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D.C. Activism

Impact Statements Pour in as Law Grads Face October Exam

Yesterday, we put out a call for impact statements, to understand how the months-delayed, online exam will affect those seeking admission to the D.C. bar. In a matter of minutes, statements from recent graduates who plan to take the October exam began to pour in.

Many members of Georgetown Law’s class of 2020 wrote in about the tremendous financial burden of the seemingly ever-more-delayed bar exam. Requesting anonymity, one Georgetown grad wrote, “I took out a bar loan that will run out before the bar happens . . . My family can’t afford to support me, and I’m basically using my loan for rent and living on credit cards at this point. Granting diploma privilege would mean that I could start the job that I already have lined up.”

Another Georgetown grad, also requesting anonymity, added:

I have over $250,000 in federal student loan debt, all taken for law school after completing my undergraduate education debt-free on a full scholarship. I carefully budgeted my expenses throughout law school, knowing that I needed to save some of my loaned funds for summers, and specifically for the summer after graduation. I am entering a government honors program, and planning on taking advantage of student loan forgiveness.

However, with the initial delay in the bar exam, I would not have been able to start working until mid-September. My budget did not account for these extra months of paying rent and living expenses in this very expensive city. I cannot rely on my family for help, so I have had to take out additional private loans in the amount of $10,000 just to cover my basic needs. Public interest and government work does not provide a salary advance or stipend, so graduates who have chosen these paths are especially disadvantaged.

Now, with an October exam, I will likely have to take out additional loans. To be so far in debt already, and to go in more (and with private loans, non-forgivable debt) for an exam, will impact my economic future. I am excited to serve my country and community, but I have to think about how sustainable of a career that will be with my growing monthly loan payments.

Additionally, as part of cutting back on expenses this summer, I have opted not to purchase WiFi for my apartment and to utilize a hotspot instead. I will have to change this for the at-home bar exam.

Zachary Lee, an alumnus of University of Maryland Law, with a job waiting for him at the U.S. Department of Navy, echoed their concerns. “My lease at my current residence in Baltimore expires in July. I have signed a lease to begin in August in DC so that I could move in and commence work immediately . . . . The decision to delay the exam three months means I am in the process of seeking out loans for rent, utilities, internet, and basic living expenses all while studying for what is in effect the most difficult and detrimental exam of my life. These loans, mind you, are in addition to the daunting loans I have already taken out to finance my legal education,” he wrote.

Ever the advocate, Lee expressed dismay that the bar exam delay would “restrict [his] ability to work and contribute to the efforts of an already stressed office that represents our nation’s Sailors and Marines.” Also standing up for his classmates, Lee noted that many were “taking out loans to pay not only their basic living accommodations, but also to support their families.” He observed, “for many of my future colleagues whose home life is more boisterous than mine, this decision puts me at a significant advantage compared to them. The Committee on Admissions would never tolerate such disparate and unfair circumstances under non-remote testing conditions, and tolerating them remotely as a concession to COVID-19 seems to strike against the very values the profession stands for.”

Many others also raised the practical challenges associated with an online, at-home exam. Many live in crowded, distracting apartments and have been unable to access more suitable studying and testing environments due to COVID-19 closures. Aris Hart, a GMU Law graduate, wrote, “I am unable to completely isolate from my roommates or be free of distractions due to our living arrangements. Under more normal circumstances, I could either ask my roommates to leave for several hours or I could go to a public library.”

At the same time, many expressed fears about uncontrollable technical difficulties during the exam. Hart added, “My internet frequently drops for several minutes. My apartment building also only has one internet provider, so a different contract is not an option. Depending on the requirements of the exam program, my internet service could be the death knell for my bar exam attempt.”

Melanie English, a graduate of NYU Law, echoed these concerns, writing, “Many test takers, myself included, may be taking the test in locations that are not ideal for an online exam. Where I am now, I have an unstable Internet connection. If I am unable to find some other safe, quiet place with an Internet connection to test, it will be a matter of chance as to whether I can finish the exam, or spend half of it trying to reconnect.” English, who has a job waiting for her, also expressed concern over the economic impact of the delay, “I have also been worried about my lack of income as my employment start date is pushed further and further back. . . . I, like many others, have no source of income as I wait for the exam.”

