Mandatory Bar Exam Nixed In Washington State Over ‘Equity’ Concerns

The state will create three alternatives to the bar exam.
Closeup shot of a young man writing on a note pad
(Getty Images)

The bar exam will no longer be required for people who want to practice law in Washington state, the state Supreme Court ruled last week, prompted by equity concerns.

In a pair of orders Friday, the Washington Supreme Court approved “alternative pathways to lawyer licensure,” the court said in a press release.

The decision follows recommendations made by the state’s Bar Licensure Task Force, which was formed in 2020 to examine the issue. The task force recommended getting rid of the mandatory bar exam in order to “advance the cause of diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

The task force found that the traditional bar exam “disproportionately and unnecessarily blocks historically marginalized groups from entering the practice of law.”

“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 said in its recommendations. “Despite these issues, data indicates that the bar exam is at best minimally effective for ensuring competent lawyers.”

Under the court’s new changes, Washington will create three “experiential-learning” alternatives to the bar exam.

Law school graduates will have to do a six-month apprenticeship under the guidance and supervision of a qualified attorney as well as take three more standardized courses.

Students still in law school must complete 12 qualifying skills credits and do 500 hours of work as a licensed legal intern. They must then submit a portfolio of this work to waive the bar exam.


Law clerks who are not attending law school must also complete 500 hours of work as a licensed legal intern as well as meet certain benchmarks and complete standardized educational materials.

The state is also lowering the minimum score to pass the bar from 270 to 266, a lower threshold previously adopted during the pandemic. Those who do take the rigorous test will take a new, updated bar exam that “addresses many of the identified flaws in the current bar exam by focusing on real-world skills and practice” starting in summer, 2026.

The court is also calling for assessments and programs to help lawyers remain competent throughout their careers, not just when they are licensed. A timeline for all the changes is not yet set, but they will be implemented by the Washington State Bar Association.

Last week’s decision makes Washington the second state to nix the bar exam requirement after Oregon made the same decision for similar reasons in November.

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