DC Top Court Mulls Letting Law Grads Skip Bar Exam

By Khorri Atkinson
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Law360 (July 31, 2020, 4:02 PM EDT) -- The D.C. Court of Appeals is considering whether to allow law school graduates to obtain a D.C. bar license and begin practicing law without taking an exam due to ongoing concerns about in-person testing and health risks associated with the coronavirus pandemic.

If the step is approved, the district would join Louisiana, Oregon, Utah and Washington state in granting diploma privilege to law graduates.

The district's highest court said in a July 29 notice that even though this year's online-only bar exam is still set for Oct. 5-6, potential alternatives are being considered. According to the notice, the public has until Aug. 12 to provide feedback on a proposal for the court to establish a procedure allowing diploma privilege or "broaden the circumstances in which law school graduates who have not yet been admitted to the D.C. Bar (or perhaps any bar) can temporarily practice law."

"Given the importance of the issue, the court wishes to receive comments from the public before deciding how to proceed with the requests at issue," the notice added.

The court asked the public to address certain topics, including the limits or conditions that should be imposed on any diploma privilege or expanded temporary practice.

Diploma Privilege for D.C., a chapter of the nationwide United for Diploma Privilege movement that advocates automatic admission to the bar for qualifying law graduates in the wake of COVID-19, lauded the court's announcement.

The group said it asked the appeals court earlier this month to amend its requirements for D.C. bar admission and was "thrilled that the court is taking the time and seeking out the necessary resources to make an informed decision that will serve the needs of applicants, lawyers, employers, and our future clients."

"This is a meaningful opportunity for the court to listen to the stories of applicants and the opinions of professionals," the group added in a statement Wednesday in response to the announcement for public comment.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced states to alter their bar exam policies amid caution from public health authorities over large in-person gatherings. While some states are considering whether to offer "diploma privilege" to aspiring attorneys or grant temporary license to practice law, others have moved to hold bar exams remotely.

Michigan, which on July 28 became the first state to hold a bar exam online, experienced an apparent cyberattack that caused a serious technical problem, according to the test's technology provider. Test-takers were unable to log in for the second part of the exam, forcing the state's Supreme Court to extend the amount of time allotted for the test.

--Additional reporting by Emma Cueto. Editing by Peter Rozovsky.

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