As a law student at Gonzaga University, Allison Drescher spent three years preparing for the lawyer exam – two consecutive days of multiple choice questions and complicated essays that test not only the legal wit of aspiring lawyers but also the their mental endurance.
Those two days have come and gone this week, under unusual circumstances. Fewer than 80 Washington State Bar Association candidates took the exam Tuesday and Wednesday at the Tacoma and Spokane sites.
Drescher and hundreds of others quit, thanks to a decision by the state Supreme Court to temporarily waive the test requirement due to concerns about COVID-19, including the potential spread of the virus among test participants.
Jennifer Olegario, a spokesman for the lawyers association, said that 571 candidates have chosen to receive legal licenses through the “diploma privilege”, that is, regarding their diplomas from accredited law schools. Only those who were registered to take the bar exam this week or in September were given this option.
About 50 more people are expected to take the exam in September. The lawyers’ association planned that second session and split the test groups between Tacoma and Spokane to allow for social removal.
Washington’s Supreme Court ruled that the state should grant diploma privilege in June following a petition from the faculty of the faculty of law at the University of Seattle.
In a letter to the court, the school principal, Annette Clark, wrote that student life had been “turned upside down” by the pandemic and civil unrest that followed the “mindless murders” of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor at the hands of the police.
“Some of our students said they had difficulty sleeping, with the sound of helicopters flying high, the thunder of explosive shells nearby and the smell of tear gas moving inside,” wrote Clark. “The emotional toll of the murders is high and penalizes the ability of graduates to effectively prepare for the lawyer exam.”
Drescher, a 25-year-old from Orondo, Washington, recited the prosecutor’s oath at the Spokane County Courthouse on July 13, and will soon begin working for American District Judge Rosanna Peterson in Spokane.
Although not required, Drescher plans to take the Idaho bar exam in February. In part, he said, he wants pride and satisfaction to pass a test he has spent years preparing for. But she is also worried about her ability to progress as a lawyer because some in the field may not take her seriously if she hasn’t passed the exam.
“In my opinion, I think what I do after law school and in my job will speak for itself. But I don’t want to have any question marks next to my name, “he said.” You have those people who are adamant in thinking it’s a rite of passage that every young lawyer should do. “
Drescher stressed that legal licenses are not “just handed over” to those who receive the diploma.
In addition to the faculty of law, Drescher passed a legal ethical test called the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination last year. Last week, he took another mandatory test with 60 multiple choice questions on Washington state law. The association of lawyers also carries out in-depth background checks to review the “character and suitability” of each candidate.
“I think the layman really can’t understand how rigorous the three years of legal education are and how difficult it was to focus in the middle of a pandemic for a test of this grade,” said Drescher. “It’s really unprecedented, and I think that’s why the Supreme Court has taken unprecedented action.”
The decision to waive the exam requirement has been controversial in the legal communities, with some stressing the need to uniformly measure the capabilities of each new lawyer.
Sara Maleki, a personal injury attorney who earned a law degree from Gonzaga in 2009, said she recognized the value of the attorney’s exam as she prepared to try her first case. The “mental marathon” of the test not only ensures that new lawyers are familiar with certain areas of the law, but also gives them a sense of the stamina needed to work effectively, he said.
“If they look at two candidates with the same credentials, but one has passed the bar and the other not, I have to think that most companies will be more interested in the candidate who accepted and passed the bar,” said Maleki. “I also have to think that most people would like to hire a lawyer who has passed the bar.”
Law professor Gonzaga Ann Murphy, specialized in tax law and civil procedure, supports the decision to grant the privilege of the diploma.
Murphy noted that bar exams varied widely from state to state until the 1970s, when the American Bar Association developed a uniform version used in many jurisdictions. Scores required to obtain a legal license still vary by state. Wisconsin has always granted diploma privilege to Wisconsin law school graduates.
In addition, the lawyer exam is plagued by many of the same inherent problems and biases as other standardized tests, said Murphy, who started teaching Gonzaga in 2000.
“What really favors is memorization. And as a lawyer, are you really going to memorize everything about a case? No, “said Murphy.
“It favors whites, so whites tend to do better,” he added. “Those in low-income or minority communities do worse, and I’ve noticed this for over 20 years. It’s really a shame because those students did really well. They also don’t take the test. “
Just over 73% of accredited law graduates passed the lawyer exam in Washington in July 2019. Exactly half of them passed the exam in February.
Murphy noted that the exam is expensive too. The test itself costs hundreds of dollars and most graduates take a week-long preparation course after law school.
More than any test, Drescher said he highlighted his experience as a clerk in the Spokane County High Court and as an intern with a local law firm.
“These experiences have given me practical experience in the real world that a standardized test does not offer you,” said Drescher. The bar exam, he said, measures “how much you can learn, memorize and conform to the standards that bar exam evaluators want to see.”