also agrees with Diaz.
“Florida Bar needs to step up because they take in millions of dollars, and millions of dollars are spent on bar examinees,” he said. “Somebody at the Florida Bar needs to step up and make sure this happens as quickly as possible.”
As of now, the FBBE said they are working to offer an exam sometime in October, but have not provided a specific date. They said August examinees will be able to take that test or an exam in February, 2021.
They’re also creating a supervised practice program that will allow for practice with supervision of a licensed attorney, but the eligibility and rules to participate in that program have not yet been announced.
In the meantime, Diaz has used the experience to start a podcast called “Case Closed,” in which she interviews doctors and lawyers from across the country on different topics, such as advice law graduates and Bar examinees in handling the current situation.
Click here to watch the first episode.