By now, folks have undoubtedly heard about the chaos surrounding the July administration of the D.C. Uniform Bar Exam. To recap: the bar exam lost its usual location for an in-person test to an anime convention and the new digs can only hold 1,100 test takers. That’s half of the number of people who took the July 2021 exam. They also instituted a preference system for folks that graduated from D.C. law schools. A group of deans of non-D.C. law schools were pretty upset about the whole matter — especially since the full details about the seat crunch weren’t shared with test takers until many other jurisdictions’ registration deadlines had passed.
So, let’s start with the good news: there’ll be more seats at the July bar exam! The University of the District of Columbia will provide a second location for the test with 450 extra seats. While 1,550 total seats is still fewer than the number of people that took the test in 2021 (or 2020 or 2019), it’s a lot better.
But another development is the revelation that the deans of the D.C. law schools were involved in and advocated for the preferential treatment of their students. How do we know this? Well, the deans sent a letter (available in full on the next page) explaining themselves.
As deans of DC-area law schools, we requested the registration procedure that the Court adopted. The District is home to a large and diverse collection of law schools: American, Catholic, George Washington, Georgetown, Howard, and the University of the District of Columbia. Many graduates from our schools are long-term DC residents, and collectively our graduates end up working in a wide variety of legal jobs within the District. Many chose a DC law school specifically because they wanted to practice in the District. Yet, because this jurisdiction is a magnet for law graduates from other regions, last year’s limit on the number of seats meant that many local residents were unable to take the bar in the jurisdiction in which they live and plan to practice. As a result, graduates of DC-area law schools, including many of limited means, were forced to scramble to register for, prepare for, and travel to bar exams in jurisdictions where they did not live, did not study law, and never planned to practice, in order to use that score to waive into and become a member of the DC Bar. Others felt forced to wait until the February exam.
The letter also references a similar plan from COVID season 1 when New York proposed a preference system for their local law schools. Of course, that was 2020 and the pandemic made fools of us all and the plan was scrapped when the exam went virtual.
But it did get me thinking about the ruckus around that New York plan. Like with the D.C. plan, deans of non-New York law school were also in a furor over that plan and noted their displeasure in a letter to the Chief Judge of the New York Court of Appeals:
Still, as you can imagine, the news of your approach has fallen hard on the many students who had planned to sit for the bar in New York this summer or fall, a number of whom have already physically returned or relocated to New York during this pandemic. And we worry that the resulting delay in the exam’s administration and admission to practice will fall hardest on the most economically vulnerable of our graduates and on those whose continued presence in the United States will be compromised by the delay.
Of note, Berkeley Law’s dean Erwin Chemerinsky — who is on record as saying all preference systems are “likely unconstitutional” — said a lawsuit was being prepared to challenge New York’s plan.
But here’s the rub — among the law school deans that signed that 2020 letter complaining about the special treatment for New York law schools were representatives of *several* D.C. law schools… who two years later are ASKING FOR THAT EXACT SPECIAL TREATMENT FOR THEIR OWN STUDENTS. American University Washington College of Law and George Washington University had different deans that signed the letter in 2020 than in 2022. But Georgetown’s William Treanor and Howard’s Danielle Holley-Walker signed both letters.
And I understand wanting to advocate for your students at all times, but consistency would be nice. This has some strong parental “do as I say, not as I do” energy.
Kathryn Rubino is a Senior Editor at Above the Law, host of The Jabot podcast, and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. AtL tipsters are the best, so please connect with her. Feel free to email her with any tips, questions, or comments and follow her on Twitter (@Kathryn1).