Diploma Privilege & Law Schools’ Moment of Truth: Just How Good Of A Job Did You Do?

Should I ask my law school for my money back? It was a rhetorical question from a friend who is frustrated with the lack of her law school’s support for admitting law students to practice without taking a bar exam (diploma privilege). Yesterday, I answered without flinching: Yes.

Diplomacy is not my strong suit. I have little to no patience for wooing anyone’s support. Six years ago, I came up with a quote that I have lived by ever since: “Sometimes, you need to rip the door that leads to opportunity off its hinges and throw it back through the doorway so you can walk through.” For the past six years, my door ripping has taken the form of telling things like I see them without any regard for feelings, sensibilities, or dignity. I don’t intend on stopping now so, law school faculty and administration, I have got a very pointed question for you:

Why haven’t you publicly come out in support of diploma privilege for the class of 2020?

If that hasn’t made you uncomfortable enough, what are you trying to hide in terms of the job you did in educating us? Are you telling us that we gave three years of our lives and incurred over $100,000+ in debt for a legal education that did not prepare us to competently practice law? Are you telling us that the constant stream of lectures and excuses for our misery over the past three years were just sophistical devices to keep us plugged into your system?

Let’s come to grips with an ugly truth. Your stance on diploma privilege is really a reflection on what kind of job your school did in educating us. If you adequately prepared every person to whom you awarded a degree to practice law competently from day one, you would be the first ones in line to support diploma privilege for your students as the ultimate recognition of the quality of your work. If you adequately prepared the majority of your students to practice law competently from day one, you would be the first ones to support diploma privilege for them. Your silence speaks louder and more voluminously than the three years of steady indoctrination that you engaged in.

My classmates express their bewilderment. I, however, do not give you the same benefit of the doubt, and I am going to call it like I see it.

You have executed an organized and sophisticated fleecing operation on the class of 2020 of the kind that would get us in ethics trouble if we did the same thing in practice. In other words, we all spent a small fortune on our education at your hands, and your actions raise the question of whether we got what we paid for.

As I see it, you have two options after you read this. You can sit and stew at my “undignified and unprofessional” remarks and offer token public defenses of your inaction or you can quietly find your moral courage to support your students and back up the job that you did in educating them.

Taking a brief detour, I do not share my classmates’ plight. I somehow found $1500 in my budget to travel across the country to take the universal bar exam (UBE). I’ll likely need to drop another $1,000 on transferring my score in Colorado back to Connecticut. That’s also not counting the $800 that Connecticut took from me under the auspices of holding a July bar exam. I have studied as best as I could while working and that includes writing a petition for a writ of certiorari to the United States Supreme Court that, according to what I was told yesterday, I will be briefing and arguing if it is granted. I know that I will likely catch COVID-19 in the process of traveling across the country and taking this exam. I will be praying that I survive it, but I’ll die trying to get my law license rather than be stopped by some holier-than-thou bureaucrats.

To put it differently, I am not lazy or unwilling to make sacrifices to combat hardship. I have made every sacrifice possible to take my exam. My classmates haven’t been able to make the same sacrifices that I have. Furthermore, based on the states that have granted diploma privilege, I will not be eligible for it if Connecticut grants it because I will have taken a bar exam already. I have nothing to gain or lose by criticizing law school administration and faculty, but I still have the guts to do it. My question to them is: What’s your excuse while you tell the class of 2020 to deal with it?

In conclusion, I am not the only one who is starting to think this way. I just happen to be one of the few people with the guts to say it publicly. Now, I will take my guts back to studying for my exam.

Cameron L. Atkinson

Cameron Atkinson is a Christian, a published constitutional scholar, a trial and appellate lawyer, and a general hell-raiser. He has received national recognition for his victories in civil rights cases, especially in First Amendment cases. Attorney Atkinson stands out for his written advocacy, and he has taken the lead role in briefing cases to the United States Supreme Court, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, the Connecticut Supreme Court, the Connecticut Appellate Court, and multiple New York appellate courts. Attorney Atkinson has successfully represented clients facing criminal charges, including successfully arguing for the reversal of a sexual assault conviction before the Connecticut Supreme Court. He will accept requests for public speaking engagements on a case-by-case basis.

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2 Responses

  1. Robert Booker Huffman says:

    Mr. Atkinson,

    Thank you for these brave comments, Mr. Atkinson. According to reports, none of the cowardly Deans of Quinnipiac were at the CBEC meeting. Perhaps they were too busy enjoying their summer homes and elitist summer activities. At least UConn’s faculty has the integrity to stand up for what is the most equitable solution for all Connecticut law school graduates.

    Bravo for criticizing the elites of QU. The bar exam is inherently an elitist and racist qualifier for legal practice. It keeps legal practice inaccessible to people of color, and people who don’t have the privilege to dedicate all of their financial, physical, and mental resources to a $4000+ examination.

    Thank you for taking a stand against racism, and against the elitist cowards at QU.


    Robert Booker Huffman

    • Thank you for your words, but just to be clear for the record, I don’t buy the line that I am taking a stand against racism. I view it more as describing the reality of a student’s life rather than attacking some sort of systemic racism. Absent clear evidence to the contrary showing that the bar exam is discriminatory in more ways than just disparate impact, I reject the entire concept that it perpetuates racism.

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