Coalition of public interest organizations pushes for law graduate diploma privilege
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Coalition of public interest organizations pushes for law graduate diploma privilege

The Public Rights Project (PRP), a California-based civil rights organization, has issued an open letter to the National Conference of Bar Examiners and the state bar examiners of 34 states “in response to the ongoing problems and systemic unfairness resulting from efforts to administer the bar exam during a global pandemic,” calling for law graduates to be admitted to the profession via diploma privilege.

In a Wednesday press release, the PRP stated that administering bar exams in the current political-economic climate “disrupts the flow of new lawyers into direct service providers, government offices, and other public interest legal positions … further [undermining] access to justice for underserved and underrepresented communities that already struggle to obtain legal assistance.”

The PRP’s letter was signed by more than 120 legal organizations “engaged in training and supporting the next generation of public interest attorneys.” It advocates for diploma privilege as a means to address the “inequalities inherent in the system.” The letter contends that bar study and testing conditions in the COVID-19-era exaggerate these inequalities and demands that “state licensing bodies extend diploma privilege because it is the only fair, safe, and administrable option.”

Passing the bar requires sustained and focused study, which is made substantially more difficult for those who must also balance caring for family members, who live in crowded and noisy home environments and no longer have access to libraries or other quiet places of study, and who must manage chronic health conditions. The challenge of balancing all these demands also has become more difficult since bar exams have been delayed more than two months in many states.

The letter highlights several beliefs shared by the organizations:

  • In-person bar exams should not continue under COVID-19 conditions and online exams are an inadequate substitute
  • State bar exams should be canceled this year and boards should award recent law school graduates with full diploma privilege
  • Bar exams (regardless of format) “exacerbate inequalities affecting applicants of color, lower-income applicants, and applicants with disabilities”
  • Attempts at online exam administration thus far have proved problematic in several aspects
  • Law school graduates should not have to risk their lives and the lives of others to enter the legal profession

Notable organizations that signed the letter include several state ACLU chapters, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Earthjustice, Gideon’s Promise, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and the National Lawyers Guild.