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Another State Grants Diploma Privilege to Recent Law Graduates
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Louisiana has just become the fourth state to grant emergency diploma privilege and allow recent law grads to perform legal work without taking the bar exam.

After abruptly canceling the licensing test scheduled for July 27 amid spiking COVID-19 cases, the Louisiana Supreme Court said Wednesday that the state adopted emergency diploma privilege for recent law school graduates.

“This COVID-19 crisis is unprecedented, and it calls for unprecedented and bold action, including implementation of today’s Order granting one-time emergency admission to the Bar with additional requirements. This pandemic, not experienced globally since the 1918 Spanish Flu, has caused absolute disruption not only to the legal profession but to every aspect of society, with serious illness prevalent, schools shuttered nationally since March, unemployment at a record high rates and rising infection rates.” Chief Justice Bernette Joshua Johnson commented.

  
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The high court said in the Order that it permits for certain “Qualified Candidates” admission to the Louisiana State Bar to practice without taking the bar exam in 2020, provided they meet all the usual requirements. 

To qualify for diploma privilege, law graduates must have already registered for the state’s July or October bar exam, both of with are now canceled, as well as meet character and fitness requirements, and have graduated from an ABA-accredited law school no earlier than December 2019, the July 22 order states. In addition, candidates must complete 25 hours of legal education and the state Bar Association’s mentoring program by December 31.

“While we know that cancellation of the in-person July 2020 bar examination was concerning to the many law school graduates who have spent countless hours in preparation, we believe that our action today is not only warranted but necessary during this public health crisis,” said Louisiana Supreme Court Justice Bernette Johnson in a news release.

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Those applicants who do not qualify for the emergency diploma privilege can take the Bar online on August 24 and October 10.

The high court announced the cancellation of the bar exam, on July 15, in response to the recent spike of coronavirus infection cases statewide, especially among young adults.



Louisiana is seeing an uptick in COVID-19 cases, with the number of people diagnosed with the virus rising by 2,771, to 99,354 — the highest single-day increase ever in Louisiana — and 3,558 of them have died. 

Four law schools Deans in Louisiana — at Louisiana State, Tulane, Southern, and Loyola universities — wrote to the state high Court the day after the July exam was canceled, asking for a “clear path forward” for their graduates.

“Within an hour of the Court’s announcement yesterday, each of us witnessed the impact on our graduates of learning that the bar examination had been canceled without any clear path forward for them to begin their professional careers.” the deans wrote in the letter to the justices. “They were disappointed and stunned; one of us encountered a recent graduate studying for the Bar in one of our classrooms dissolved in tears having just read the Court’s announcement.”

Chief Justice Bernette Joshua Johnson said in a statement the high court has the responsibility to ensure “the competency and integrity of the legal profession” especially in times like this.

“In my opinion, today’s limited one-time Order, including the additional requirements for bar admission, fulfills this responsibility. While we know that cancellation of the in-person July 2020 bar 3 examination was concerning to the many law school graduates who have spent countless hours in preparation, we believe that our action today is not only warranted but necessary during this public health crisis.”

Justices Jefferson Hughes III, James Genovese, and William Crain dissented from the court’s Order.

“There are over 22,000 lawyers licensed to practice law in Louisiana, all of which have taken a bar exam and are available for use by the public in general; but now, a majority of this Court will simply allow over 500 bar applicants to be given a license to practice law without any testing under the auspices of an “emergency,” Genovese wrote. “Certainly, there is no shortage of attorneys nor is there any emergency. The emergency, if any, is not allowing over 500 applicants into the practice of law without testing and a proof of competency. It should also be noted that the statistics show that approximately 25% of bar exam applicants fail the bar exam.”

Justice William J. Crain argued the court’s Order saying the state did not waive the bar exam even after Hurricane Katrina. “Gifting a license to practice law is wrong,” he wrote.

This is the first time in 67 years, that the state high court has adopted an emergency diploma privilege. The last time the state waived the bar exam due to emergency circumstances was in June 1953, during the Korean War. 



 

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