If you’re reading this article, you may be thinking about becoming a lawyer. And if that is your goal, you may also be questioning how you will fund your education. After all, the average total cost to attend law school is $205,744. Just tuition alone is $137,533! With that kind of money, you could purchase your first home! However, as you research law schools, one other possibility may come to mind. Can a person pass the bar exam without even attending law school? Let’s find out.
Yes, in some states, it is possible to take and pass the bar without going to law school. However, taking that road to becoming a licensed practicing lawyer is a long and arduous journey. Currently, the states that will allow you to take the bar exam without attending law school are California, Virginia, Vermont, and Washington. Maine and New York also have an apprenticeship program, but you still would have to attend some law school and then complete an apprenticeship before being allowed to take the bar.
- What Steps Does One Need to Take in Order to Pass the Bar in California, Virginia, Vermont, or Washington?
- What is Involved in Passing the Bar in Maine and New York?
- What Percentage of People Who Take the Bar Without Going to Law School Pass?
- Which is Better, Attending Law School and Taking the Bar or Doing an Apprenticeship?
What Steps Does One Need to Take in Order to Pass the Bar in California, Virginia, Vermont, or Washington?
Before there were ever law schools, people became lawyers by becoming apprentices. Prospective students would find a lawyer who would be willing to take them on by going to the Inns of Court. Located in London, the Inns of Court was set up by literate laymen who created and dominated the legal system at the time. They did this as a way to educate those who wanted to practice law.
Some famous people who became lawyers this way are John Adams, Abraham Lincoln, and Thomas Jefferson.
In the colonial United States, nearly all the lawyers that existed during the early years arrived from England and had earned their legal status through this apprenticeship system called the Inns of Court. They were connected with a barrister (a lawyer) who trained them. This apprenticeship was the extent of their legal education.
The process to take the bar without law school will vary. Each state will have different requirements. As an example, we will look at California.
California uses the Law Office Study Program (LOSP), which has several stipulations.
- They have to work in an attorney’s office for 18 hours per week continuously for four years.
- They have to have five hours of direct supervision.
- The supervising attorney must have a minimum of five years of experience.
- They have to pass the First-Year Law Students’ Examination, the “Baby Bar.”
- They have to receive a positive moral character determination.
- They have to pass the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination.
- And they have to pass the California Bar Examination.
A significant challenge to taking this path to become a lawyer is finding an attorney willing to engage in an apprenticeship. As of 2021, none of the states with an apprenticeship program offer assistance in finding a willing attorney, so seekers have to rely on themselves to find someone who will commit to four consecutive years as a mentor.
Another requirement to the apprenticeship program is not just finding an attorney willing to take you on but also finding the right attorney who meets specific requirements. For Virginia and Washington, the lawyer has to have a minimum of 10 years of experience. In Vermont, the attorney only has to have three years of experience, and in California, it’s five.
Another famous, yet modern-day person who has passed the “Baby Bar,” the First Year Law Student’s Examination that is required in California, is Kim Kardashian. Though it took her four tries, she finally passed and is closer to fulfilling her dream to become a lawyer in California. In an Instagram post dated December 13, 2021, she said that this path is not easy for her and was not handed to her. Top lawyers told her that the journey she is taking is close to impossible. But she refuses to give up.
What is Involved in Passing the Bar in Maine and New York?
In order for a person to be allowed to sit for the bar exam in Maine, they must first attend two years of law school and apprentice for an attorney for at least one full year. The supervising attorney must then provide the bar with a certificate stating the practicing student completed the requirements to take the bar, including verification of the dates.
For New York, the requirements are slightly different. An applicant only needs to complete one year of law school and three years under the supervision of a mentoring attorney. Upon completion of the full four years, the applicant can take the bar.
What Percentage of People Who Take the Bar Without Going to Law School Pass?
The percentage of people who pass the bar without attending law school is considerably less than those who attend law school. From 1996 to 2014, 1,142 apprentices took the bar exam. Out of that amount, only 305 passed.
The percentage who pass will also vary depending upon which state bar they are taking. For instance, Washington state provides apprentices with a lot of support, including volunteers who monitor the apprentice’s progress and set up study standards for them to follow. Because of this support, 67% of Washington’s apprentices passed the bar in 2014.
Comparatively, California is considered to have one of the country’s more difficult bar exams and therefore, there was a much lower percentage of apprentices who passed. Overall, the general ratio of apprentices who pass compared to those who attended an American Bar Association (ABA)-approved law school is about 27 percent.
This low percentage could also have to do with the fact that apprentices are studying under one attorney who usually specializes in one particular area. When this happens, the apprentice is missing out on learning a wider variety of topics that would be covered had they attended law school.
Which is Better, Attending Law School and Taking the Bar or Doing an Apprenticeship?
Which is better depends upon what type of person you are. If you are disciplined and structured and know how to apply yourself 100% to your studies, then there are certainly advantages to skipping law school and entering the workforce. There certainly is the financial gain just by the fact that you eliminate education debt. Plus, you have the possibility of earning money while you apprentice.
The rigorous demands that law school requires often leave students with little time for anything else, let alone work. Thus, they are studying around the clock with zero free time, and the end result is substantial debt. Most students who graduate law school end up owing hundreds of thousands of dollars and, upon passing the bar, have to resort to taking low-end corporate jobs just to climb out of debt. On the other hand, apprentices not only enter the workforce as licensed attorneys but also have several years of experience under their belt.
On the downside, apprentices may be debt-free once they pass the bar, but they struggle to get hired by prestigious law firms that like to peruse top-rated law schools looking to hire new associates.
Another downfall is how clients will view you as an attorney who did not go to law school. Ivan Fehrenbrach told the New York Times that clients would look at his empty wall in his office and, upon not seeing a degree, ask where he went to law school. When he told them he did not go to law school, they were not too happy.
It seems that the ABA and other overseeing law authorities don’t put much credence in apprenticeships and will do everything they can to persuade students to pursue a law degree.
However, there is one practicing attorney who sees things differently. He is former U.S. Marine Michael Ehline, who has a law firm with numerous locations all over California. He also is an award-winning attorney who has won over $150 million for his clients.
Ehline became a lawyer without obtaining a law degree but was also invited to attend law school. He says that before placing one foot onto the law school graduation stage, he was already a licensed practicing attorney.
Ehline lists many benefits of having direct attorney supervision instead of attending law school, such as:
- You will have a personal mentor, so you will not study for the bar alone.
- You can choose which law practice you would like to study under, such as criminal prosecution, civil law, civil rights law, appeals, personal injury, and many others.
- Apprentice students have more control of their schedules.
- You will get to attend court (trials, hearings, arguments, cross-examinations, etc.).
- You will get to attend depositions.
- You will visit jails and prisons for prisoner interviews.
He says another essential gain is that you will have more opportunities to build strong relationships with court personnel, such as deputies, marshalls, clerks, CHP officers, and witnesses.The good news is that Ehline wants to share his knowledge with other persons wishing to become an attorney without going to law school, and he has a website geared toward teaching you how to accomplish this. For those interested he can be found online at Ehline Law Firm.
Alexandra Christensen is a freelance writer and editor. When she is not working on an assignment, she can be found hanging around with other writers on Medium.com/@alexandra_creates where she writes mostly about raising foster and adopted kids and those with invisible disabilities.