In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, five U.S. jurisdictions opted to suspend their July 2020 bar exams. Instead, these jurisdictions granted licensure to new attorneys through “diploma privilege.” That’s the practice of admitting new attorneys to the state bar, and allowing them to practice law, contingent on their graduation from an ABA-accredited law school only. It does not require taking and passing a bar exam. Wisconsin is currently the only state to permanently offer diploma privilege, and it is only available to graduates of its two in-state law schools, Marquette University Law School and University of Wisconsin Law School.
Critics of the bar exam have long argued that a timed test, based on short-term memorization of how to apply a vast amount legal rules, is not a true measure of legal competency. And now, with a string of remote testing snafus during the pandemic, many in the legal community are asking whether diploma privilege is a better option. Standing in the way of these fundamental changes are many state supreme courts and bar associations who have authority over who can practice law in their jurisdictions. Additionally, those opposed to diploma privilege argue that, whether it’s accounting, medicine, or law, licensure exams are there for a good reason—to protect the public from incompetent practitioners.
In this second episode of our podcast series on the bar exam, [Un]Common Law will explore the arguments both for and against diploma privilege.
In this episode we speak with:
- Sam Skolnik, Washington-based legal industry reporter for Bloomberg Law.
- Efrain Hudnell, a 2020 graduate of the Seattle University School of Law, now an attorney with King County prosecuting attorney’s office in Seattle.
- Daniel Tokaji, Dean of the University of Wisconsin Law School.
- David Wiggins, retired justice of the Iowa Supreme Court.
- David Krutz, managing partner in the Milwaukee office of Michael Best and Friedrich.