Law school graduates will look at you in disgust as you laugh at them for their arrogance. Law school can be great for some, but academia doesn’t equate to the art of practicing law, and law school can never teach you this art. I am Los Angeles personal injury attorney, Michael Ehline.
I became a lawyer with no law degree and was also invited to study law in a law school after I passed the California State Bar, First Year Law Student’s Examination (FYLSX). Before stepping one foot onto the law school graduation ceremony stage, I was already a practicing lawyer. I will talk about my experiences studying in a judge’s chambers, several lawyers, and attending law school classes at night when I was already a practicing attorney.
I passed the Baby Bar Exam and General Bar Exam before obtaining any higher degree to practice law. You heard right! (Hear the podcast now.) Can you pass the bar without going to law school?
You can become a practicing attorney and never consider setting foot in a law school in California, as well as a few other American states. Here is the concise history of Do It Yourself Law (DIY-Law) all the way back to the Mediavel Knights Templar lodged near London, to the few surviving states in North America.
Yes, it remains possible to practice without a JD in some states, including taking the Virginia Bar, Maine Bar, New York Bar. We also cover the Vermont/Virginia disparities and what it takes to become licensed full-time as a bona fide attorney admitted to practice. We also discuss bar exam pass rates compared to regular bar exam test examinees and law study program bar exam test examinees, as well as those with at least some law school training.
True, reading law no longer remains the prototypical path of most modern attorneys, but it has its benefits for free thinkers. Accredited law schools are the model that has almost replaced the traditional approach to becoming a lawyer without a degree. Under this model, there are established ways to teach law and even professional responsibility courses on the way to obtaining that prestigious law degree.
And I loved researching the true story of becoming a lawyer with no law school academy and cataloging it for posterity’s sake.
Below I will discuss some history, finding an attorney participating in an apprenticeship program, the number of hours you must complete, with the year of law study graduation to sit for the bar. Also included are differences every mentoring attorney must know between ABA-approved law school students, those with at least some law school, and those with zero formal education at all.
I also created several other posts as part of this alternative law study methods series. Enjoy!
Reading law evolved primarily from English common law and history. There was no such thing as a “law degree,” or a law school. Historically, law schools never existed, so legal apprentices clerked for judges or lawyers to secure entry into the legal profession for centuries.
Back then, legal apprentice law students in American and England would typically read from Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England to learn legal philosophy, the Laws of Nature, and Nature’s God, typically through the Inns of Court of Chancery. That was the closest thing our ancestors had to a law school as an entry to practice law or become a practicing attorney.
The greatest legal scholars, philosophers, and lawyers throughout history received no formal educational training in a college or law school. Preparing for the law came into its own in the American colonies, particularly during the period leading up to the American Revolution, Post Revolution, and our second war with England circa 1812.
Like our modern California State Bar Law Office Study Program (LOSP), reading the law in early America typically consisted of a lengthy internship under veteran lawyers or judge mentors. Again, academia was not where a courtroom warrior learned how to become a practicing attorney or seek admission to practice law.
To become a lawyer without law school, our ancestors needed to have some law office training before being accepted into a law practice or being admitted to the bar in this nation.
There was not even a written bar exam or alternative method to become a lawyer without law school. Hence, there was no skip law school admission alternative. Below, I will cover all of this. I even wrote a more comprehensive article explaining the history of the bar exam, law school, and how to forego law school tuition here.
In the ancient periods till now, far from students just examining scholarly works, apprentices attended court, sat in on depositions, helped with billing, housekeeping matters, calendaring, basically as a squire, sometimes seven years or more.
Legal apprentices and even tutelage groups within English Inns of Court (discussed below) would study independently, not in law school. Apprentices also assisted their jurist guides until they too could approach and “pass the bar.”
Historically, Canada once followed a similar no-law school system. Lawyers of that bygone era would laugh today if they heard students were not attending Inns of Court, clerking, and sweeping law office floors after hours, or while on the road riding the Big Blue Bus.
Attending some class or applying to top-tier law schools is something Sir Willam Blackstone would not have understood. Back then, the emphasis was emulating trade guilds, like freemasons. To become a lawyer without a law degree was normal. There was no way to skip law school since there were none.
Skipping law school isn’t for everyone. Forming interpersonal relationships with a supervising attorney (mentoring attorney), or local law offices with other legal professionals offering legal apprenticeships takes time. To take the bar exam without having established yourself as a legal apprentice among peers on the apprenticeship route was probably something judges would have forbidden for a legal apprentice.
There was no written exam. It was oral. So a law apprenticeship with enough continuous years of training was examined before courts, not a committee of bar examiners. There was no bar exam as it exists modernly.
To become a lawyer without a written bar examination was par for the course. Law degrees didn’t come along till much later to replace this once traditional legal education with law school debt.
