Law Students

New York Deans Join Push for Diploma Privilege
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A day after the New York Court of Appeals announced that it had canceled the September bar, deans of all law schools in the state have joined the Diploma Privilege movement that would allow recent law graduates to perform legal work without sitting for the licensing test.

Deans of 15 law schools in New York voiced their concerns in a July 17 letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the Court of Appeals, and several other elected officials, urging the state to adopt a diploma privilege “in the swiftest way possible.”

“The State of New York currently has no clear plan to facilitate the admission to the bar of thousands of our recent graduates,” reads the deans’ letter. “These graduates now are in a state of limbo, with a profound level of uncertainty and anxiety that surrounds their futures and economic stability as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic.”


The New York Court of appeals canceled the already postponed bar exam, due to ongoing health concerns over COVID-19, without stating an alternative for administrating the licensing test. Court of Appeals Chief Judge Janet DiFiore on July 16, announced the creation of a workgroup that will evaluate recommendations of how to license new attorneys this year.

The working group will also determine whether to opt for an abbreviated online version of the bar exam that is being offered NCBE on Oct. 5 and 6 or an emergency diploma privilege 

“The group is also considering whether New York should adopt an emergency diploma privilege in lieu of the bar exam or whether we should take any other immediate measures designed to ameliorate the difficulties faced by our 2020 law graduates,” DiFiore said.

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But, as the working group is expected to make a decision until late August, New York deans argue that would be too long for law grads who have quit jobs, taken leaves of absence, and taken out loans to fund their bar studies.

“While we support the adoption of an online examination as an option, the excessive delay in making a final determination on such an exam places an undue burden on our graduates who have been studying intensively for licensure for the past two months in the midst of extreme public health concerns and hardship.” the deans wrote.

Recent law graduates and legal educators have been lobbying for an emergency diploma privilege for months.

An advocacy group predominantly made up of recent law grads called “Diploma Privilege New York” in a July 13 letter to the Court of Appeals signed by more than 1,500 people requested a hearing in which they could make their case for emergency diploma privilege.

Meanwhile, state lawmakers are showing their support for diploma privilege and stepping up their efforts to allow law graduates practice law without taking the exam.

Senator Brad Hoylman and Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon have both introduced legislation to grant emergency diploma privilege for law school graduates.

“The 2020 New York Bar Exam has become a rolling disaster for law school graduates. The simplest and most equitable solution is providing graduates with diploma privilege.” the lawmakers said in a statement.

“Further delays in admitting this year’s class of aspiring attorneys to practice law will disadvantage graduates from low-income households who cannot afford an extra month or more without income, and hurt graduates who are caretakers of children or elderly parents. The chaos and lack of clarity will have a devastating financial impact on those attempting to begin their careers as legal professionals.”

Assemblywoman Jo Anne Simon plans to introduce an updated version of the bill, where law grads would be admitted to the bar in New York after completing 100 hours of practice under the supervision of an attorney. 

“Current applicants for the bar need to be able to begin the practice of law for which they have studied and, in many cases, taken on enormous student debt without endangering their health and safety and that of their families,” reads a memo that accompanies Simon’s revised bill.



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