Navigating your way through law school with a learning disability, attention or focus challenges, or test-taking anxiety is an admirable feat. Law students with these issues often request testing accommodations through an on campus disability or accessibility services office. Typical exam accommodations include extra time or a small-group environment or private room to minimize distractions. The accommodations, if granted, can make the difference between a student’s ultimate success or failure in law school.
As important as accommodations may be to success in law school, they are even more crucial to success on the bar exam. This capstone exam is likely to be the longest and most intensive test that a law school graduate will ever take. Accordingly, a student who relied on accommodations in law school, or who has the sense that he or she would have significantly benefitted in his or her academic performance had they been secured, almost certainly should apply for accommodations on the bar exam.
How To Apply for Bar Accommodations
Each state bar has its own deadlines and rules for exam accommodation applications. States with larger applicant populations, such as California, Texas, Florida, Colorado, and New York, have deadlines that range anywhere from 30 days to 6 months prior to the exam. Each state bar also requires that particular documentation accompany the application. Almost invariably the applicant will need to consult with an educational or psychological professional in order to complete the documentation. An applicant considering applying for accommodations should begin by researching the deadlines and rules in his or her state, which usually can be found on the state bar’s website.
When To Apply for Accommodations
Many law school graduates realize the importance of applying for bar exam accommodations, but they don’t understand just how early they should apply in order to help maximize their chances of securing them. The California State Bar, for example, recommends applying a minimum of three months prior to the start date for the exam an applicant intends to take, up to as early as the beginning of the applicant’s final year in law school. (This isn’t meant to deter you from applying for accommodations if you happen to be reading this relatively close to your state bar’s accommodations application deadline. One California clinical psychologist has helped applicants apply for and secure accommodations as late as six week prior to the exam.)
Applying early gives applicants extra time to work through a state bar’s requests for additional information, unexpected delays and obstacles that may arise in the application process, and any appeal that may be necessary in response to the state bar’s initial determination on an application. The California State Bar, for example, specifically warns that applicants who wait to file their initial applications until too close to the final filing deadline are “generally not able to exhaust all administrative remedies before administration of the examination, such as appealing a denial of some or all of an applicant’s request for testing accommodations”; for this reason, “early filing is strongly encouraged.”
What to Do If Your Application is Denied
So you applied for accommodations, but the state bar denied your application. What’s next? This is not the time to give up. In fact, many applications denied in whole or part at the initial application stage are successful on appeal. Thus, the mantra, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again,” is important to remember.
Provided you applied for accommodations well in advance of the initial application deadline, you will have given yourself a helpful cushion of time to organize your appeal and send it back to the state bar for review. Often, the information needed for a successful appeal will require more specifics about the need for testing accommodations or the amount of extra time requested, or additional documentation from the applicant’s educational or psychological professional.
As you can see, applying for testing accommodations adds an extra set of steps to the general application process for the bar exam. However, timely and thorough completion of these steps can be crucial to your success. Be sure to carefully research your state bar’s rules and deadlines, and begin the process as soon as possible so you can cross these detailed but important steps off your list!
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