Seattle U Law's dean to co-chair state bar licensure task force

August 29, 2022
Dean Tony Varona
Seattle University School of Law Dean Anthony E. Varona Yosef Kalinko

The Washington Supreme Court appointed Dean Anthony E. Varona, who took the helm at Seattle University School of Law last month, as co-chair of its Bar Licensure Task Force. Varona will help lead an effort to determine how best to modernize the method the Washington Supreme Court employs to assess competency in and license attorneys.

“The Task Force’s mission is an important and broad one that will help the Washington Supreme Court evaluate the effectiveness and fairness of how we assess competency in Washington lawyers and decide whether to implement any improvements or alternatives to the traditional bar examination and what those may be,” Varona said. “I look forward to working closely with my fellow co-chair, Justice Raquel Montoya-Lewis, and the illustrious members of the Task Force in completing this impactful work.”

“The Court is pleased to appoint Dean Varona to co-chair this important Task Force with Justice Montoya-Lewis. We look forward to their report and recommendations,” said Chief Justice Steven C. González.

Formed in 2020 by the Washington Supreme Court, the Bar Licensure Task Force will study the efficacy of the Washington lawyer bar exam in several ways:  analyze current and past bar examination methods, passage rates, and alternative licensure methods; assess disproportionate impacts on examinees of color and first-generation examinees; consider the need for alternatives to the current bar exam; and analyze those potential alternatives.

The Task Force will submit a report with its recommendations to the court.

Washington currently uses a traditional in-person bar examination to test prospective lawyers who wish to practice in the state. One alternative to the exam is a diploma privilege, which was employed in 2020 during the height of the pandemic, when in-person testing was deemed unsafe. That year, the Washington Supreme Court granted a law license to those who were registered to take the bar exam and had graduated from law school.

Former Seattle U Law Dean Annette E. Clark ’89 and several faculty members advocated on behalf of students for this exception to the in-person exam. (See: “Seattle U Law faculty successfully petitions Washington Supreme Court.”) The Task Force will speak with members of the bar who used diploma privilege, as well as employers, to gauge its effectiveness.

In addition to Varona, members of the Task Force with Seattle U Law ties include:

  • Robert Chang, professor of law and executive director, Fred T. Korematsu Center for Law and Equality
  • Jeffrey Minneti, associate professor of law and director, Academic Resource Center
  • Efrain Hudnell ’20, deputy prosecutor, King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office
  • Brent Williams-Ruth ’01, founding attorney, Law Offices of Brent Williams-Ruth

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