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    19, August 2020
    Public Rights Project Leads Coalition of Public Interest Organizations Advocating for Diploma Privilege Due to Public Health & Equity Concerns

Public Rights Project Leads Coalition of Public Interest Organizations Advocating for Diploma Privilege Due to Public Health & Equity Concerns


July 28, 2020

Contact: Elianne Ramos,Chief Communications Officer, [email protected], 212.739.7513

Madison Jacobs, [email protected]


126 public interest organizations sign onto letter supporting diploma privilege as a safe and equitable remedy to state bar examinations during the COVID-19 pandemic

Oakland, Calif. – Leading a coalition of more than 120 public interest organizations, Public Rights Project issued a powerful public letter to the National Board of Bar Examiners and 34 state boards overseeing their bar examinations in response to the ongoing problems and systematic unfairness resulting from efforts to administer the bar exam during a global pandemic. Due to the demonstrated inability of state bars to respond to this crisis effectively or equitably, the broad coalition representing civil rights, legal services, and national advocacy organizations called for these licensing bodies to provide diploma privilege to recent law school graduates in lieu of the exam.

Among those joining PRP on the letter are American Constitution Society, Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Center for Reproductive Rights, Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund, Earthjustice, Justice Catalyst, Latino Justice PRLDEF, NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, National Lawyers Guild, National Women’s Law Center, People’s Parity Project, and several local affiliates of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Given current economic and political conditions, public interest attorneys are needed more than ever. As the letter explains, holding a bar examination under these conditions disrupts the flow of new lawyers into direct-service providers, government offices, and other public interest legal positions. This further undermines access to justice for underserved and under-resourced communities that already struggle to obtain legal assistance.

To date, several state bar examiners have proceeded with examinations in-person and using online formats. According to the letter, these have been plagued with several issues from examinees testing positive for COVID-19 to significant technical difficulties disrupting administration of the test. Continued in-person exams risk further transmission of the virus, which disproportionately affects people of color and those from lower-income households. Online exams particularly burden those with disabilities, given the ongoing failures to provide adequate accommodations, and those who do not have reliable internet connectivity or extended access to a suitable testing space.

“Our legal profession suffers from a shocking lack of diversity,” said LiJia Gong, Counsel at Public Rights Project. “Administering the bar exam during a pandemic only exaggerates inequities inherent in the system. Offering diploma privilege now is a small step toward ensuring that more lawyers admitted to the bar reflect the communities they will serve. Given the grave needs of many marginalized communities during this economic crisis, especially when it comes to legal services and access to justice, diploma privilege now is a fair and appropriate response to the moment.”

As the letter explains, efforts to administer the bar examination under these conditions exacerbates existing inequities. Sitting for the bar exam during a global pandemic is a substantial structural barrier for many recent graduates, particularly those of color, from lower-income households, and/or with health conditions that make them (or a family member) at-risk. Passing the bar requires sustained and focused study, which is made substantially more difficult for those who must also balance caring for family members, who live in crowded and noisy home environments and no longer have access to libraries or other quiet places of study, and who must manage chronic health conditions. The challenge of balancing all of these demands also has become more difficult since bar exams have been delayed more than two months in many states. For example, in Florida, the bar exam was cancelled just days before its scheduled date, causing more delays for thousands of applicants.

Given all of these and other concerns, the letter demands the state licensing bodies extend diploma privilege (licensing recent law graduates without requiring a bar examination) because it is the only fair, safe, and administrable option. Wisconsin licenses lawyers through this practice for in-state graduates on a permanent basis, while Louisiana, Oregon, Utah, and Washington have implemented some form of diploma privilege on a temporary basis in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The uncertainty and unpredictability of bar exam scheduling exacerbates the uncertainty we already face under a global pandemic,” said Vince Young, a recent law school graduate and Legal Fellow at Public Rights Project. “This means finding the time, budget, and space in a period of great precarity and upheaval to prepare for an exam which may not even happen. For graduates having to take in-person exams, this means risking their lives and the lives of those around them to enter the profession.”

