Law students advocating for diploma privilege

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A group of third year Wayne State University Law School students have written a letter advocating for the adoption of diploma privilege for admission to the State Bar of Michigan rather than administering or postponing the July 2020 bar exam. Attached to the letter is a petition where members of the legal community can add their names to show support.

As stated in the letter, Rule 2 of the Rules for the Board of Law Examiners dictates that in order to practice law in Michigan, an applicant must seek admission to the bar by examination. 

The Michigan Board of Law Examiners (MBLE), however, has the authority to enact an emergency diploma privilege under Rule 7 which states, “an applicant may ask the board to waive any requirement except payment of fees.  The applicant must demonstrate why the request should be granted.”

Authors and signers of the letter are petitioning the MBLE to use their authority under Rule 7 to waive the July 2020 Bar Exam and grant applicants diploma privilege in its place.  The letter cites multiple proposed alternatives to the July Bar and demonstrates why those alternatives are insufficient.

The letter states: “Several alternatives to the July Bar Exam have been proposed, but the emergency diploma privilege is the only feasible option. The other alternatives include postponement, online testing, administering the test in smaller groups, granting limited licensure, and adopting diploma privileges for recent law school graduates. Online testing has clear and difficult security and technical hurdles that cannot realistically be solved by July 2020. Smaller testing groups have insurmountable logistical issues as well, such as securing a plurality of test locations and proctors to administer the exam. Further, local emergency ordinances, which vary across the state, compound the already rigorous requirements of the federal and state COVID-related safety mandates. Its viability remains contingent on an unlikely, speedy, and sharp decrease in COVID-19 infections statewide.”

Further, postponement of the bar exam only extends the amount of time law students must remain in limbo. They will not have income, they will not be able to practice as licensed attorneys, and they will be simply waiting for their period of financial duress to end.

The letter also details the impact of COVID-19 on law students scheduled to take the July Bar Exam: “Law students have been laid off from jobs necessary to support themselves and their families. Those students who await the July 2020 Bar Exam rely on limited financial means; meanwhile, student debt looms while career prospects dwindle. It is no secret that the legal profession has a mental health crisis, and the current pandemic only serves to compound that catastrophe. Without thoughtful and deliberate action from the MBLE, the uncertainty surrounding the licensure of the class of 2020 will only serve to exacerbate COVID-19’s impact on law students.”

As of Wednesday, the petition has more than 400 signatures and 68 testimonials stating how COVID-19 has impacted signers’ lives and experiences in the legal community.  The letter and petition will be submitted to the Michigan Board of Law Examiners and the Michigan Supreme Court this week.

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