It was ad hoc and designed to test your minimum level of training and decorum. Following stipulations, a lawyer with less training could be admitted into his local state bar and off to the western states, or federal territories as a prairie lawyer (Ex; Abraham Lincoln)
They say those who can do and those who can’t teach. Although this euphemism won’t always prove true, modern law students miss out on the legal education that comes through practical application. True, many legal apprentices paid their fee and volunteered time to work with masters.
Pupils under judges, civil or criminal lawyers, will generally receive valuable, practical, and collegial experience including:
Pupils will develop valuable relationships with court personnel, including deputies, marshalls, clerks, CHP officers, and witnesses. Lawyers will be interested and usually shrug it off, saying “good luck.” To many, you are a token, a novelty, not to be taken seriously.
To others, like Justice Hastings was to me, you are the torchbearer of legal tradition. “Everyone is interested in the person becoming a lawyer with no law school.” (Will this token peasant actually pass the bar exam?)
I know from personal experience that a properly-trained legal apprentice will receive more real-world experience than law school-educated graduates. Even if a law grad has some clinical studies or summer clerk positions interning or externing, few ever receive basic litigation training.
Still, fewer law grads will attend court regularly or mingle among lawyers almost daily for four-plus years. Most law students spend time in classes, taking notes. Ask yourself this. How long do I have to go to law school? Three years? Four years? It can take a little less time, but you’ll never make the same connections you will by accompanying your tutor.
Modern professors teach a lot of great stuff, but they can’t teach litigation, and they don’t teach local rules or how to create a proper pleading template. Students definitely won’t know what a civil case cover sheet is or isn’t. Working in a practicing attorney’s office is a great experience for a prospective California lawyer.
Just attending court and learning courtroom politics regularly means you will have confidence once you pass the bar exam. You also won’t drown in hundreds of thousands of dollars of law school debt in the process. This program gives anyone ambitious a leg up.
If you’re a legal historian or prospective enrollee into a tutelage program under a supervising attorney, there is one commonality you will see present in most successful jurists, a love of “reading.”
Like anything in life, you can never write well if you don’t read, comprehend, and [hopefully] orate well. The earliest people akin to “lawyers” were probably ancient Athenian orators. (Source). Students had no TV or smartphones. To receive information, reading was everything.
Great readers became great writers; great writers became even greater orators. With no TV or radio, public speaking, often with a loud, convincing voice, was a big deal to the general public.
Great orators became great leaders. This truth reigns true modernly, with most elected lawmakers and judges being former trial lawyers themselves.
Since my ultimate research on becoming a lawyer with no law degree or undergrad deals with American common law, let’s start with the Lincoln lawyer, Honest Abe, our 16th U.S. president. Lincoln had no educational supervision, tutor, or master.
Abe was primarily self-educated, receiving about 12 months total lifetime basic education lessons from itinerant educators when possible. From my research, he appears to be the only law reader meeting the definition of impoverished, with uneducated kin—[Citation needed]. No law school he could attend existed, no Inns of Court existed, making Lincoln entirely self-educated in law.
Abe had going for him like during the colonial era; we needed lawyers, especially out west. The western states were in dire need of frontier lawyers. Mealy-mouthed college boys couldn’t handle westward travel, and eastern city judges were keen on letting self or less-educated settlers with the constitution pass their oral bar-headed west! Illinois was known as a state whose own judges would swear lawyers in after a short study period.
Lincoln loved reading and giving speeches! His love for reading lasted till his death at the hands of an assassin in 1865. Witnesses from his day, including close family members, neighbors, and friends, recalled he regularly read the classics, including Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England, the King James Bible, Aesop’s Fables, John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, Common Sense by Thomas Paine, Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, and The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. (Source).
Reading requires discipline. Problem-solving requires discipline. If you don’t have that warrior-monk-like discipline to sit still, silently evaluating tasks and solutions, you will never pass the problem-solving speed exam known as the State Bar.
Lincoln’s family asserted his reading, not to mention his proclivity for whittling wood into shapes, made him seem lazy. (His “reading, scribbling, writing, ciphering, writing poetry, etc.”) My First Year Law Student’s Exam tutor, and California State Bar Examination tutor, Paul Pfau, often said, “tell your family, tell your friends, ‘I must be selfish with my time, so I can study and master the herculean task of becoming a lawyer.”‘ My friends don’t take up lawyering if you don’t love literature and the problem-solving that comes with interpretation and writing styles.
The Knights Templar took an oath never to surrender, including chastity and poverty. The modern English Inns can see Their Holy Order’s subtle influence on English courts and the very “bar” passed to practice law. To become a lawyer without law school, you too must take your own oath because it ain’t no walk in the park. If you are married, a single mom, or poor, you must explain to your family the journey they will be taking with you as you ready yourself before the bar. I have provided the ancient history up till now. My tip for you? If anything, join the Marines and learn success through merit. Work ethic and determination are everything when becoming a lawyer with no law degree or undergrad.
