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Washington law graduates exempt from bar exam amid pandemic

The American Bar Association asked states to declare emergency rules that would allow 2019 and 2020 law graduates to practice law with just a diploma.

SPOKANE, Wash. — In the majority of states in the country, a person must pass the bar exam to be an independent practicing lawyer. But for 2019 and 2020 law school graduates, some will not have to pass the infamous test. 

Amid concerns about the coronavirus pandemic the American Bar Association asked states nationwide to consider canceling bar exams. They urged states to declare emergency rules that would allow 2019 and 2020 law graduates to practice law under diploma privilege.

Washington state adopted those rules. 

Diploma privilege means that any person who graduated from an ABA accredited law school in 2019 or 2020, and who was signed up for the July 2020 or September 2020 bar exam, could practice law in the state of Washington without passing the bar. 

The decision was controversial, but 2020 graduate Allison Drescher said she was glad the state adopted the change. 

“Life doesn’t stop just because we have to study, and life doesn't stop just becuase there's a test,” Drescher said. "I think of a lot of people in different situations, it definitely was a relief.

Diploma privilege only allows law school graduates to practice in the state they graduated in. That’s why Drescher said several of her peers are still planning on taking the universal bar exam. 

The state has instated an extra exam in September, and will make participants wear masks if they decide to take it.  

Drescher said the diploma privilege change was controversial within the law community, but ultimately more states are deciding to make the change.

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