Law School Student Governments Petitioning For Diploma-Privileged Admission

All the law school deans were able to get together to offer their thoughts on how New York should handle licensing in light of COVID-19, so it makes sense that the student governments of the New York schools would join forces too.

Student leaders from the 15 New York law schools have drafted a letter — a spiritual follow-up to the original mass law student letter — calling for a modified diploma-privileged admission system at best and a temporary waiver with the requirement that graduates take the exam within two years at worst. They’re asking students to sign on through this form.

The modified diploma-privileged regime the students outline, drawing a great deal from the work done in this paper, which they call “Diploma Privilege Plus,” shows a great deal of consideration into balancing the needs of the current crop of heavily indebted students stepping out into the unknown and the duty to ensure that licensed attorneys meet a high threshold of competence.

● Completion of online courses or exams that the state has developed to supplement the UBE. Both the MPRE and NYLE serve as models for the administration of such a program.
● Affidavit from an employer or externship supervisor that the candidate possesses the knowledge and skills to practice law with minimum competence. Law schools have developed rubrics for externships and clinical courses that could be used to guide that assessment.
● Completion of CLE programs. New York could, if desired, specify programs in areas of particular client need and/or avoidance of common entry-level pitfalls.
● Completion of specified CALI lessons. The Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction, “CALI,” maintains over 1,000 lessons on legal principles, including all subjects covered by most bar exams.

In past posts on this subject, I’ve off-handedly offered enhanced CLE requirements and apprenticeship models as the sort of supplements that a diploma system could require. The students have fleshed out those ideas into a real framework for consideration.

As for practice waivers — the proposal that seems to have support across the board at this point — the students note that it resolves the short-term problems they face, but puts an unfair burden on some down the road:

We note, however, that not all students will be well-positioned to negotiate the time off to study for the bar exam, putting them in the unenviable—perhaps impossible—predicament of preparing for the bar exam while working full-time. That disadvantage will likely fall heaviest on international graduates, as well as those employed by government, public interest organizations, and small law firms. Therefore, we repeat our call for this Court to adopt a diploma privilege plus rule to accommodate the qualified and hardworking members of the class of 2020 who would otherwise be left out in the cold.

The whole letter is 11 single-spaced pages long and has 36 footnotes — because law students have to law student — but don’t let the Law Review Note style distract you. There are solid, thoughtful arguments in here that the Court of Appeals should seriously consider.

Implementing such a drastic break from the bar exam process that we’ve taken for granted for decades is hard. But when you come to a crossroads like this, that’s the ideal time to open your mind to new, potentially better ways to achieve goals. Is the drive to postpone the exam in this case driven by the need to keep it around in its current manifestation or are we just uncritically tethered to tradition?

Mentally throw everything out and ask, “how do we ensure that licensed attorneys have the knowledge and practical skills — or at the very least a clear path to achieving each — to serve clients?” and work from scratch. My guess is the bar exam, at least as we know it, doesn’t make it into that exercise.

And whatever does can go a long way to forging the right solution for the class of 2020.

Earlier: Law School Deans Call For Major Changes To Bar Admission
Over 2,000 Law School Students Sign Letter Seeking Diploma-Privileged Licensure

HeadshotJoe Patrice is a senior editor at Above the Law and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. Feel free to email any tips, questions, or comments. Follow him on Twitter if you’re interested in law, politics, and a healthy dose of college sports news. Joe also serves as a Managing Director at RPN Executive Search.

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