Two days ago, @LadyLawyerDiary put out a call on Twitter:
Law school graduates are a highly educated, highly accomplished crowd. All law school graduates hold undergraduate and graduate degrees and have completed years of legal training. Many hold other master’s and doctoral degrees in addition to their law degrees. Many have important jobs awaiting them. Many have high-paying jobs awaiting them.
Yet, this year, these bright, young future lawyers have been reduced to begging for money from practicing attorneys. And their pleas are far from frivolous.
All recent graduates entered law school fully expecting to take the bar exam. These future lawyers knew they would need to sustain themselves between graduation, typically in May or June, and the bar exam, in July.
But they had no idea that they would graduate into a global pandemic. They had no idea how radically their world would change. Their tribulations echo many of those we have read in countless impact statements.
With bar exams across the country canceling or postponing, some to August, some to September, and others all the way to October, recent law school graduates have found their savings fast running out. COVID-19-related expenses and joblessness have exacerbated their financial situations and impaired their ability to find even short-term, part-time work to sustain themselves. Even those that are able to find such work struggle to make ends meet while adequately preparing for the bar exam.
Due to these unexpected delays in licensure, law school graduates are facing unprecedented delays in finding and starting work after law school. Many are struggling to not only support themselves, but care for their families—all while preparing for the bar exam.
In states that are offering a mix of delayed in-person exams and even-more-delayed online exams, many recent graduates find themselves caught between two fires—forced to choose between life and livelihood. Even those who ultimately prefer to practice in a jurisdiction offering only a much delayed, online exam are contemplating uprooting their lives and risking their health to sit for an earlier, in-person exam in another jurisdiction, in the hope of finding work before losing everything.
Many had been studying for an exam with a particular date in mind, only to have that date shift by months, and then by months again. These exam delays have caused significant disruption not only to recent graduates, but their would-be legal employers. In an already perilous economic situation, this has jeopardized the nascent careers of these future lawyers.
Indeed, some have seen their job offers altogether revoked.
One thing is clear. These future lawyers are suffering mightily in a crisis the likes of which no living lawyer has seen before.
Of course, these law graduates weren’t simply shouting into the void. They reached out yesterday for one simple reason:
The lawyers showed up.
Dozens of attorneys heeded the call of @LadyLawyerDiary. They invited law students—including those pictured above—to reach out to them for all manner of support.
Though many had never met—indeed, many never will meet—they offered unparalleled kindness, grace, and generosity. They restored the faith of many recent graduates, who have long been mindlessly tossed about by bar examiners, in the profession. The tweets pictured here represent but a fraction of the outpouring of support from the legal community.
Many opened not only their hearts and their wallets, but their homes.
Indeed, some even coordinated pet-sitting services for bar applicants.
The astounding generosity of these lawyers is a terrific inspiration. In the immortal words of Mr. Rogers, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'” We thank and applaud these helpers. The class of 2020 will remember who helped. We will pay it back, and we will pay it forward.
But let’s face it. It should never have come to this.
These future lawyers would be eminently capable of providing for themselves, if only they were unshackled and allowed to work. The time for delay is over. It is abundantly, painfully clear that recent graduates are suffering profoundly under the delayed licensing regime.
The generosity of practicing lawyers, breathtaking though it may be, is a bandaid on a bullet hole. It is far from enough to alleviate the tremendous, near-universal burden on future lawyers. Tens of thousands of law school graduates are being driven into debt, into food and housing insecurity, into poverty, and are being kept from their critical work of advocating for justice in their communities. Without immediate and systemic intervention, the plight of these recent graduates will continue. And if left unchecked too long, its specter may haunt them long after they finally do obtain their licenses.
Many have said that it’s time for our nation to get back to work. While we must do so with utmost caution for public health, we agree.
It’s time to let us get to work. It’s time to let us earn a living. It’s time to let us serve our communities. It’s time for diploma privilege.