Susan Smith Blakely

How is COVID-19 Affecting the July Bar Exam?

So what about the July Bar Exams amid COVID-19?

Here is some information about what is being considered if July Bar Exams cannot go forward for reasons related to coronavirus and COVID-19. You will see there the options being considered. Some are not so good, and others are better. But one may be missing altogether.

It seems to me that the option for "emergency diploma privilege-plus" is the best option and could work --- with one caveat. I agree that "diploma privilege" might be a good idea to meet the needs of Spring 2020 law graduates to enter the workforce as soon as possible, but I would add the requirement for passage of the February 2021 Bar Exam to that option. That should be a lot more workable than fashioning CLEs and additional requirements to effectively address competency.

I also am not so impressed with comparing the needs of the current situation to the Wisconsin diploma privilege program. As someone who hails from the great state of Wisconsin, I am very familiar with that program, which treats all of the graduates of the two Wisconsin law schools equally. Any graduate of one of those law schools has the privilege to practice in Wisconsin without passing a bar exam.

But that equal treatment is not the case with the currently proposed emergency diploma privilege-plus. As proof, I think about all of you from ABA-accredited law schools around the country who have suffered through bar exams to prove your competency to practice. Giving a waiver for bar exam passage to the soon-to-be graduates would be considered by many of you as inequitable. I understand, and I think that result can be and should be avoided.

In this regard, let me share a personal story that might help drive this point home.

When my husband graduated from law school in 1977 and passed the Michigan Bar Exam, he was able to waive into the DC Bar with evidence that he had passed a state bar exam. That waive in provision worked very well for him.

Two years later, when I graduated from law school in 1979 and passed the Virginia Bar Exam, the rules for licensing in DC had changed. The waive in privilege was gone. To be licensed to practice in DC, you had to write and pass the DC Bar Exam. Period.

My law firm had offices in both VA and DC and wanted its lawyers to be licensed in both jurisdictions. So, after passing the July Virginia Bar Exam, I had to write and pass the February DC Bar Exam. In other words, put up with all of the long hours, confusion and incoming traffic as a first-year associate and study for, write and pass another bar exam at the same time. Period.

Believe me, I never have forgotten the unequal treatment for me as a Johnny-Come-Too Lately to take advantage of what had been available only two years earlier. Never! Especially when DC changed the rules again two years later and reinstated the waiver privilege --- which still is available today. My son, who is licensed in Tennessee, just took advantage of it and is now licensed in DC, too.  

And, yes, the unfairness of the situation still comes up in family conversation today, and I always play the victim in those fun discussions. Sorry, but I am flawed!

So, I can anticipate your concerns --- and the resentment they could become. And I know that result should be avoided.

Susan Smith Blakely is the Founder of LegalPerspectives LLC and an award-winning, nationally-recognized author, speaker and consultant on issues related to young women lawyers, young women law students and young women interested in careers in the law.  She is author of Best Friends at the Bar:  What Women Need to Know about a Career in the Law (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers 2009), and Best Friends at the Bar:  The New Balance for Today's Woman Lawyer (Wolters Kluwer Law & Business 2012), which addresses the work-life struggle for women lawyers and includes twelve profiles of women who have successfully transitioned from one practice setting to another.  Her third book in the series, Best Friends at the Bar:  Top-Down Leadership for Women Lawyers, focuses on the responsibilities of law firm leaders and was released by Wolters Kluwer Law & Business in 2015.

 Ms. Blakely’s new book for ALL young lawyers, What Millennial Lawyers Want:  A Bridge from the Past to the Future of Law Practice, will be released by Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers in the summer of 2018.

 Ms. Blakely frequently speaks at colleges and universities, law schools, law firms and law organizations, and she has been featured in media including Corporate Counsel Magazine, the ABA Journal, the LA Daily Journal, National Jurist, Washington Examiner Newspaper, Forbes Woman, Women Lawyers Journal (NAWL), DC Spotlight,, Daily Muse, Lawyer and Statesman,, Georgetown Law Magazine, Legal Toolkit Podcast, and Huffington Post Business.  Ms. Blakely also is a frequent guest speaker and panelist at conferences on women's issues in business and the law profession, and she has been a featured speaker at the US Department of Justice, Civil Division.  She is the recipient of the Ms. JD 2015 "Sharing Her Passion Award" and the Lawyer Monthly “Women in Law Award 2016” for her work on behalf of women in the law. 

 Ms. Blakely graduated from the University of Wisconsin with distinction and from Georgetown University Law Center where she was a teaching fellow. She is a member of the CoachSource global network of leadership coaches and is certified as a career coach for the Indiana University Marshall Goldsmith Leadership Development and Executive Coaching Academy.   For more information, please visit 

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