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South Dakota Bar Exam in Pierre Tues+Wed Poses Coronavirus Risk to New Lawyers

Our K-12 schools had the good sense this spring to cancel their scheduled standardized tests when coronavirus made gathering that many people in a room for extended periods of time a health hazard. But with South Dakota’s active coronavirus cases rising again, and with people in their twenties and thirties making up the two largest groups of coronavirus cases in South Dakota, the mostly young individuals wishing to practice law in South Dakota still must gather in Pierre this week to sit in a room with maybe fifty to a hundred other applicants for four three-and-a-half-hour sessions this Tuesday and Wednesday to complete the state bar exam.

The state’s bar examiners are implementing these precautions for coronavirus:



  1. All examinees, administrators, and proctors will be asked COVID-19 screening questions and have their temperature taken before entering the testing site on each day of the exams.
  2. Examinees with a temperature of 100.4 or higher, or showing symptoms consistent with COVID-19 will not be allowed to sit for the exam; their application will be transferred to the February 2021 exam.
  3. Examinees who have been ill in the two weeks prior to the exam or who have been in close contact with someone who has been ill in the two weeks prior to the exam may not be allowed to sit for the exam.
  4. In the weeks prior to the exam, examinees are encouraged to self-isolate, minimize contact with others, and take related precautions.


  1. All examinees will wear a mask when entering and exiting the testing site and moving around the testing site to use a restroom.
  2. All examinees will wear a mask when interacting with testing staff.
  3. While masks will be available at the testing site, examinees are encouraged to test masks for personal comfort prior to the exam and bring their own masks.
  4. The use of gloves is at the examinees option. Gloves will be available at the site, but examinees are encouraged to bring their own.


  1. Examinees must remain six feet apart when in line to enter or exit the exam site, and during the administration of the exam.
  2. No unnecessary talking will be permitted at the exam site.
  3. Examinees are strongly encouraged to use hand sanitizer and engage in hand washing when entering the exam site and while at the exam site. Hand sanitizers will be available at the exam site, but examinees are encouraged to bring their own that does not irritate their skin [protocol notice to South Dakota State Bar Exam takers, received by DFP 2020.07.26].

There is no remote option or alternative setting or date for South Dakota’s bar exam yet. Any prospective lawyer who chooses not to risk exposing herself or others to coronavirus in this unsafe public setting has to wait until the next scheduled bar exam sitting in February 2021… by which time their student loan payment period will have kicked in but 80% of their job offers will not.

With that much at stake, test-takers may be disinclined to answer honestly the screening questions related to item #3 at the top of those protocols. The screeners at the bar exam will have no contract-tracing data or other information to help verify the responses test-takers give at the door. It’s all honor system, and when the state is placing law graduates in such a precarious situation, honor may give way to practical self-interest.

Any test-taker wishing to use a contact-tracing app is thwarted by the ban on bringing phones into the test site.

With all these risks, bar examinees are still required to sign a waiver stating they are acting entirely of their own volition in choosing to take the bar exam and excusing the Board of Bar Examiners from any responsibility for infection that may ensue:

I am choosing to sit for the July 2020 bar exam despite the risk of exposure or infection to Covid-19. I acknowledge that the South Dakota Board of Bar Examiners and its directors, officers, agents, employees and volunteers are likely immune from any liability related to administering the South Dakota Bar Exam but I nevertheless agree to fully release them from any claim relating to Covid-19 exposure associated with my sitting for the July 2020 exam [“Covid-19 Code of Conduct and Release for the July 2020, South Dakota Bar Examination,” received by DFP 2020.07.26].

Five states are offering online bar exam options, but concerns about cheating mean most aspiring lawyers, in South Dakota and elsewhere, face a difficult choice between their professional and financial needs or personal and public health.


  1. jerry 2020-07-27

    Lawyers cheating? Stop laughing, our country is lawless at present. Take a look at Bill Barr and tell me that the law is a righteous profession. Why go that far, take a look at our Attorney General for a lesson in stupid.

  2. bearcreekbat 2020-07-27

    Jerry’s comment reminds me of one of my grandfather’s stories.

    My grandfather was involved in developing mining in the Black Hills in the 1940’s and 50’s and frequently needed to obtain investors to finance the projects he worked on. Of course, mining was speculative and the majority of projects did not “pan out.” When a project succeeded, however, the return for investors was often substantial.

    One investor in such a project was unhappy when the project did not “pan out” and filed suit against my grandfather alleging he misrepresented the safety of the investment. The plaintiff’s lawyer was cross-examining my grandfather and tried to stereotype “promoters” and imply dishonesty by rather sarcastically asking:

    “You are a promoter, aren’t you?”

    My grandfather looked at the lawyer and then at the jury and decided to rely on a slightly different stereotype, responding,

    “There are some lawyers, [pause] and there are some lawyers.”

    My grandfather said that the lawyer’s face turned red and the lawyer replied:

    “No further questions.”

    The jury ultimately found in my grandfather’s favor, ruling against the disgruntled investor.

  3. jerry 2020-07-27

    Of course bcb, not all “jerry’s” are the same either. The idea that the testing would be suspect if these potential lawyers were to take it remotely though, says what many, like me, have always felt. When you protest too loudly, like the bar examiners are doing, it tells me that perhaps they cheated themselves.

  4. bearcreekbat 2020-07-27

    Jerry, your suspicions may have a basis in fact since in recent times Trumpist psychological projection, namely, “the attribution of one’s own forbidden — and typically malevolent — motives, impulses, or emotions to others,” has been unleashed in spades.

    Who knows, maybe some bar examiners are doing the same?

  5. mike from iowa 2020-07-27

    drumpf is reworking his list for scotus appointees to make sure the next one will obey drumpf’s commands. He appears to believe now, young guns haven’t had enough of a paper trail to show they are reliable Scalia clones.

    Maybe he can get the Bar to do the vetting for him.

  6. John 2020-07-27

    Diploma privilege. There is no evidence a standardized exam improved attorney representation or ethics. There is evidence that a standardized test lined the pockets of the National Conference of Bar Examiners and numerous test-training groupies — who are doing what the law school faculty FAILED doing.

  7. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2020-07-28

    Wow—one more standardized test that’s just a racket to transfer wealth from students to the powers that be!

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