CA Approves Provisional Licensing Program for 2020 Law School Grads

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The California Supreme Court recently announced that it approved the State Bar’s request for the provisional licensure of 2020 law school graduates. A new rule will go into effective on November 17, 2020. The State Bar is slated to begin accepting applications on that day.

The Justices approved Rule of Court 9.49, which permits individuals to apply for the provisional licensure who became eligible to sit for the state bar exam between December 1, 2019 and December 31, 2020, either by graduating from a qualifying law school with a Juris Doctor or LLM degree during that time period, or by otherwise meeting the legal education requirements of Business and Professions Code §§ 6060 and 6061 during that time period.

“We know that this year’s graduates have been anxiously awaiting certainty about the details and timeline of this program, so we have been working hard to expedite its development,” bar interim executive director Donna Hershkowitz said in a written statement. “We look forward to being able to offer it to the first group of eligible graduates in the next four weeks.”

On July 16, 2020, in response to the challenges for law students because of the coronavirus pandemic, the California Supreme Court directed the State Bar of California “to implement, as soon as possible, a temporary supervised provisional licensure program—a limited license to practice specified areas of law under the supervision of a licensed attorney.”

The State Bar says that under the new rule, a provisionally licensed lawyer would be allowed to provide a “broad array of legal services for clients.” This includes the following:

  • Appearing before a court;
  • Drafting legal documents, contracts or transactional documents, and pleadings;
  • Engaging in negotiations and settlement discussions; and
  • Providing other legal advice.

Note that all of this work must be performed under the direct supervision of a qualifying supervising lawyer. The bar points out:

Unlike other states that adopted provisional licensure programs, the limits on what a provisionally licensed lawyer can do, or what needs to be done under direct versus general supervision, are largely left to the supervising attorney to determine the readiness of the provisionally licensed lawyer.

To qualify as a Provisionally Licensed Lawyer under Rule of Court 9.49, an applicant must:

  • Satisfy all of the requirements for admission to the State Bar with the following exceptions:
    • The applicant needn’t have sat for or passed the state bar exam;
    • The applicant needn’t have got a positive moral character determination, provided he or she submitted a complete Application for Determination of Moral Character to the State Bar prior to submission of an Application for Provisional Licensure and that application hasn’t resulted in issuance of an adverse moral character determination by the State Bar; and
    • The applicant needn’t have sat for or passed the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE) prior to submission of an Application for Provisional Licensure if the applicant attests they will complete the legal ethics components of the New Attorney Training within the first 30 days of licensure as a Provisionally Licensed Attorney. If the legal ethics components of the New Attorney Training isn’t made available to the applicant at the time of licensure, the 30 days will start on the first day the training components are available. The exemption in the rule doesn’t apply to Provisionally Licensed Lawyers who must take the legal ethics components in lieu of passage of the MPRE.
  • Comply with any rules or guidelines adopted by the State Bar relating to the State Bar’s Provisional Licensure Program;
  • Be employed by or volunteering with, or have a conditional offer of employment from or to volunteer with a firm that has an office located in California.; and
  • Practice law under a supervising lawyer who’s an active licensee in good standing of the State Bar, who satisfies the requirements for serving as a supervising lawyer under this rule.

All those in the program must identify themselves in filings and to clients and courts as a provisionally licensed lawyer. They must also pass a bar exam by June 2022 to continue practicing law.

Applicants for the program will pay a fee of $75 or $50.

The provisional licensure program will concluded on June 1, 2022, unless it’s extended by the Supreme Court.

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