California Provisional Licensing Program to Launch November 17, 2020

The California Supreme Court announced in October that it approved the State Bar’s proposal for the provisional licensure of 2020 law school graduates. New Rule of Court 9.49 will be effective November 17, 2020, and the State Bar is slated to begin accepting applications on that day.

“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,” said Donna Hershkowitz, Interim Executive Director. “We look forward to being able to offer it to the first group of eligible graduates in the next four weeks.”

The new program will allow eligible 2020 law school graduates who have not passed a bar exam to apply to practice law in California as provisionally licensed lawyers under the supervision of fully licensed lawyers. The initial group eligible for provisional licensure are those who graduated law school between December 1, 2019, and December 31, 2020.

Provisionally licensed lawyers will be able to engage in all the activities of a fully licensed lawyer, subject to certain restrictions. Both the provisionally licensed lawyer and their supervising lawyer are expected to abide by all applicable State Bar rules and guidelines and are bound by the disciplinary authority of the California Supreme Court and the State Bar. 

The Provisional Licensure Working Group, which crafted the rule under the leadership of Trustee Hailyn Chen, is assessing recommendations that may further expand the program. At its meeting on October 14, 2020, the working group voted to recommend that the program be extended to those who scored 1390 or higher on the July 2015 bar exam or any subsequent exam.

The working group is scheduled to meet on November 9 to assess whether, for this cohort who previously scored 1390 or higher, the program should serve as a pathway to full licensure that would not require retaking the bar exam. The State Bar Board of Trustees is expected to review these recommendations at its November 19 meeting, after which any expansions to the program would need to be approved by the Supreme Court.

In response to the challenges facing law students due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Court in July directed the State Bar to expedite creation of a provisional licensing program. Graduates will need to find a supervising attorney, apply online, pay a small fee, and meet all requirements, such as already having submitted a complete moral character application. The State Bar also plans to implement an online directory that will enable the public to search for provisionally licensed lawyers.

The provisional licensure program lasts until June 1, 2022, unless extended by the Court. As currently structured, when the program ends, provisionally licensed lawyers wishing to continue practicing law will have to meet all normal requirements for admission, including passing a bar exam. More information.