There are no secrets. My story is about becoming a North American lawyer with no law or college degree on the California State Bar Law Office Study Program (Sometimes LOSP). This is a history of legal education through reading law, including law office study, clerking, and independent study, starting with some history and background.
GENESIS: North American common law evolved from English common law, each colony originally bringing trained lawyers from England, eventually choosing their court officer selection process, including selecting attorneys within the colonies/states.
Most people become lawyers upon graduating. But they cannot practice law and become an “attorney” until they pass the standardized, written bar exam. Apprenticeship programs, including clerkships law reading programs, have been touted as the fastest way to become an attorney, but most were oral before a court till recent times.
For this article’s purposes, the generic word “lawyer” can be a person who practices law and includes other legal practitioners, including British solicitors or chartered legal executives. Lawyers can only be called “barristers” if they were “called to the Bar.” Ultimately, barristers can practice and advocate in higher and lower courts. Solicitors were and still are, relegated to litigation and lower court advocacy.
After passing the bar, these now barristers left law students and solicitors behind, outside the court’s symbolic “well.” Over time, these barrister “attorneys” became advocacy specialists, committed to representing clients or courtroom process and procedures. Sometimes clients would hire a barrister and a solicitor. Eventually, it became compulsory for the solicitor to choose and engage the client’s barrister for courtroom advocacy.
Whereas a licensed lawyer can provide legal advice in most common law jurisdictions, only an attorney can simultaneously provide legal advice, services and advocate client legal matters. In the U.S., attorneys can practice law in all U.S. courts and the state court they are licensed, with exceptions for pro hac vice matters.
When someone read law in the colonies and later states, this lawyer was likely revered. Sir William Blackstone was admitted to the Middle Temple in November 1741, ultimately rising to England’s first law lecturer, titled “Vinerian Professor of English Law.” After that, he was elected to the English Parliament in 1761, later appointed Justice of the Court of King’s Bench on 16 February 1770.
He was elevated as Justice of the Common Pleas soon afterward on June 25, where he remained until his death, on 14 February 1780. Blackstone conducted lectures on English law at Oxford in the 1750s. But English Common Law was officially recognized as a university-taught subject in the later 1800s
Lawyers became powerful local and colony-wide leaders by 1700 in the American colonies. They grew increasingly powerful in the colonial era as experts in the English common law adopted by all the colonies. By the 21st century, over one million practitioners in the United States held law degrees. Many others served the legal system as justices of the peace, paralegals, marshalls, and other aides.
Reading law evolved primarily from English common law and history. There was no such thing as a “law degree.” Historically, law schools never existed, so legal apprentices clerked for judges or lawyers to secure entry into the legal profession for centuries. Back then, legal apprentice law students in American and England would typically read from Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England to learn legal philosophy, the Laws of Nature, and Nature’s God, typically through the Inns of Court or Chancery.
The greatest legal scholars, philosophers, and lawyers throughout history received no formal educational training in a college or law school. This technique came into its own in the American colonies, particularly during the period leading up to the American Revolution, Post Revolution, and our second war with England circa 1812.
Like our modern California State Bar Law Office Study Program (LOSP), reading law in early America typically consisted of a lengthy internship under veteran lawyers or judge mentors.
In the ancient periods till now, far from students just briefing scholarly works, apprentices attended court, sat in on depositions, helped with billing, housekeeping matters, calendaring, basically as a squire, sometimes seven years or more. Legal apprentices and even tutelage groups within English Inns of Court (discussed below) would study independently. Apprentices also assisted their jurist guides until they too could approach and “pass the bar.”
Historically, Canada once followed a similar system. Lawyers of that bygone era would laugh today if they heard students were not attending Inns of Court, clerking, and sweeping law office floors after hours.
After the candidate graduated from apprenticing, he received an oral examination, or proof of good moral character, typically by state supreme court or similarly situated judges. (Source). The oral and written “Bar Exam” came along hundreds of years later.
MODERNLY: Oral bar exams are ended in the U.S.
To this very day, English law students are said to be “reading” their studies.
Studying law was optimally done under lawyer supervision. But in frontier areas, self-study often remained the only legal career path entry method. As noted and discussed more later, each state and local jurisdiction had differing approaches in how their lawyers would read for the law. However, each approach to becoming a lay lawyer found its genesis under English Common Law.
But troubles here began around 1763, with several united States starting to throw off England’s powerful, central government in or about 1785, having formalized their loose confederation previously, July 4, 1776. Each of the 13 colony’s representatives favored more liberty for English subjects, demanding that the Crown’s individual rights had formerly verified to its Barons were universal.
