As a law student at Gonzaga University, Allison Drescher spent three years preparing for the bar examination – two consecutive days of multiple-choice questions and complicated essay prompts that test not only the legal wit of aspiring lawyers but also their mental stamina.
Those two days came and went this week, under unusual circumstances. Fewer than 80 applicants to the Washington State Bar Association took the exam Tuesday and Wednesday at sites in Tacoma and Spokane.
Drescher and hundreds of others opted out, thanks to a state Supreme Court decision to temporarily waive the test requirement due to concerns about COVID-19, including the potential spread of the novel coronavirus among test takers.
Jennifer Olegario, a spokeswoman for the bar association, said 571 applicants chose to receive law licenses through “diploma privilege” – that is, on the merit of their degrees from accredited law schools. Only those who were registered to take the bar exam this week or in September were given that option.
About 50 more people are expected to take the exam in September. The bar association scheduled that second session and split the test groups between Tacoma and Spokane to allow for social distancing.
The Washington Supreme Court decided the state should grant diploma privilege in June following a petition from the faculty of Seattle University’s School of Law.
In a letter to the court, the school’s dean, Annette Clark, wrote that students’ lives had been “turned upside-down” by the pandemic and the civil unrest that followed the “senseless killings” of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor at the hands of police.
“Some of our students have said they have trouble sleeping, with the sound of helicopters overhead, the thunder of flash-bang grenades nearby and the stench of tear gas drifting indoors,” Clark wrote. “The emotional toll of the killings is high and taxing the graduates’ ability to effectively prepare for the bar exam.”