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The Diploma Privilege Manifesto (JURIST)

JURIST, July 9, 2020

The Diploma Privilege Manifesto

All this began to change after the Civil War with the appearance of the first modern professional bar association in New York City. Created in 1870, the Association of the Bar of the City of New York wasted little time in turning its attention to bar admission, and by 1875 it was calling for New York’s diploma privilege to be abolished in favor of a written bar exam administered by a permanent board of examiners that it would in practice control. In other words, it wanted entrance to the profession to be effectively controlled by the profession, an arrangement that was particularly appealing to established attorneys caught in the midst of the ‘Great Depression’ of 1873-79. Association members claimed the New York law schools were releasing a ‘flood of lawyers’ into the bar, and that the nine-to-twelve month instructional programs then offered by the schools provided less education to newcomers than was needed to keep out what they called the ‘unworthy.’

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