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Florida Supreme Court Rejects Diploma Privilege
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The Florida Supreme Court rejected a proposal to adopt a form of diploma privilege that will allow law graduates to skip the bar exam amid the pandemic.

The court said on Thursday that such a move could cause potential harm to the public and that it is “essential” that attorneys meet certain requirements before being admitted to the bar.

“This Court has determined and still believes that law school graduation alone does not sufficiently demonstrate the knowledge, ability, and preparedness necessary to admit a law graduate to the practice of law in Florida,” reads the statement. “Therefore, it has long been the Court’s policy to require Bar applicants to demonstrate that they meet these essential requirements by taking and obtaining a passing score on the Florida Bar Examination before admitting them to The Florida Bar.”

  
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This decision means law graduates in Florida have to either sit for the one-day online bar exam scheduled for Oct 13 or wait for the next administrations of the test to be able to practice law.

Dozens of Florida lawyers filed a 99-page petition last month on behalf of 50 State bar exam members urging the court to waive the requirement of passing all parts of the bar examination and allow for the admission of applicants who qualify for admission based upon graduation from an ABA-accredited law school. They would be supervised for six months by a Florida attorney before assuming full privileges.

The petition came a week after Florida canceled the online exam scheduled for Aug 19, due to problematic software rigged with glitches. The state has since switched to a different software vendor.

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The court, however, rejected the petition saying that supervised training isn’t an adequate substitute for the exam and that “it is essential to ensure that those seeking to practice law in this state possess ‘knowledge of the fundamental principles of law and their application,’ an ‘ability to reason logically,’ and the preparedness to ‘accurately analyze legal problems,’ before they are allowed to offer their services to the public.”

“Unfortunately, this court regularly sees the extreme harm done to individual members of the public by lawyers who, in practice, fall short of these ‘essential’ requirements,” said the opinion by Chief Justice Charles Canady and Justices Ricky Polston, Carlos Muñiz, and John Couriel.



On Aug 24, 2020, The Supreme court approved the Temporary Supervised Practice Program, under which qualified applicants for the July 2020 Bar Examination may practice, on a temporary basis, under the supervision of an attorney. That program is now being implemented by the Florida Board of Bar Examiners and will expire within 30 days after the Board releases results for the February 2021 General Bar Examination.

Florida is not the only state to have shut down the option of diploma privilege. California, New York, Connecticut, Texas, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and other states have also rejected emergency diploma privilege requests.



 

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