Approximately 200 Harvard Law School students have signed a letter asking administrators to “publicly advocate” on their behalf for being granted law licenses without taking the bar exam.
The reason for the “emergency diploma privilege” request, according to The Crimson, is the ongoing coronavirus situation.
Letter co-author Donna Saadati-Soto said “it would be unfair to ask students” to take the bar exam since the pandemic “limits the ability of some students to prepare.”
The students are asking Law School officials to take four specific actions:
[A] public statement supporting the emergency diploma privilege across the United States; sharing the students’ letter with other law schools; sending a statement supporting the privilege to the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts; and hosting a virtual town hall for students to discuss their needs with the administration.
Last week, Massachusetts announced its bar exam would be postponed from late July to “an undetermined date in the fall.” Saadati-Soto and her peers claim this puts their future employment and “financial security” at risk.
In addition, Ms. Saadati-Soto was certain to not omit the intersectionality factor:
[She] said students who can secure employment before the postponed exam might have to decide whether to work full-time or study for the exam full-time — a decision she thinks would eliminate traditionally marginalized students from the legal profession.
“Folks that don’t have the financial security to be able to just quit their job and study for the bar at any moment — they might choose to forego the state bar,” she said. “That means low-income students, immigrant students, folks of color are the ones that are going to be more likely to have to forgo taking or studying a later exam because they’re going to be needing to work to provide for themselves and their family.”
She also said that the legal profession currently faces a mental health crisis, and having to take the bar exam could exacerbate the issue by adding unnecessary financial and academic stress in the midst of a global pandemic.
The letter also asserts more attorneys will be needed post-COVID-19 “to advocate for struggling small businesses, recently unemployed individuals, and families facing eviction.” Not allowing emergency diploma privilege will “deprive Americans of crucial legal assistance in the months ahead.”
Harvard Law spokesperson Jeff Neal said the Law School “appreciates” the letter and would “work with the state to ‘explore’ ways to address it.”
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