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California Supreme Court Urged to Ditch Online Bar Exam

Sept. 9, 2020, 9:20 PM

Leaders of the group United for Diploma Privilege have filed an emergency petition to the California Supreme Court, urging justices to waive the state’s bar exam requirement and instead allow law school grads to become licensed without taking the test.

Advocates have asked the California court to consider diploma privilege before, but their suggestions were rebuffed in mid-July, when the court ordered a two-day online test in October, and authorized a provisional licensing plan that allows some law school graduates to practice temporarily before passing the test.

But circumstances have changed, wrote Pilar Escontrias and Donna Saadati-Soto, leaders of the national diploma privilege group and recent law school grads who plan to practice in California. For one thing, they note in their exhaustive 275-page brief posted on the court’s website Wednesday afternoon that several states in recent months have adopted forms of emergency diploma privilege, including Utah, Washington State, and Louisiana.

Moreover, the technology California bar administrators are relying on for its Oct. 5-6 online exam isn’t fully vetted, they argue. It’s unlikely the test will function as intended, they said, based on the experiences of other states like Michigan, Indiana and Nevada, which all encountered significant issues with their online bar exams.

“The numerous, recent attempts to administer similar online, high-stakes bar exams utterly failed, proving there is an unjustifiable risk of harm created by administering remote exams that far exceeds the benefits derived or protections gained by the public,” they wrote.

It’s difficult to know how long it will take the court to react, or if it will now be persuaded to alter the state’s bar exam plans again by adopting privilege.

Several members of the diploma privilege movement took to Twitter Tuesday evening to thank Escontrias and Saadati-Soto for their persistence.

“I know I stand with the thousands of others when I say this: without you two we are nowhere near where we are today,” tweeted someone who uses the moniker Concerned Bar Taker. “Your actions will be remembered for decades to come.”

—With assistance from Joyce Cutler

To contact the reporter on this story: Sam Skolnik in Washington at sskolnik@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com; Rebekah Mintzer at rmintzer@bloomberglaw.com

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