Washington Supreme Court Rules Bar Exam Negatively Impacts Minorities, Will No Longer Require It For Lawyers

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Mariane Angela Contributor
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The Washington State Supreme Court officially abolished the traditional bar exam requirement for aspiring lawyers Friday due to its perceived negative impact on minorities.

The Supreme Court has announced that the bar exam is no longer a requirement for those who aspire to be practicing lawyers. The Bar Licensure Task Force claims that the exam is only minimally effective in measuring competency and noted its unfair barrier to marginalized communities aspiring to practice law, according to the Washington Administrative Office of the Courts. The Task Force on Bar Licensure found that the usual bar exam unfairly stops people from underrepresented groups from entering the legal profession. The exam is not good at measuring if someone is qualified.

Washington has followed Oregon in getting rid of the bar exam requirement, making it the second state to do so after Oregon. Other states like Minnesota, Nevada, South Dakota, and Utah are looking into different ways to license lawyers, the Spokesman-Review reported.

“These recommendations come from a diverse body of lawyers in private and public practice, academics, and researchers who contributed immense insight, counterpoints and research to get us where we are today,” Washington Supreme Court Justice Raquel Montoya-Lewis, who chaired the task force, said in a statement, according to the Spokesman-Review. “With these alternative pathways, we recognize that there are multiple ways to ensure a competent, licensed body of new attorneys who are so desperately needed around the state.” (RELATED: Delaware Supreme Court Lowers Bar Exam Score To Be More Diverse)

Under the new system, prospective lawyers can bypass the bar exam through a six-month apprenticeship paired with completing specific courses, the outlet reported. This approach not only opens up the profession to a broader demographic but also emphasizes practical experience. Candidates are required to engage in legal work for at least three hours weekly and earn 12 skills credits as licensed legal interns, accumulating up to 500 hours of law-related experience before graduating.

The initiative extends an opportunity to law clerks who haven’t completed law school to qualify as licensed practitioners after fulfilling 500 hours as licensed legal interns and meeting educational benchmarks under a mentor attorney’s supervision.

Established on Nov. 20, 2020, the task force was responsible for examining the exam’s disproportionate impact on examinees of color and those who are the first in their families to pursue a legal career.

“The task force will assess the efficacy of the Washington state bar exam and related requirements for licensing competent lawyers and examine current and past bar examination methods, passage rates, and alternative licensure methods,” the description stated.