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D.C. Inches Closer to Allowing Law Graduates to Skip Bar Exam

Sept. 15, 2020, 9:32 PM

The D.C. Court of Appeals is moving toward joining a small number of jurisdictions that allow certain law school graduates to become licensed without taking the bar exam.

Washington D.C.’s top court said Tuesday it’s leaning toward granting “diploma privilege,” which would permit graduates who meet certain requirements to be sworn in as attorneys without having to take or pass the test first. The court delayed its final decision until it issues emergency rules later this month.

"(T)he court is working to prepare emergency rules by Monday, September 28, expanding temporary practice under supervision and potentially providing for a form of emergency exam-waiver admission for certain qualifying applicants,” according to the order.

The order came as online bar exams scheduled in the District of Columbia and more than a dozen states in October spark growing concerns that the software D.C. and the states are using for remote tests may not work as intended, and that test takers’ privacy and personally identifying information could be put at risk because of remote proctoring.

“The court has decided to take a multi-faceted approach in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including administration of the October 2020 Remote Bar Exam and alternative pathways to authorized practice of law in the District of Columbia,” it said in the order.

The court issued its order in response to petitions, including at least one from the D.C. chapter of United for Diploma Privilege, a national movement founded in March 2020. It sought public comment over a two-week period ending in mid-August on whether to allow for diploma privilege, or a form of provisional licensing, according to a July 29 notice.

The Court received in excess of 500 comments, according to Tuesday’s order.

If D.C. ultimately approves diploma privilege, it will place the district alongside a small number of states, including Washington, Oregon, Utah, and Louisiana. Like D.C., those states have allowed the licensing alternative in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the outcry over health risks affiliated with in-person tests—and the notion that online exams like D.C. is planning may be technically unworkable.

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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