Traditionally, summer for most recent law school graduates has not been a time of lounging by the pool and reading a juicy novel. Instead, these attorneys-in-the-making have been consumed with taking an expensive Bar review course, losing sleep due to stress, gaining weight due to those late night study snacks, and, eventually, taking their state’s Bar exam so that they will, hopefully, earn their license to practice law. But, for this summer, many young lawyers are facing much different challenges.

The Washington Supreme Court issued an order on June 12th allowing new graduates to either take the Bar exam, a daunting task under normal circumstances much less dealing with additional hurdles and risks created by COVID-19, or to choose to receive a “diploma privilege” to practice in Washington. A diploma privilege is a way for those graduating from an ABA accredited law school to practice law without having to pass the Bar exam during this unprecedented time. According to the Washington State Bar Association: “This is a full license, and it is not a temporary license to practice law; however, there are annual and ethical requirements for maintaining your license to practice with which you will have to comply in order to maintain your license. You will not have to sit for the UBE (“Uniform Bar Exam”) in Washington at a later date.”

If a recent law school graduate doesn’t have to take the Bar exam to practice law, why on earth would anyone voluntarily do so? Two reasons:

  • Finding Employment. Judging from recent comments I’ve seen from attorney listservs, many attorneys are extremely upset about the Washington Supreme Court’s decision. Some lawyers contend that the Bar exam is a truly necessary exam that tests, comprehensively, on core topics. Bluntly, the Bar exam is viewed by many as an effective tool to weed out recent graduates who may not have what it takes to practice law. According to the National Council of Bar Examiners, “The UBE tests knowledge of general principles of law, legal analysis and reasoning, factual analysis, and communication skills to determine readiness to enter legal practice in any jurisdiction.” Employers, undoubtedly, will be more likely to choose applicants who have taken this test as opposed to graduates who have chosen to practice law via diplomatic privileges.
  • Finding Malpractice Insurance Coverage. Some attorneys who are choosing diplomatic privileges are finding it cost prohibitive to obtain malpractice insurance, and employers are also balking at paying the additional costs. Insurance carriers tend to view attorneys who have not passed the Bar as a higher risk, and the rates reflect this viewpoint.

My thoughts? I agree that diplomatic privileges should be extended on a temporary basis, but not a permanent basis. It is difficult to imagine, based on present circumstances, how someone could take a Bar exam in an environment that would be truly safe from COVID-19 concerns. Although I took the Bar exam as a healthy 23-year old, not all recent law school graduates fall into that category. Many graduates suffer from underlying health conditions and/or are older, so they would be taking on more risks in relation to the virus. There’s no reason why these graduates cannot be good attorneys, nor is there any reason to sideline them until this pandemic is behind us. But, at some point when the virus concerns dissipate, the diplomatic privileges should expire so that the public can be confident that their lawyer has taken, and successfully passed, the Bar exam.

This post is for informational purposes and does not contain or convey legal advice. The information herein should not be used or relied upon in regard to any particular facts or circumstances without first consulting with an attorney.

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