Practicing Law Without a License: The Coming New Normal for Recent Grads?

By Joseph Fawbush, Esq. on April 08, 2020 | Last updated on August 10, 2021

As bar examinations have been delayed across the country, New Jersey became the first state to allow recent law student graduates to practice without first taking the bar. More may follow.

The order from the New Jersey Supreme Court highlights the benefits involved. Law students who have already secured a position will not lose their ability to help their new firm. Law students can gain experience, and hopefully employment, by immediately practicing with supervision. Additionally, the need for low-cost legal services is increasing, some of which can be done by recent law graduates looking to gain experience.

What Recent Grads Can Do

New Jersey's order allows recent graduates to enter appearances, draft pleadings, negotiate and enter into settlement agreements, and even provide legal counsel, provided a supervising licensed attorney oversees the work. It is not available to recent grads who have previously taken the bar and failed.

The American Bar Association's Board of Governors has also issued a resolution for the highest courts in all states to similarly adopt limited, supervised practice for recent law graduates. At Harvard Law School, students asked administrators to publicly support emergency diploma privileges in a letter signed by one-third of the student body. A similar national law student petition is being submitted to the National Conference of Bar Examiners.

Jurisdictions may vary in what diploma privileges they grant recent graduates, if any. For example, it is not clear whether diploma privileges would extend to court appearances. If state supreme courts begin to allow recent graduates to practice, it is likely that would vary by jurisdiction.

When Will the Bar Exam Be Available?

States still anticipate having the bar exam in the fall. The NCBE itself has offered an alternative date for the bar exam but has not said as of the date of this writing that it is cancelling the July exam entirely. For now, it is still up to individual jurisdictions to postpone the bar exam. There is also no certainty as to whether the bar exam will be offered remotely.

For now, uncertainty remains for law school graduates entering into what would ordinarily be a packed time preparing for the bar and entering into summer associate positions. It is a rapidly developing situation, but states are beginning to address these issues.

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