Washington puts new laws on the books to become an attorney

Mar 19, 2024, 3:53 PM | Updated: 7:42 pm

Photo: A Bremerton man who made 20 "swatting" calls around the U.S. and in Canada, prompting real e...

A Bremerton man who made 20 "swatting" calls around the U.S. and in Canada, prompting real emergency responses, has been sentenced. (Photo courtesy of KIRO 7)

(Photo courtesy of KIRO 7)

Washington is now the fourth state in the country not to require attorneys to pass the bar exam.

This week, the Washington Supreme Court filed a pair of orders approving alternative pathways for someone to become a licensed attorney. This will be the first time in state history that lawyer admissions rules do not necessitate some form of bar exam to demonstrate competency to earn a law license.

“These alternative methods often include some sort of apprenticeship, actually working in the field under somebody who is licensed,” legal analyst Ashlynn Mejia, told The Gee & Ursula Show on KIRO Newsradio. “The sooner you can get into your field and start learning from people around you, the better off you are going to be.”

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The National Conference of Bar Examiners’ NextGen bar exam addresses many of the identified flaws in the current bar exam by focusing on real-world skills and practice.

“The court’s decisions in adopting the NextGen Bar Exam, a revised cut score, and the alternate pathways to licensure will protect the public, allow law school graduates a choice of modalities to demonstrate their competency, and will immediately help address the severe shortage of licensed attorneys in broad swaths of the state,” Seattle University Law School Deam Anthony Varona told KIRO Newsradio.

Law students now have 3 alternatives to become attorney

Create three experiential-learning alternatives to the bar exam: one for law school graduates, one for law school students, and one for law clerks (who are enrolled in a non-law school course of study).

For graduates, this would entail a six-month apprenticeship under the guidance and supervision of a qualified attorney. During that time, the graduates would be required to complete three courses of standardized coursework.

“These recommendations come from a diverse body of lawyers in private and public practice, academics, and researchers who contributed immense insight, counterpoints, and research to get us where we are today,” said Washington State Supreme Court Justice Raquel Montoya-Lewis in a statement.

The experiential pathway would allow law students to graduate practice-ready by completing 12 qualifying skills credits and 500 hours of work as a licensed legal intern. They would also be required to submit a portfolio of this work to waive the bar exam.

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For law clerks (enrolled in a non-law school course of study), the creation of additional standardized educational materials and benchmarks, to be completed under the guidance of their tutors, dovetail with the requirements of the law school graduate apprenticeship and 500 hours of work as a licensed legal intern to be eligible to waive the bar exam.

In 2020, the Washington Supreme Court created the Bar Licensure Task Force to examine alternative paths to becoming a licensed attorney in the state. The task force looked at the “efficacy of the Washington state bar exam” and assessed “disproportionate impacts on examinees of color and first-generation examinees.”

Washington is the 4th state to no longer require bar exam

Washington joins Oregon, Wisconsin and New Hampshire as the fourth state to no longer require the bar exam to become a licensed attorney. Supreme courts in California, Minnesota and Utah are considering similar moves.

The court’s order did not say when the new methods would be implemented, but it directed the Washington State Bar Association to create a committee to work on their implementation.

Bill Kaczaraba is a content editor at MyNorthwest. You can read his stories here. Follow Bill on X, formerly known as Twitter, here and email him here

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Washington puts new laws on the books to become an attorney