You decide to tell your family that you are going to become a lawyer and they instantly protest because they cannot afford the hundreds of thousands of dollars for law school. That is when you remind your family that Abraham Lincoln did not go to law school, and the path he took to becoming a successful attorney is still available in the United States. Your family is interested in what you have to say, so you begin to explain how you can become a lawyer without going to law school.
First The Bad News
The path to taking the bar exam bypasses law school in only eight states. Currently, only California, Wyoming, Tennessee, Vermont, Washington and Virginia allow prospective lawyers to take the bar exam without attending law school. In New York, you need only one year of law school to take the exam, and in Maine you only need two years. None of these states have residential requirements, but they all have an apprenticeship requirement.
Reading The Law
States that do not require law school to take the bar exam do require an apprenticeship program to be completed. In the legal world, these apprenticeship programs are referred to as “reading the law.” Each state has their own rules for their apprenticeship programs, but they all involve years of study for hours of week in an actual lawyer’s office.
For example, the state of California requires a four-year apprenticeship program that is done in continuous years and involves a minimum of 18 hours per week spent in a certified law office.
While it can sound great to be able to take the bar after working part-time in a lawyer’s office for four years, the time spent in an office is not usually the only requirement. Sticking with California, an applicant for the bar exam must also be determined to have a high moral character, must pass the exam for a first-year law student, must take what is known as a Professional Responsibility Exam and then they can take the bar exam.
Law school can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and take years to complete. If you do not have that kind of time or those kinds of resources, then you can move to one of the eight states that do not require a law degree to take the bar exam. You will still spend years gathering the experience you will need to take the bar, but you will save a lot of money and you will spend time seeing how law is practiced in the real world.