This Jurisdiction Just Passed Diploma Privilege

Students in front of Capitol Building in Washington DC

Law grads in the District of Columbia will be allowed to practice law without taking the bar exam.

The DC Court of Appeals voted 4-3 to approve an “emergency examination waiver” for lawyers last Thursday effectively giving DC law grads diploma privilege. DC is the fifth jurisdiction to offer diploma privilege to its law grads, Bloomberg Law reports.

“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 order states, “under a number of conditions intended to safeguard the public’s interest in the competence and good character of those who are permitted to practice law in the District of Columbia.”


DC is planning to offer an online bar exam on October 5-6 with a provisional licensing program that, according to Bloomberg Law, would allow grads to “practice temporarily and under supervision, before taking the bar.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented challenges for everyone involved in the bar-admission process in the District of Columbia,” according to the court order. “The court has scheduled an online examination for October 5-6, 2020, and court staff and others are working diligently to prepare to administer and grade that examination, to conduct character and fitness reviews, and then to admit qualified applicants.”

Law grads who are approved under the provisional licensing program will eventually be required to take and pass the bar if they hope to stay licensed.

Additionally, the diploma privilege waiver program requires students to have “graduated from American Bar Association-accredited law schools in 2019 or 2020 and already be signed up to take D.C.’s October test,” according to Bloomberg Law. “Applicants can’t already be admitted to a bar in a different jurisdiction, have failed a bar exam, or had a bar application denied, according to the order. They also need to practice for three years under the direct supervision of an enrolled, active member of the D.C. Bar who in turn also must meet certain conditions.”


Across the US, people are calling for diploma privilege as the pandemic has added increased stress and complications around law grads’ careers.

Proponents of diploma privilege argue that the bar exam fails to accurately assess what lawyers do in the real world.

“The general public might be surprised to learn the bar exam is almost entirely divorced from the work we will do as attorneys,” according to a Washington Post piece. “The exam is entirely closed-book, an exercise in memorization more than anything else. The practice of law requires careful research and checking (and double-checking) what we believe we know. Lawyers who practice based on a generalized form of the law they have memorized from flashcards risk malpractice. But this is exactly what the bar expects us to do.”

Sources: Bloomberg Law, District of Columbia Court of Appeals, Washington Post

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