Are you curious about whether you can take the bar exam without going to law school? This guide will go over how you can do that and the pros and cons.
If you're reading this, you're probably exploring the possibility of completing the bar exam and becoming a lawyer. A major misconception about practicing law is that you must complete law school to do the bar exam. Although this is the norm, and only a few states allow people to take the bar without going to law school, this option is available.
Before we get into this guide, let's get into law school's history. In the past, before the first law school, aspiring lawyers had to study through apprenticeships. People had to work in law offices to become lawyers during this time.
The apprenticeships went through a system called the Inns of Court. Through this system, a person wanting to become a lawyer had to find a lawyer for training.
It wasn't until the late 1700s that colleges started offering law degrees, an alternative to apprenticeships. The American Bar Association (ABA) was made many years after that. The ABA started a campaign to establish our current system, which requires law school completion to take the bar exam.
So, you might be asking, "can you take the bar exam without going to law school?" In some states, you can. There aren't many states that allow this, and they have many requirements. This guide will dive into which states allow this and their requirements.
Below is a list of states that allows a person to take the bar exam without attending law school.
The State Bar of California's Rule 4.29 allows a person who has completed at least two years of college to finish the rest of their legal education in a law office or judge's chamber. A person must have studied in a law office for at least 18 hours each week for at least 48 weeks to receive credit for one year of study in law school.
The attorney or judge supervising the applicant must also have been an active California bar member for at least five years and personally supervise the applicant for at least five hours a week.
The attorney or judge must also report to the Bar Committee every six months on how many hours the applicant studied for, how many hours they were supervised, and include specific information on what was studied.
Once the applicant has completed their legal training, they can take the bar exam and become a lawyer in California if passed.
In Vermont, an applicant can participate in a law office study program, an alternative to attending law school. An applicant must have a bachelor's degree and study law for 25 hours a week for four years. This program must be administered with the supervision of a lawyer or judge.
After completing the four-year program, the applicant must submit a Completion Notice to the Board. Once approved, the applicant takes the bar exam.
The Virginia Board of Bar Examiners has allowed applicants to participate in a Law Reader Program as an alternative to law school. An applicant must have a bachelor's degree and be supervised by an attorney. The applicant must study at a law office for 25 hours a week, 40 weeks each year. After the completion of this program, an applicant can take the Virginia bar.
The Washington State Bar Association’s Law Clerk Program is an alternative to attending law school. An applicant must have a bachelor’s degree and a full-time job with a lawyer or judge with at least 10 years of experience. The applicant must work at least 32 hours a week and pay $2000 per year while in the program.
Below are some states that offer apprenticeships in place of completion of law school. However, these states do require some completion of law school.
In New York, an applicant must complete one year of law school and three years of study in a law office. During the study period, supervision by an attorney is required. After the completion of four years of study, the person may take the New York bar.
In Maine, an applicant must complete at least two years of study in law school, followed by one year in a law office. An attorney must supervise the applicant's study. Once the program is completed, the applicant can take the bar.
In West Virginia, getting appointed to the bar through the apprenticeship route is difficult. For instance, an applicant attended three years of law school at a non-ABA-accredited law school. Attendance at that law school would make that person eligible to take that state's bar exam.
In that case, you might become eligible to take West Virginia's bar exam by completing three years of study in a West Virginia law office.
Below, we’ll be going over the pros and cons of taking the bar exam without going to law school.
Take a look at these pros of taking the bar exam without going to law school:
1. Savings: Attending law school is extremely expensive, and many people accrue loads of student debt. A path where you can take the bar without attending law school is very beneficial.
2. Hands-on Experience: The apprenticeships an applicant partakes in instead of law school are a great way to gain hands-on experience in the field. A benefit of gaining hands-on experience is learning everything you need about the field and the environment.
Here are a few cons of taking the bar exam without going to law school:
1. Cannot Practice Law in Another State: If a person completes a state's program of taking the bar without going to law school, they can only practice law in that state. This route limits a person from practicing law in any other state in the country.
2. Time Consuming: Often to substitute the time and knowledge a person would acquire in law school, the state would require an applicant complete part-time to full-time hours for many years to complete the program. Although law school is also very time-consuming, apprenticeships seem to be much more in comparison.
Before you decide whether or not to take the bar exam without going to law school, be sure to consider the pros and cons.
If you still have questions about whether you have to go to law school to take the bar, check out these frequently asked questions below.
In New York, a person must complete a year of law school and three years of study in a law office under New York Bar Admission Rules Section 520.4. Once all that is completed, an applicant can take the bar exam.
No, you can't take the bar without attending Texas law school. Currently, Texas is not one of the states that allow a person to take the bar exam without attending law school. States that do allow this are:
Some states require some completion of law schools, like New York and West Virginia.
Yes, you can pass the bar without attending law school. States that allow an applicant to take the bar without attending law school require the applicant to participate in an apprenticeship. During their apprenticeship, the applicant learns what they need to learn to take the bar.
If you're considering becoming a lawyer and don't want to go to law school, you may have a chance. This pathway isn't available to many people because only a few states provide it. However, living in one of those states may be worth it because of the hands-on experience you'll receive.