DC’s highest court grants bar exam waiver for recent law school grads

D.C. is joining four other states in giving certain law school graduates a pass on taking the bar exam to practice law because of COVID-19.

In a 4-3 ruling, the D.C. Court of Appeals is offering an “emergency examination waiver,” better known to insiders as “diploma privilege,” to skip the test.

Before this order, D.C. was offering an online bar exam from Oct. 5 to Oct. 6. It was also running a provisional program allowing for grads to practice on a temporary basis.

But the court found those options weren’t enough.

“The court therefore has determined, on a one-time basis, to permit certain recent law school graduates to be admitted to the D.C. Bar without taking or passing a bar examination,” the court said in its order.

The waiver comes with conditions, such as when someone graduated. Those who qualify had to get their diplomas during 2019 or 2020 from an accredited school and had to be registered to take the online exam.

But those who petitioned the court for the waiver had a mixed response, saying it will benefit some people but not others.

“We were very happy and very proud of the court for taking a stance,” said Olivia Carson with Diploma Privilege for D.C. “But after reading through the language and trying to call our own employers, we realized that it’s really adding another obstacle in the road.”

Carson likened the waiver to a “scarlet letter” that “will putt an asterisk mark, saying I am licensed but I received my license in an emergency during a pandemic.”

The order also stipulates that a qualified supervisor must sign off on the waiver for currently-employed graduates.

Carson, who works for the Justice Department, cited her own example about the difficulty in finding a supervisor who’s licensed in D.C. for at least five years to sign off on her work.

“But we also don’t know which work,” Carson said. “There’s a portion of this order that says they have to sign off on the ‘business documents’. What’s considered a ‘business document’? It gets muddy.”

Oregon, Washington State, Utah and Louisiana are the other jurisdictions that already offered a full bar exam waiver.

More Coronavirus news

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

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