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Passing bar exam no longer required for law license in Washington state because of ‘race-equity concerns’

The Supreme Court of Washington state has ruled that passing the bar exam will no longer be necessary for law licensure since such a requirement “disproportionately and unnecessarily blocks historically marginalized groups from entering the practice of law.”

About three and a half years ago, the Washington Supreme Court created the Washington Bar Licensure Task Force, which it ordered to “assess the efficacy of the Washington state bar licensure requirements” and to suggest possible alternatives to them. Last fall, the task force settled on a list of recommendations, which were then released to the public for comment. On Friday, the court issued its decision on the matter, taking into account the opinions of the task force and the public.

In its ruling, the court said that offering law students a bar exam is still necessary but insisted that the current Uniform Bar Exam is racially biased. It is a test infused with “racism and classism,” the ruling stated, prompting “race-equity concerns” in those wishing to “advance the cause of diversity equity and inclusion.” The ruling even used a tortured metaphor that compared the legal profession in the state to a “dam” that has left “people of color” thirsty for more access to legal services.

To “reduce barriers to entry into the legal profession” without compromising the public’s trust in the system, the court authorized two “experiential” ways for earning a law license without having to pass the bar. One way involves law school graduates and upper-level students apprenticing under a supervising attorney for six months; the other requires law school students to complete 500 hours of hands-on, practical work as well as 12 other skills credits.

Seattle University School of Law Dean Anthony Varona, a member of the original task force, claimed that these new pathways to licensure will address the “serious legal deserts problem” in the state as well as “the fairness and bias concerns with the traditional licensure.”

With this ruling, Washington becomes the second state in the U.S. to nix passing the bar exam for legal licensure, following in the footsteps of Oregon, which implemented similar measures back in November. Minnesota, Nevada, South Dakota, and Utah are currently considering alternative pathways to licensure as well.

In addition to making the bar exam optional, the Washington Supreme Court also encouraged the state to ditch the UBE and instead adopt the National Conference of Bar Examiners’ NextGen bar exam, which will become available in 2026. The court determined that this test is better suited for measuring “the competencies practitioners are looking for in newly licensed lawyers” because it:

-limits the need to memorize “highly detailed information,”
-employs various types of questions, including multiple choice, short answer, and essays, and
-reduces the amount of “post-graduate prep time” needed, thereby encouraging “a more thoughtful and less ‘speeded'” approach to test-taking.

According to its website, the NextGen test contains questions written “by diverse teams” of legal experts and will test “a broad range of foundational lawyering skills.”

-The Blaze

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