By Ona Alston Dosunmu
In October of 2020, the California Supreme Court approved a Provisional Licensure Program that allows eligible 2019 and 2020 law school graduates to practice as provisionally licensed lawyers under the supervision of fully licensed practitioners. In early 2021, the program was expanded to allow individuals who scored 1390 or higher on a California bar exam administered between July 2015 and February 2020 to participate in the program in lieu of taking the exam again if they complete 300 hours of supervised legal practice under the program. More specific details about the full program can be found at the State Bar’s website here.
Under Rule 9.49 of the California Rules of Professional Conduct, a provisionally licensed lawyer is allowed to provide a broad array of legal services for clients, including appearing before a court, drafting legal documents, contracts or transactional documents, and pleadings, engaging in negotiations and settlement discussions, and providing other legal advice, provided that the work is performed under the supervision of a qualifying supervising lawyer. In essence, provisionally licensed lawyers are allowed to engage in the same activities that a fully licensed lawyer is permitted to engage in, under their supervising lawyer’s supervision and subject to certain restrictions.
Based on information recently acquired from the State Bar, as of March 25, 2021, within the group who graduated between December 2019 and December 2020 (the “COVID generation”), there were 415 provisionally licensed lawyers and applications were pending for another 475. Another 394 individuals began as provisionally licensed lawyers but did not complete the program presumably because they became fully licensed upon admission to the bar.
With respect to the expanded program—the group of individuals eligible because they took the bar exam between July 2015 and February 2020 and scored 1390 or higher, there are currently 208 provisionally licensed lawyers. A whopping 525 individuals have begun their applications. There is some worry among those watching the development of this program that the 1,000 individuals who began their applications may be precluded from participation because they cannot identify a supervising attorney. This is of great concern to CLA and we encourage members who can do so to seriously consider taking on a provisionally licensed lawyer. The supervision burden is not onerous—the form supervisors complete can be found here.
There are a myriad of reasons for fully licensed attorneys to hire and commit to supervising a provisionally licensed lawyer. Here are a few:
- It helps firms expand with additional resources and, assuming you bill more for the new lawyer’s time than you charge a client for it, they should make the firm money;
- It allows lawyers to “pay it forward” and help the next generation of California lawyers;
- It helps the pandemic generation of lawyers enter the profession after a challenging year;
- It may help our collective efforts to increase diversity in the profession and move toward a profession that better mirrors the population in California;
- Assuming you set a good example, it can contribute to civility, integrity and professionalism in your local legal community by shaping the ethics and civil communication style of your supervisee;
If you are active in your law school’s alumni efforts, this program is an excellent way to help the school’s alumni outreach efforts and support a fellow alum;
- This is a great way to demonstrate your leadership in the legal community; and
- With respect to the individuals in the expanded program, it helps level the playing field—had some of these licensees taken the bar exam today, they would be admitted to practice. Now they need your help and expertise.
CLA is very supportive of the provisional licensure program and has set up a resource page and electronic community for members (sign in with your website log-in) who may be interested in taking on a provisional licensee and for provisional licensees themselves (membership in CLA is free to provisionally licensed lawyers). We will be reaching out directly to provisionally licensed lawyers to welcome them to CLA and to the profession but please help the profession by making sure that everyone who wants to be a provisionally licensed lawyer gets a supervisor!