Harvard Law Students Want Licensing Without Taking Bar Exam

April 6, 2020 Updated: April 6, 2020

Harvard Law students are asking school administrators to help them obtain law licenses without having to take the bar exam, citing the CCP virus pandemic.

In an April 2 letter, nearly 200 law students set to graduate this year asked Harvard Law School to publicly support “emergency diploma privilege” which would allow them to practice law without taking the bar exam. They also urged school administrators to send a statement supporting the privilege to the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, which announced last week that the state bar would be postponed to a to-be-determined date in the fall.

The states’ decision came after the National Conference of Bar Examiners, which develops the test, offered a separate exam this fall for jurisdictions that cancelled or delayed their exams scheduled for July amid the ongoing pandemic. The letter alleged that postponing the test would disproportionately affect minority students.

“Folks that don’t have the financial security to be able to just quit their job and study for the bar at any moment — they might choose to forego the state bar,” co-author Donna Saadati-Soto told Harvard Crimson. “That means low-income students, immigrant students, folks of color are the ones that are going to be more likely to have to forgo taking or studying a later exam because they’re going to be needing to work to provide for themselves and their family.”

College Students Told To Leave Campuses To Counter Spread Of Coronavirus
Students move out of dorm rooms on Harvard Yard on the campus of Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on March 12, 2020. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Harvard law students also drew comparison to their medical school peers, who are being allowed to graduate early to help relieve the health care workforce shortages. They argued in the letter that “struggling small businesses, recently unemployed individuals, and families facing eviction” would need as many lawyers as possible to advocated for their interests.

“Just as our colleagues in medical schools have been called upon to join the front lines fighting COVID-19, so too are attorneys needed to fight for the rights of individuals most affected by this pandemic,” the letter read.

Law students from other jurisdictions that use the Uniform Bar Exam have also sent open letters to bar examiners, urging them to grant emergency diploma privileges. In New York, approximately 1,000 students from 15 law schools sent a letter on March 26 to the State Bar of New York’s Task Force on the New York Bar Examination, which dismissed their demand.

“For one thing, there are about 15 percent of first-time test takers who do not pass,” Alan Scheinkman, task force chair, told New York Law Journal. “In this current year, where a lot of schools have gone to pass/fail courses, we would be very concerned about admitting people who have not shown a minimum degree of competency.”