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D.C. Activism

PRESS RELEASE: DP4DC Statement on New Rules from D.C. Court of Appeals

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Contact: [email protected]

Earlier today, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals issued a new order establishing rules for temporary licensure and emergency exam-waiver admission (popularly known as “diploma privilege”) in response to a petition from Diploma Privilege for the District of Columbia (DP4DC).

DP4DC thanks all of our fellow applicants, family, friends, and supporters throughout the legal community for their support and advocacy through this tumultuous summer. We are especially grateful to those of you who signed on to our petition or commented in support of our petition during the public comment period. Our mission, from the very beginning, has been singular: to petition the D.C. Court of Appeals to grant diploma privilege to all 2020 applicants to the D.C. bar in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on our society. Sadly, we did not fully succeed in that mission. The court’s order today provides for a small, narrow, restricted version of diploma privilege that excludes the vast majority of those we were advocating for. In our analysis of the order, we note the following:

First, the requirement that those availing themselves of emergency exam-waiver admission be supervised for three years by a D.C.-barred attorney imposes a substantial burden on employers and seriously limits the job prospects of those still seeking employment in the District of Columbia. Many employers will instead ask their incoming employees to take the online bar exam, despite its many faults, in response to the additional disclosure and documentation burdens created by the overlong and excessive supervision requirement. The requirement also disadvantages those who will work for the federal government. Federal agencies accept bar licensure from any state or territory, thus a new attorney’s supervisor in an agency may not be licensed in D.C., and cross-agency or cross-division supervision is likely impracticable. We have already received reports from various employers, including major law firms and federal agencies, that they will be unable to satisfy the length of the supervision requirement and therefore will not accept new employees who enter the profession under emergency exam-waiver admission.

Second, the requirement that new attorneys admitted via waiver must “prominently disclose” admission by waiver on business documents is unreasonably punitive. This requirement only serves to stigmatize those who accept exam-waiver admission in this time of countless profound emergencies, and in a profession where reputation is of central importance. Stigmas serve as barriers to full acceptance and respect, especially in the legal profession. Circumstances beyond all 2020 applicants’ control have made the bar admission process this cycle untenable. Requiring new attorneys to note that they received a bar exam waiver is needlessly punitive and does not protect the public. Indeed, those who have been admitted to the D.C. Bar by waiver after having received diploma privilege in another jurisdiction are not required to disclose that they were admitted in this way.

Our other concerns lie in what the court’s order does not address. For example, there is no list of what would possibly qualify as “extraordinary circumstances” for those seeking to waive one of the requirements for eligibility for temporary licensure or emergency-exam waiver admission relating to law school graduation year, current applicant status, or prior applicant status.

Further, and perhaps most surprisingly, it is unclear whether the three years of required supervised practice must be with the same employer or supervisor and how much legal work will be required during those three years. It is also unclear whether bar applicants who will not represent clients as part of their jobs, such as those working in legislative or policy positions, judicial law clerks, or those in other JD-preferred positions, will qualify. It is also unknown whether intermittent pro bono work for a non-profit would suffice.

Finally, the order provides little clarity on how the admissions process will work. We do not know whether admissions will be processed on a rolling basis, or whether emergency exam-waiver applicants will need to wait until April to be sworn in. It is also unclear why applicants must wait so long to apply for emergency exam-waiver admission—well after scores for the online bar exam are scheduled to be released. It is also unclear how much applicants will need to pay to the National Conference of Bar Examiners for waiver of the bar exam requirement, or why any payment is necessary.

All of these questions are pressing because, as of this release, the Committee on Admissions has set a deadline of Saturday, September 26th for current D.C. Bar applicants registered for the October bar exam to withdraw and seek emergency exam-waiver admission, despite there being no such requirement in the court’s order. For many, that may not be enough time to adequately weigh the requirements of the waiver against their personal and professional situation, consult with their future employer as applicable, or receive direct answers to their questions from the Committee on Admissions.

We will do our best to seek clarity on this order and will continue to provide updates as we receive them. We are grateful to the court for engaging with us so thoroughly, and we hope that the court’s order will be of some utility to at least a few bar applicants, even though the order provides little certainty for applicants, who are in an increasingly perilous position. We thank you all for your encouragement and for your patience as we attempt to balance our studies, our jobs, and our advocacy.

About DP4DC:

DP4DC is the DC chapter of United for Diploma Privilege, a national movement founded in March 2020. Our mission is simple: to secure diploma privilege for DC bar applicants in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Though primarily composed of recent law graduates, our coalition and our chapter are open to all. For more information, visit dp4dc.org and unitedfordiplomaprivilege.org or visit us on Twitter @dp4dc.

For our press release on our petition, please click here. For our press release on the public comment period on our petition, please click here. The full record of public comments is available here.

For the court’s order, please click here or see below.