DC Diploma Privilege Now
DC Diploma Privilege Now
Dear DC Court of Appeals:
After cancelling the July 20, 2020, bar exam, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals is seeking comment on a possible procedure to admit law-school graduates without requiring them to take and pass a bar exam (“diploma privilege”).
We acknowledge and applaud the efforts to protect public safety, and we recognize that holding a bar exam at this time causes significant risks. But we also want to make clear that any significant delay in bar licensure harms all graduating students and increases their debt burdens, while creating additional hurdles to future bar passage. In addition, the delay runs the risk of harming subsequent classes, as the class of 2020 and the class of 2021 may end up competing for jobs in the nearly the same cycle. This could have a continuing and lasting negative effect on law students and the legal profession.
Even a delay to October creates hardship for those who need licensure for their jobs, and the realities of the environment in which bar applicants are studying for the exam are challenging. The lack of access to quiet study space, not to mention daycare, make bar preparation challenging. Continuously moving exam dates has created stress and uncertainty that make a difficult exam even more challenging. And the financial burden of delaying certification serves only to increase debt loads for far too many students, particularly those who are already among the most vulnerable. The time is now to adopt diploma privilege in Washington, DC, for 2020 bar applicants.
There is not uniformity among law faculties, the bench and bar, or likely even our students, about what the best path forward should be for expediting licensure; however, we do think there is agreement that sooner is better than later. As you consider what is best for the District of Columbia given all that we have learned in the past few months, we strongly urge you to adopt diploma privilege for all of the fall 2020 bar applicants.
The Council of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar recently approved a major change in the bar passage rates in Standard 316 that now requires 75% of a law school’s graduates who sit for the bar to pass it within two years. The most recent year for which complete data is available, is 2017. The national average for ABA-accredited law schools was 89.47%, With a nearly 90% passage rate, this means that bar exams filters approximately 10% of all bar applicants over two years, which means that the majority of those who sit for a bar exam pass that bar exam. The vast majority of people who sit for a bar exam eventually pass it.
In addition, because character and fitness requirements would remain in place, there is still the ability to protect the public from those unfit to be members of the bar. The bar exam, as a test, does little to provide this protection. Although some have found that prior failures of the bar exam correlate with future misconduct, the bar exam clearly did not serve as a protection in those circumstances. Thus, character and fitness issues can remain a priority outside of the bar exam content itself.
Finally, if the court were to provide diploma privilege for this class of applicants, additional continuing legal education (CLE) requirements could be used to ensure that applicants have skills they need to practice before the DC-bar. Law schools have said they would commit to developing CLE programs to support additional education to help these new members of the bar.
In these challenging times, there are no easy decisions, and we appreciate the complexity of your deliberations. We thank you for your efforts and your service to our profession.