DNC bars law testers

By Greg Gatlin
Boston Herald

Thursday, April 8, 2004

The last thing law school graduates need as they prepare to take the bar exam is a bunch of transportation and lodging headaches.

     But that may be the case for hundreds of would-be lawyers who will sit for the Massachusetts Bar Examination July 28 and 29 - just as the Democratic National Convention hits its crescendo.

     Dave Hoffman, a third-year student at Cornell Law School, tried to make a room reservation at the Seaport Hotel - across the street from the World Trade Center exam site - last August. That was nearly a year before the test, but Hoffman was already shut out. He tried about half a dozen other Hub hotels, but couldn't find a room.

      ``I couldn't believe it either,'' he said. ``I thought the beginning of August was plenty of lead time. Seems a reasonable assumption.''

     Last July, nearly 2,100 applicants took the state's bar exam, most of them in Boston (1,511 passed).

     This time, many may find themselves swimming against a stream of 35,000 DNC delegates, media and other conventioneers around the FleetCenter. Bar applicants risk being shut out or priced out of hotel rooms and may find North Station and Central Artery shutdowns. ``They got enough to think about,'' said Edward J. Barshak, chairman of the Massachusetts Board of Bar Examiners.

     Area law schools, along with Lesley University and Simmons College, are putting up students or renting them dorm rooms. Simmons has had 15 takers already and expects many more. But Hoffman passed on that option.

     ``I'm probably going to end up taking it in Springfield,'' he said. ``Given all the security precautions and their closing North Station, I'm probably not going to want to risk getting stuck in some massive traffic to get there in time to get seated.''

     The exam board advises applicants that Hub hotel rooms will be ``at a premium, if obtainable at all,'' so ``book it now.''

     Elaine Vietri, executive director of the Board of Bar Examiners, has been jumping through hoops to accommodate test takers. She toured the state looking for an alternate location, including an exposition center in Marlboro and the Worcester Centrum. Some venues were too small, didn't have enough bathrooms or couldn't accommodate those with special needs.

     In the end, the board opted to keep the test in Boston, though it doubled its seating capacity to 600 at Western New England College's School of Law in Springfield. The board couldn't change the dates, since a portion of the bar exam is given across the country.

     But the board did move the Boston test time back an hour, to 9:30 a.m., for the first day of the two-day test. Test takers may find their lunch break has been truncated during the eight-hour day.

      ``We've contacted the MBTA and were assured that at the times we had the bar examination, transportation shouldn't be a problem,'' Vietri said. ``Of course, with North Station being closed, they might have to do a little maneuvering.''