The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted everyone. For recent law grads, delays and uncertainty in the bar exam have wrought havoc on the beginning of their professional careers. When it became clear that the July 2020 bar exam would need to be indefinitely postponed in many states, law school graduates, attorneys, and even legislators began to call for diploma privilege – the practice of admitting law students to the bar on the basis of their J.D. alone. Some advocates point to the racist history of the bar exam, and lack of evidence that the bar exam upholds the interests of the public, as additional reasons to make exceptions for 2020 grads. Following the administration of an online bar exam which involved major technical difficulties in early October, the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law renewed the call for temporary diploma privilege through the duration of the coronavirus crisis, as a matter of racial and disability justice.
While only a small handful of states have granted diploma privilege at this point (Wisconsin already allowed graduates of in-state law schools to practice without taking the exam), many states have adopted a patchwork approach, permitting some grads to begin practicing under supervision of licensed attorneys or expanding student practice orders. A roundup of those approaches is below:
States allowing recent law graduates to apply for admission to practice without taking the bar exam:
- Louisiana (qualified candidates must complete 25 hours of continuing legal education and the Louisiana State Bar Association’s “Transition into Practice” mentoring program by December 31, 2021)
- Oregon (the deadline to request admission via the diploma privilege option was July 6, and applicants who missed that deadline were required to take the online exam)
- Wisconsin (expanded diploma privilege to law graduates from outside of the state)
- Utah (requires 360 hours of supervised practice first)
States allowing recent law graduates to practice under the supervision of a licensed attorney:
- Alabama (expanding law student internship program to recent grads until results of February 2021 exam are released)
- Illinois (requiring the completion of the IL Basic Skills course and three MCLE credits every 90 days)
- Kansas (expanded temporary admission to practice for graduates who applied and were qualified to sit for the July or September bar exams)
- Kentucky (applicants must be registered for the October online exam)
- Maryland (applicants who request Temporary Special Authorization were withdrawn from taking the October 2020 online bar exam)
- Nebraska (expanded law student practice to grads pending bar examination)
- North Dakota (under an existing rule for law graduates who have not yet taken the exam)
- New Jersey (terminates for any applicant who does not sit for the first scheduled bar exam after graduation)
- New York
- South Dakota (expanding law student practice order to grads until three months after the bar exam)
- Washington, DC
- Tennessee (allowing supervised practice through November 2021)
Jurisdictions that have made no modifications to the admissions process: Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, West Virginia.
Across jurisdictions, the nuances and restrictions of these categories are distinct, so check the links for the relevant rules for your state.
If you’re a recent graduate needing CLE credits to qualify for admission, review the solutions that will help you become the attorney you set out to be. Lawline supports diploma privilege for law graduates during the pandemic, and we hope to support you throughout your career, as well.