Fact Check: Washington State Did NOT Get Rid Of Its Lawyer Licensure Requirements -- Bar Exam Just Became One Of Many Ways To Earn License

Fact Check

  • by: Lead Stories Staff
Fact Check: Washington State Did NOT Get Rid Of Its Lawyer Licensure Requirements -- Bar Exam Just Became One Of Many Ways To Earn License Now Optional

Will Washington state remove its bar exam without offering any other requirements for law licensure? No, that's not true: Although aspiring attorneys will not be required to take the bar exam, alternative methods are now being offered. Plus, taking the bar exam is still an option.

The claim was implied in a post (archived here) on Instagram on March 18, 2024. The post included a video, with the narrator of the video saying:

Washington state will no longer require its attorneys to pass the bar exam. Now you might ask yourself, 'Why would they do something like that?' Well, they tell us: Apparently, the bar exam 'disproportionately and unnecessarily blocks marginalized groups from becoming practicing attorneys.' So because there wasn't enough diversity among the people who were passing the bar exam, they just said, 'To heck with it, we'll get rid of the whole thing!' I've heard that there are decent arguments for removing the bar exam, but I can promise you this is not one of them.

This is what the post looked like on Instagram at the time of writing:

washington state bar exam IG post PM.png

(Source: Instagram screenshot taken on Thu Mar 21 18:45:09 2024 UTC)

However, the bar exam is not going away. The change is that the bar exam won't be the only way aspiring attorneys can earn their law license. The Washington Supreme Court published orders on March 15, 2024, saying that alternative measures can be used to obtain law licensure in the state (archived here).

A press release published by Washington Courts on March 15, 2024, explains the changes (archived here). The state will maintain a bar exam, but will also adopt a new version called the NextGen bar exam, which is developed by the National Conference of Bar Examiners and is scheduled to debut in the state in July 2026 (archived here). This version of the bar exam will also be adopted by other states (archived here). The state will also offer three "experiential-learning alternatives to the bar exam." There is an option for three categories of aspiring attorneys: one for a specific category of law clerks, one for law school graduates and one for law school students.

The changes were not implemented as a shallow diversification effort. The press release from Washington Courts states:

After more than three years of extensive study--bringing together data and research with testimony from scholars and experts--the Task Force came to two important findings: The traditional bar exam disproportionately and unnecessarily blocks marginalized groups from entering the practice of law, and the traditional bar exam is at best minimally effective for ensuring competent lawyers.

The main objective of the court's admissions rules is public protection, with recommendations focusing lawyer admissions standards on real-world practice and skills while reducing historical barriers to the profession.

Washington is not the first state to offer alternatives to the bar exam. Wisconsin, New Hampshire and Oregon have also provided aspiring attorneys different ways to become licensed (archived here).

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