Washington Supreme Court rules prospective lawyers no longer have to pass 'racist' bar exam, claims it 'blocks marginalized groups' from practicing law

The court claimed the bar “blocks marginalized groups from entering the practice of law” and has “racism and classism written into the test itself.” 

Ari Hoffman Seattle WA

On Monday, the left-leaning Washington Supreme Court filed a pair of orders approving “alternative pathways” for people to become lawyers, nixing the requirement to pass the universal bar exam. The court claimed the test “blocks marginalized groups from entering the practice of law” and that bar has “racism and classism written into the test itself.” 

By doing so, the Evergreen State joined Oregon, the only other state to officially approve alternatives to the bar exam. 

The Bar Licensure Task Force, chaired by Washington Supreme Court Justice Raquel Montoya-Lewis and Seattle University Law School Dean Anthony Varona, studied options to the traditional bar exam following a year of pandemic-related bar exam modifications. 

The Task Force concluded in their analysis that the traditional bar exam “disproportionately and unnecessarily blocks marginalized groups from entering the practice of law, and the traditional bar exam is at best minimally effective for ensuring competent lawyers.”   

As well, the task force's portion in the filing claimed, “In the 1960s, while the Civil Rights movement phased out formal racism, a ‘veiled or nonformal racism came in—racism under the guise of excellence, fairness, equal opportunity, all the things that make up the constellation of attitudes and standards we call merit.'" for the bar exam. 

Justice Montoya-Lewis said in a statement of the case, “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.” 

The Court ordered that instead of the universal bar exam, the National Conference of Bar Examiners’ NextGen bar exam be implemented in Washington in the summer of 2026 and that the bar exam minimum passing score be reduced from 270 to 266, the score adopted during the pandemic. 

Additionally, the order created three experiential-learning alternatives to the traditional bar, one for law-school graduates, one for law-school students, and one for APR 6 law clerks. 

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

Law students would be allowed to graduate practice-ready by completing 12 qualifying skills credits and 500 hours of work as a licensed legal intern, while law clerks (enrolled in a non-law school course of study) would see the creation of additional standardized educational materials and benchmarks to be completed under the guidance of their tutors that 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. 

The Court plans to partner with the Washington State Bar Association, its regulatory agency, to create a plan and implementation timeline. The association has come under fire recently for antisemitic remarks written by one of its executives. 

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