How to Become a Lawyer Without Law School

If you keep up with pop culture or general frontline news, then chances are you have heard that Kim Kardashian, the entrepreneur and social media influencer, has decided to follow in her father’s footsteps to become a lawyer. Even without having an undergraduate degree, Kardashian plans on taking the bar exam by 2022 (the bar exam being the test which decides whether you will be able to practice as a lawyer within your designated jurisdiction).

So how is Kim going to take the bar without law school? She’s becoming a law reader. This is simply a loophole which bypasses the need to attend the typical three years of law school (after having first completing a four-year undergraduate). Essentially, it’s a way to become a lawyer without law school.

What is a Law Reader?

A law reader is an apprenticeship that allows someone to take the bar without law school. The apprenticeship program requires those seeking to work as a lawyer to work within a law office for a set amount of time. The law office study will take minimum three years, though some states require four full years.

How It Works

Each state has its own set of rules about their law apprenticeship program. For example, Vermont requires four years of study in a local law office, while California requires only three. Vermont also still requires applicants to have completed three quarters of their undergraduate work, while you can skip college altogether in California.

Here’s a brief breakdown of the steps it takes to become a law reader:

Step 1: Apply to a law office or judge’s chamber within your jurisdiction. These applications may contain a fine of $100 or more. You must also pass a background check and be deemed as morally ground with other personal qualifications, as well as educational.

Step 2: Study for a minimum of one year under a participating and qualified law firm. The supervising attorney must either have three years of practice in the state (Vermont), five years (California), or ten years (Virginia and Washington)

Step 3: Take the “baby bar.” This isn’t required for all those learning to read the law. However, The First-Year Law Students’ Examination is recommenced for those looking to take the bar without law school.

Step 4: Complete an additional 2-3 years as a law reader. This requires anywhere from 18-32 hours of work study per week, with some of those hours under the direct supervision of a qualified attorney.

Are Law Readers Common?

Believe it or not, law readers are not a new concept. Law school was not implemented in the United States until around the 1700s. Before that, the only way those became a lawyer was through apprenticeship study, also known as “reading for the law.” Abraham Lincoln is one example of a successful lawyer who did not obtain his J.D. degree.

However today, reading the law is not that common. In 2013, only 60 people became a lawyer without law school as opposed to the 84,000 who attended law school that same year.

Which States Accept Law Readers

As on 2019 the only states who fully accept law readers are:

  • California
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • Washington

In these states, hopeful lawyers are able to skip attending law school altogether.

However, these additional states allow for an apprenticeship to substitute one or two years of law school (but some law school experience is still required):

  • New York
  • Maine
  • Wyoming

It should be noted that the path to become a lawyer without law school still takes a lot of work. Some states require a certain GPA from your former education, some require you to work for a full four years, and you still have to pass the bar examination. Read up on each state’s rules and regulations in you want to become a lawyer without law school.

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