“Emergency Rule for Temporary Law Graduate Practice Provides Relief for Those Not Sitting for the July Bar Exam”
Among the numerous emergency COVID-related rules issued by the Colorado Supreme Court, C.R.C.P. 205.8 is one that speaks directly to the concerns raised by law school graduates about the recent in-person bar exam. The July bar exam went forward – in multiple rooms at multiple locations to achieve six-foot distancing – but more than 140 applicants opted to defer to the February 2021 bar exam.
Knowing that many of those applicants would be anxious to start working as lawyers prior to the February exam, the Court has made it possible for them to become certified for limited, supervised practice through Rule 205.8. The rule allows these recent graduates to work in a supervised setting with more autonomy than they would as mere law clerks. They can talk alone with clients. Certified graduates also can co-sign court-filed documents with licensed attorneys, and can appear in court in civil cases without a supervising attorney present with consent of the client and permission of the presiding judicial officer. Certified graduates also can assist at clinics providing legal services to low-income individuals. These recent graduates can gain valuable experience prior to sitting for the exam, and provide many employers with more flexibility in deploying certified graduates for client matters.
To obtain certification, the applicant must identify a supervising attorney, who needs to affirm a commitment to fulfilling the supervisory duties outlined in Rule 205.8. However, other Colorado-licensed attorneys in the supervisor’s same firm or organization can assist in fulfilling those responsibilities. The supervisory duties are consistent with typical levels of supervision of first-year lawyers. A supervisor may need to appear in court with the certified graduate if the judge presiding over the proceeding does not permit the graduate to appear without a licensed attorney.
Consistent with the Student Practice Rule at C.R.C.P. 205.7, applicants also need to obtain a basic certification from their law school dean. All of the application materials and certifications can be completed on-line through the Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel’s website. There is a $50 application fee. Certification is not available to graduates who have taken but not passed a bar examination.
Because certified graduates will not have an attorney registration number before they become licensed attorneys, they cannot file in the Co-Courts electronic filing system under their own names. However, they can co-sign court documents with a supervising attorney.
While Colorado’s Rule 205.8 is limited to the circumstances presented by COVID-19, some jurisdictions already allowed recent graduates to engage in limited practice under the supervision of a licensed attorney. For example, Tennessee has allowed supervised practice before taking the bar exam for decades. Like C.R.C.P. 205.8, Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 7, §10.4, has a straightforward process to register for supervised practice as well as basic supervisory responsibilities for licensed attorneys. Tennessee regulators state that the program has not been a source of disciplinary complaints regarding the supervising attorneys, nor a source of character and fitness issues for applicants. A number of Canadian provinces even require such supervised practice, known as “articling,” to become a licensed lawyer. Compared to law clerk duties, supervised practice can give recent graduates more experience working directly with clients (who need to be informed that the certified graduate is not a licensed attorney) and handling matters in court while getting feedback from licensed attorneys observing the graduates’ work.
In response to the uncertainties posed by COVID-19, a number of jurisdictions have announced plans or proposals to allow or expand temporary limited practice by recent graduates. According to the National Conference of Bar Examiners, those jurisdictions include Arizona, Arkansas, California, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, and Washington.
For more information about certification for limited, supervised practice as a graduate, please visit the Certified Limited Practice Graduate page at the Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel’s website.
Jessica E. Yates is Attorney Regulation Counsel for the Colorado Supreme Court. Ms. Yates oversees attorney admissions, attorney registration, mandatory continuing legal and judicial education, attorney discipline and diversion, regulation against the unauthorized practice of law, and inventory counsel matters. Prior to her appointment by the Colorado Supreme Court, Ms. Yates was in private practice as a partner at Snell & Wilmer LLP, focusing on appeals and litigation. She clerked for the Honorable David M. Ebel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. She earned her J.D. from the University of Virginia School of Law in 2006. Ms. Yates transitioned into law from a career in public policy and public administration, which focused on management, regulatory and funding issues for health and human services programs. She received her M.A. in Public Administration and Public Policy from the University of York, England, and her B.A. in Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Outside of work, Ms. Yates enjoys trail running, yoga, and rock-climbing.