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Harvard Law School

Harvard Law Students Push For Emergency Diploma Privilege

Harvard Law students are calling on the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to replace the 2020 bar exam with an automatic admission option, or emergency diploma privilege.

In a July 10 letter to the court, law students asked the court to consider an “emergency diploma privilege plus” strategy, The Harvard Crimson reports. An emergency diploma option would essentially license law school graduates to practice the law under supervision without requiring them to take the bar examination, according to JD Advising.

The Massachusetts Supreme Court previously decided against an emergency diploma privilege back in April. Under current plans, the court has delayed the online bar exam on October 5 and 6 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.


The authors of the letter are advocating for permanent bar admission.

Students argue that the COVID-19 pandemic has created obstacles that prevent test-takers from adequately preparing for the upcoming bar exam. Within the letter, the authors point to result of a survey of more than 190 law school graduates.

“As a result of these and additional hardships, 75% of respondents report financial insecurity, 29% report housing insecurity, and 79% report that they are currently struggling with their emotional and mental health,” the letter reads.

Additionally, the authors argue that remote testing unfairly favors students of privilege.

“One thing they said about the online exam is that we will be monitored using machine learning or AI software where interruptions and abrupt noises and distractions could trigger a red flag,” Hannah N. Perls, a recent Harvard Law grad and one of the authors of the letter, tells the Crimson. “And so, the students who pass this online exam will probably have access to the quietest spaces and the most reliable internet.”


A number of states including Washington, Wisconsin, Utah, and Oregon have all recently adopted an emergency diploma privilege that allows their law grads to skip the bar exam.

A number of law school officials have voiced support for adopting emergency diploma privilege.

“We support diploma privilege for all graduates of ABA-accredited law schools…This would be permanent admission to the bar without ever needing to take the bar exam,” Berkeley Law School Dean Edwin Chemerinsky writes in an email to 2020 Berkeley Law grads, reported by Bloomberg Law. “That said, I remain doubtful that the California Supreme Court will grant this,” Chemerinsky added. “But we will do our best to argue for this!”

Critics of the emergency diploma privilege cite concerns about allowing law grads to practice law only to fail the bar exam in the future.

“Not only would this raise justifiable concerns about their competence to practice law when they were doing so, but it also would create the problem of nascent law practices having suddenly to close shop, potentially leaving clients in the lurch,” Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court states in a letter back in April.

Proponents of the emergency diploma privilege argue that the option can help to address disparities in the legal industry.

“We have an opportunity to address the long-standing disparities in the legal profession, and the compounding disparities that COVID-19 presents, and the only solution at this point is emergency diploma privilege,” Perls, the Harvard Law grad, tells the Crimson.

Sources: The Harvard Crimson, JD Advising,, Bloomberg Law,