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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2019 - 2020 Regular Session


Posted: August 25, 2020 03:30 PM
From: Senator Lawrence M. Farnese, Jr.
To: All Senate members
Subject: Diploma Privilege
Covid 19 has brought many careers to a halt. Businesses have shuttered and schools have had to scramble to continue operations and have gotten very creative at creating online and socially distanced solutions. However, our graduating law school students have been particularly stymied. No other profession predicates the ability to practice their profession on such a long, complicated, and state – specific exam. The class of 2020 expected to study for the bar exam for the same period of time as all classes that came before, May graduates would take the exam in July and start their careers when they receive results in mid-October, therefore graduates count on a limited period of roughly 6 months to start their practice. 
This year, the bar exam was first delayed from July to October due to Covid 19 and now is going to be offered entirely online and remotely. The software for this exam has had problems in other states where it was offered to fewer students, concerns abound on potential conflicts in unreliable internet, access by the disabled, and the potential for cheating. No other profession has such a lengthy exam, offered in so few locations to so many students. Further, the rapid changes in this evolving situation impacts the ability of students to hold steady jobs and study sufficiently for a moving target. These students are already losing out on opportunities and current provisions requiring intense supervision of unlicensed attorneys is not permissive enough to allow these students to start their jobs so they are left in limbo. 
The bar exam has no proven impact on the ability of an attorney to practice law. We have a robust training program, students have to demonstrate proficiencies in all subjects through three years of law school to graduate, and research has shown, standardized testing unfairly penalizes economically disadvantaged and minority students even under better circumstances. Furthermore, the Bar has robust rules for the regulation of the practice of law which would swiftly discipline any attorney who is unable or unwilling to comply with the standards of the Supreme Court. 
While the Supreme Court is the sole regulator of the legal profession we can certainly encourage the equitable treatment of these new attorneys, therefore, I am introducing the following package of legislation and I invite you to join me in doing so. 
  1. A resolution urging the Supreme Court to reverse its decision to offer an online exam and create another pathway to provide admission to these graduates. 
  2. A free standing act providing for admission to the bar for these recent graduates. 
  3. An amendment to Title 42 providing that those extended diploma privilege are not engaging in the unauthorized practice of law.

Introduced as SB1319