The following public interest organizations also joined the diploma privilege letter:

A Better Balance

ACLU of Florida

ACLU of Georgia

ACLU of Kentucky

ACLU of New Jersey

ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties

ACLU of Southern California

ACLU of Texas

Advocates for Basic Legal Equality, Inc. (ABLE)

Advocates for the Elderly and Disabled

Alternatives for Community & Environment (ACE)

American Association of University Women (AAUW)

American Constitution Society

American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC)

Americans United for Separation of Church and State

Amistad Law Project

Appellate Advocates

ArchCity Defenders

Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF)

Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law

Bet Tzedek Legal Services

BPI (Business and Professional People in the Public Interest)

BU Law Immigrants’ Rights and Human Trafficking Program

California Innocence Project

Center for Constitutional Rights

Center for Popular Democracy

Center for Public Interest Advocacy & Collaboration at Northeastern University School of Law

Center for Public Representation

Center for Reproductive Rights

Centro Legal de la Raza

ChangeLab Solutions

Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race & Justice at Harvard Law School

Chicago Community Bond Fund

Columbia Law School Immigrants’ Rights Clinic

Columbia Legal Services

Committee of Public Counsel Services

Community Legal Services, Philadelphia

Connecticut Legal Rights Project, Inc.

Defender Impact Initiative

Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund

Dominican Bar Association


Education Law Center-PA

Election Protection Arizona

Equal Justice Center

Equal Justice Society

Equal Rights Advocates

Exoneration Project

Fair and Just Prosecution

Family and Children’s Law Center

First Shift Justice Project

Gideon’s Promise

GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders

Hawaii Innocence Project

Health Law Advocates

Hispanic National Bar Association

Immigrant Justice Corps

Immigrant Legal Resource Center

Innocence Project of Florida

Innocence Project of Minnesota

Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection

Just Futures Law

Justice Catalyst

Justice in Aging

Juvenile Law Center

Katharine & George Alexander Community Law Center

Kentucky Innocence Project

Lambda Legal

LatinoJustice PRLDEF

Law School Transparency

Lawyers for Civil Rights (Boston)

Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area

Legal Action Center

Legal Aid at Work

Legal Aid of Sonoma County

Legal Clinic for the Disabled

Legal Rights Center

Legal Services for Children

Massachusetts Advocates for Children

Massachusetts Law Reform Institute

MetroWest Legal Services

Midwest Innocence Project

Mississippi Center for Justice

Mississippi Workers’ Center for Human Rights

Mobilization For Justice, Inc.

Movement Law Lab

NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc.

National Center for Law and Economic Justice

National Center for Lesbian Rights

National Disabled Law Students Association

National Employment Law Project

National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild

National Lawyers Guild

National Organization for Women

National Women’s Law Center

Neighborhood Legal Services Association

New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty

New York Lawyers for the Public Interest

Northern California Innocence Project

Northwest Immigrant Rights Project

Northwest Workers’ Justice Project

Oasis Legal Services

Office of the Appellate Defender

People’s Parity Project

Philadelphia Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts

Pride Law Fund

Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts

Protect Democracy

Public Justice

Public Justice Center

Public Law Center

Skadden Fellowship Program

Social Justice Collaborative

Southern Center for Human Rights

Southwestern Pennsylvania Legal Services

Texas Appleseed

The Bronx Defenders

The Harvard Legal Aid Bureau

The Rhode Island Center for Justice

Towards Justice

Transformative Justice Coalition

Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund

Urban Justice Center

Women’s Law Project


About Public Rights

Public Rights Project is a national non-profit, based in Oakland, that builds state and local governments’ capacity to enforce their residents’ rights. Their mission is to close the gap between the promise of our laws and the lived reality of our most vulnerable communities. They work to achieve this mission by training attorney fellows to catalyze the proactive work of government law offices; providing strategic support in legal strategy, research, partnerships and data analytics to help offices develop high-impact legal cases; and designing and spreading community outreach and organizing approaches that empower community residents and advocates to be active partners in an enforcement agenda rooted in equity. Public Rights Project is a project of the Tides Center, a 501(c)(3) nonpartisan nonprofit organization.

For more information:


Twitter: @public_rights

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LatinoJustice PRLDEF works to create a more just society by using and challenging the rule of law to secure transformative, equitable and accessible justice, by empowering our community and by fostering leadership through advocacy and education. For more than 40 years, LatinoJustice PRLDEF has acted as an advocate against injustices throughout New York and beyond. To learn more about LatinoJustice, visit