DC Grants Law Grads Temporary Licence to Practice

Having deemed in-person bar examinations “infeasible”, DC has given recent graduates a new path to practicing law.

The District of Columbia Court of Appeals has voted to grant recent law graduates emergency temporary licence to practice under the supervision of a DC bar member.

In a 4-3 order issued on Thursday, the court approved an “emergency examination waiver” for law graduates. DC is now the fifth jurisdiction to enable certain graduates to practice law without taking the bar exam, in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the threat it poses to large public gatherings. This approach is often referred to as “diploma privilege”.

Prior to the order, DC had already been offering an online bar exam on October 5-6 and a provisional licencing programme, but the court determined that these existing measures were not sufficient to address all of law grads’ pandemic-related problems.

“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 a separate statement, judges in the minority (including the court’s chief, Anna Blackburne-Rigsby) argued that the case for the bar exam waiver had not been convincingly made. The judges acknowledged the unprecedented disturbance caused by the pandemic, but argued “that the other steps the court has taken (offering a remote examination, negotiating reciprocity agreements with twelve other jurisdictions to accept the scores from the remote exam, and expanding the opportunity for temporary supervised practice) are sufficient accommodations.”

DC bar applicants will be allowed to practice law under the new order provided that they meet certain criteria, including receipt of a JD in 2019 or 2020, application to sit for the DC bar exam in 2020 or 2021, and certification of good character and competent legal ability by the dean of their attended law school.

Law graduates who are approved under the new licensing rules do so under the condition that they still must eventually take and pass the bar exam to continue to practice.

The online bar exam will still take place in October. Applicants who intend to withdraw from this exam to pursue the exam-waiver admission option must do so by Saturday, 26 September at 11:59pm EST.

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