One Georgetown alumna, who will be working for the federal government after achieving bar admission, wrote in about her personal burden, “I will be supervising schooling full time for my two young children while studying for the bar as a result of the delayed October testing date. . . . I do not have access to a quiet, uninterrupted space in which to take an online bar exam. There is not enough space in my small home for me to guarantee I will not be interrupted by children during an online exam administration.” She added, “I am delaying my intended start date in order to take the bar in October instead of July. . . . [T]he DC Bar’s late decision to substantially delay the test prevented me from seeking bar passage in another state that will be testing online or in person in July or September. I planned to start work mid-way through September and will miss four weeks of income as a result of the delayed administration.”

Better positioned graduates shared many of the same concerns, hardly immune from technical difficulties. Another Georgetown Law alumna wrote, “I have no children, I only live with my husband and there are multiple rooms in our apartment, we have good internet, I own a laptop with a camera—I still have no faith this exam will go smoothly. At least once every two weeks we have to call Comcast because of internet outages, this is just a reality of internet providers—if I wake up on the day of the bar exam with no WiFi what am I supposed to do? It’s not like I can go somewhere else like a library or coffee shop with COVID (not that those would be great options regardless).”

Many wrote about how the COVID-19 pandemic personally affected them. One Georgetown alumnus wrote, “I was prepared for the emotional and mental toll of bar prep. What I was unprepared for, was a pandemic. . . . My dad, over 60 years old, overweight, and diabetic, got sick with Covid. I spent hours fearing for his life, unable to focus on anything else. Picturing him dead. My mother, who is extremely at risk due to chronic lung issues (which have previously led to months-long ICU hospitalizations) then had to quarantine away from my dad for over three weeks.” Elaborating on his studying and testing conditions, he added, “I live in an apartment with thin walls—I can often hear my neighbors speaking and construction is ongoing on the floor directly below me. It is not slated to be done until November. I also live on a noisy street, often hearing sirens many times an hour. These distractions do not foster a suitable testing environment. Not only that, but living in a one-bedroom apartment, I do not have a desk or a table.”

These statements, a mere fraction of those that we have received, reflect the bleakness facing recent law school graduates, caused in no small part by the decision of the D.C. Court of Appeals. Their sentiment summed up by a graduate of American University’s Washington College of Law, “After graduating near the top of my class I am doubtful of my own ability to keep my studying and motivation going until October for a test format no one has tried before only to have it be all for nothing on test day when the platform goes live. Further, having portability taken away from me makes the process even more trivial than it was before.”

I live in a one bedroom apartment with another DC applicant, and I am concerned that one of us will have to take the exam in unfavorable conditions due to lack of space in our apartment and lack of other safe, WiFi enabled spaces outside of the home to take the exam.

Furthermore, I was planning to take the NY bar, as it is the jurisdiction I will likely be practicing in within the next 3 years. Following the announcement that the NY bar was only guaranteeing seating for NY law students, my university encouraged affected students to take the DC bar and waive into NY. I registered for DC at this advice, and because I was not comfortable traveling to NY while the pandemic raged on. Being that DC October exam will not be transferable, I will now have to take a second bar exam while also meeting the demands of litigation at a large law firm while caring for a family when I decide to move back to NY.

Celyra Workman, Georgetown Law ’20

With these and other impact statements, we are more determined than ever to continue our advocacy. We know that, as one anonymous law school graduate put it, “New attorneys are vital to the success of the legal profession, and by inhibiting our ability to join the market, the public suffers. No other group in the history of the legal profession has faced such unprecedented circumstances in the lead up to the bar examination.”

We need your help to advocate for diploma privilege. Impact statements are a cornerstone of our advocacy to the public, to D.C.’s law schools, and to the D.C. Court of Appeals. Please take a moment to send us your impact statement. We will make sure your voice is heard.