Diploma Privilege for D.C. (@DP4DC) is the D.C. chapter of United for Diploma Privilege (also known as @DiplomaPriv4All), which began in March 2020. The national coalition is led by Donna Saadati-Soto, recent graduate of Harvard Law School, and Emily Croucher and Pilar Escontrías, recent graduates of UC Irvine School of Law.
Our chapter was founded on June 26, 2020 by Vania Smith, a recent graduate of the Columbus School of Law of the Catholic University of America.
Our coalition and our chapter are open to all. We consist primarily of recent law school graduates from all walks of life. Many will join public interest organizations after receiving their law license; others are incoming big law associates or future government leaders. We are also comprised of many law professors and lawyers, who have been critical in advancing our cause. Whether you are a recent graduate, a law professor, a lawyer, a law student, a loved one, or a concerned citizen—we welcome you.
Law school graduates are ordinarily required to take the bar exam to become licensed attorneys, except in two states: Wisconsin and New Hampshire. In those states, graduates from in-state law schools receive diploma privilege. Diploma privilege is the traditional form of licensing new attorneys, once practiced in D.C. and 32 states. It promises admission to all law school graduates by virtue of their diploma.
We seek to restore diploma privilege to D.C. in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and other crises of 2020.
Prioritizing rote memorization, the bar exam has long proven ineffective in ensuring attorney competency. Rather, the bar exam is often more about economic protectionism for practicing attorneys, harming the public’s access to justice.
The exam principally benefits costly bar prep course providers, to the detriment of those that cannot afford to pay. It also benefits the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE), which holds a nationwide monopoly on the production of bar exam materials. The NCBE is headquartered in Wisconsin, where its President and General Counsel, each compensated hundreds of thousands of dollars per year, both received diploma privilege.
The bar exam also has a disparate impact on lower-income law school graduates and law school graduates of color, contributing to the inability of their communities to access critical legal services. Indeed, many jurisdictions adopted the bar exam as a measure explicitly designed to exclude black law school graduates from entry into the legal profession.
Now, as the pandemic exacerbates the myriad social, political, and legal maladies that have long plagued America, access to justice is more important than ever before. Sadly, at the same time, the pandemic has imperiled the bar exam and harmed—often disparately—would-be examinees.
The bar exam, ordinarily held in July, has been cancelled in many jurisdictions. In D.C., it has been postponed to October, when it is expected to be held online. This is not tenable. Prospective examinees, like all Americans, have suffered and endured profoundly over the past months. Many lack the means to adequately memorize for and complete a months-delayed online exam. And whether the NCBE and the D.C. Committee on Admissions are capable of successfully holding an online exam at all is very much in doubt.
Fortunately, there is an easy way to improve access to justice and to save the lives and livelihoods of would-be lawyers in D.C. and across the nation. It has long existed in Wisconsin and New Hampshire. It has, in response to the pandemic, been adopted by Utah, Washington, and Oregon. It is diploma privilege.
To learn more about the arguments for diploma privilege, and some technicalities of implementation—including how diploma privilege can serve and protect the public better than the online October bar exam—please see our articles.