Why passing the bar exam will no longer be a requirement to become an attorney in Washington state

Prospective lawyers will no longer have to pass the bar exam to work in Washington, the state Supreme Court ruled in a pair of orders authorizing alternative pathways to licensing.

The exam “disproportionately and unnecessarily blocks marginalized groups from entering the practice of law” and is “at best minimally effective for ensuring competent lawyers,” the Bar Licensure Task Force determined.

The Washington Supreme Court cleared the way for people to become lawyers in the state without passing the bar exam. The state will soon offer three alternative experience-based routes to becoming a licensed attorney. (John Moore/Getty Images)

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“In addition to the racism and classism written into the test itself the time and financial costs of the test reinforce historical inequities in our profession,” the task force wrote in its proposal for the change, released last month.

Washington’s Supreme Court appointed the task force to study alternative ways to show competency in 2020, after pandemic-related modifications “caused many to question the efficacy of the current exam,” according to the Washington Administrative Office of the Courts.

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The goal was to improve trust in the legal profession, reduce barriers to entry into the legal field, and “advance the cause of diversity equity and inclusion,” according to the bar task force.

The justices approved three experience-based alternatives to the bar exam.

Law school graduates can complete a six-month apprenticeship with an attorney and finish three state-approved courses.

“With these alternative pathways, we recognize that there are multiple ways to ensure a competent, licensed body of new attorneys who are so desperately needed around the state,” Washington Supreme Court Justice Raquel Montoya-Lewis said in a statement. (Getty Images )

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Law students can graduate practice-ready by finishing 12 qualifying skills credits and 500 hours of work as a legal intern.

Finally, law clerks who don’t attend law school can become attorneys by completing standardized educational materials and tests under the guidance of a mentoring lawyer, in addition to 500 hours of work as a legal intern.

The court also decreased the minimum score needed to pass the bar from 270 to 266, a reduction that was temporarily implemented during the coronavirus pandemic.

Washington Supreme Court Justice Raquel Montoya-Lewis noted in a statement that new attorneys are “desperately needed around the state.”

The Seattle Times reported last month that the state’s public defense system is “in danger of breaking down” from ongoing staffing shortages that have left some defendants waiting behind bars without an attorney and, in other cases, resulted in cases being dismissed without prosecution.

A timeline has yet to be set for the change. So far, Washington is only the second state to officially approve alternatives to the bar, following Oregon, which is set to implement the change in May, according to the Administrative Office of the Courts.

Several states are considering a similar move away from the bar, including California, Minnesota, Nevada and Utah.

Hannah Ray Lambert is an associate producer/writer with Fox News Digital Originals.

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