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Pa. Law School Grads Calling For State To Approve Licenses To Practice Without Passing Bar Exam

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- Bar applicants in Pennsylvania have joined a movement calling on high courts across the country to approve their licenses to practice law without passing the bar exam.

The 2020 Pennsylvania bar exam was scheduled to be administered in July. After being postponed twice because of the pandemic, the exam is now happening online in October.

The test happens to come several months after graduation, leaving law students with missed job opportunities and school loan payments.

"Their careers could be devastated by this," attorney Michael Engel told KDKA.

The attorney represents more than 300 Pennsylvania law school graduates who have joined a nationwide group called Law Students for Equitable Responses to COVID-19.

The attorney has filed a petition for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to grant permanent diploma privilege for bar applicants waiting to take the upcoming bar exam in Pennsylvania.

"There should be other educational and supervision components for their first year or two of practice," said Engel.

If approved, qualifying law school graduates could begin practicing law in the state of Pennsylvania without passing the bar exam.

Additionally, bar applicants like Joseph Stead, who has been studying for months, can start planning a future.

"The longer that this is delayed, the longer we are put in financial hardship. And the longer the community can't get access to the legal aid they need," Stead told KDKA.

The push has gained support from the Pennsylvania Bar Association. The organization cites concerns over the efficiency of the upcoming online bar exam.

Concerns include insufficient test questions and potential hacks and glitches to the online software that may inaccurately flag people for cheating.

"This unusual and unprecedented situation called for what is admittedly a rather extreme remedy," said the president of the PABA, David Schwager.

Stead told KDKA that he bet everything to become a lawyer and took on student loan debt with the intention of passing the bar exam. Starting his career could save him from potential financial ruin in the future.

Law school graduates in Oregon, Utah, Washington and Louisiana are already practicing law through diploma privilege. The Administrative Offices of Pennsylvania Courts were not immediately available for comment.

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