These dissatisfied colonists threw off the King’s charters and titles, establishing “…New Guards for their future security…,” replacing King George as the protector of their now sovereign realms.
Since each state was sovereign, it derived its just power from our Creator and the consent of those affected by the laws any elected official would pass.
Since our rights come from a higher power, each state’s primary job would be making its own laws, always mindful of protecting freedoms, rather than restrict them, favoring “dangerous liberty of peaceful slavery.” (“Malo periculosam, libertatem quam quietam servitutem.” – Thomas Jefferson)
In a nutshell, the rebellious colonists believed they were the true standard-bearers of the Magna Charta, its forebearers, and its progeny. Patriot Thomas Paine’s book, Common Sense, proved an architecture of the “Unanimous Declaration.”
It was natural for these rebels to closely follow the British legal education system as closely as possible, improving as needed to avoid insults similar to those visited by extinct Chancery courts. But most states would base their bar admission system in varying degrees upon that existing pre-rebellion.
Ultimately, traditional Inns of Court duties were mostly turned over to university law schools in the 18th-19th Century. Teaching standardized law first would be the University of Oxford Faculty of Law, now the University of Oxford with an 800-year plus history. For a time, however, universities focused on religious academia, whereas Inns focused on real-world practice. We yanks must remember, the Norman kings and Crown’s courts spoke French!
“‘The universities deferred to Latin, the Inns of the Court first to law French and by about 1650, to English.
Cecil Headlam writes:
‘In the reign of Henry VI (1461-1470), the four Inns of Court contained 200 persons each and the ten Inns of Chancery 100 each.”‘ (Source).
There is no real date pinpointing England’s first bar examination or admission. By 1872, a structured bar process became a prerequisite to practicing law in Britania. England still gives the Inns the sole right to call trained students to the bar during a graduation ceremony known as ‘Call Day.’
Prospective students must still join an Inn, and like our California State Bar, Inns head up law student disciplinary functions via a Joint Council of the Inns of Court.
NOTE: By the treaty creating Great Britain, lawyers in Scotland are divided into two groups: solicitors and advocates, maintaining their older, Roman Civil Law system.
Ultimately, in the 1873 and 1875 Supreme Court of Judicature Acts would dissolve the snobbier, more elite English and Welch Courts of Chancery entirely, creating their modern, unified High Court of Justice. However, the Brits decided to maintain a Chancery Division succeeding British Courts of Chancery as an equitable judicial body, lessening the importance of studying this devolving law.
Modernly, both Brittain and our states have fused Chancery Courts’ equity into England’s common law principles. Before this, the royal bench was practically monopolized by the clergy. The new policy of promoting men from the Bar stimulated lay professionals’ growth and a gradual secularization of the English legal profession.
In selecting his new justices from among practitioners, Henry III:
He could fall back on the ecclesiastical or canon lawyers, who were mostly clergymen or resort to the common law lawyers, who had been practicing before the royal courts and were predominantly laymen. The clergy, distrusted by the king, had already been fleeing lay practice. Henry III began using lay lawyers, that is, common law practitioners.
Naturally, beginning after 1776, things would change. English-American rebels had created their new Republic apart from its motherland. As a separate legal entity, the newly “united States of America” was no longer tied to England. The study of law in the several former colonies would evolve into varying models and pupilage methodologies. The Revolution’s dramatic effect on America’s fledgling legal profession was rapid and dramatic.
The rebels’ divergence from the progenitor English bar to the American bar saw a mass exodus of loyalist lawyers, including judges, returning to mother England. The few lawyers remaining in the states had no Inns of the Court system or standardized legal training like England, where colonists had imported their lawyers from. Naturally, most revolutionaries, suspect lawyers already, saw the legal community as suspect, potentially bringing back central controls and seizing their powderhouses.
Even though revolutionaries weren’t thrilled with lawyers or their former King’s interpretations of English Common Law, almost half the signers of the Unanimous Declaration of Independence were, in fact, attorneys. And lawyers would make over half Constitutional Convention’s membership years later. As we noted above, the colonists were mostly proud English. Newfound state institutions would closely follow English law in their courts.
It appears many founders hoped their system would restore ancient, pre-existing rights of Englishmen and other natural laws respecting liberty and freedom from certain government interference. (Learn more about Natural Law Here).
Before the mid-1800s, there were no standardized bar exams per se. Instead of this grand exam that you are studying for, future lawyers-to-be would gain their experience and credentials through apprenticeships, self-studying, and oral exams.
Although American jurisdictions slowly developed their own law schools, post-Revolution legal studies were conducted by “reading for the law,” mostly under the tutelage of a trained lawyer. Like its namesake coined in England, it meant studying from a book. Most people entered the legal profession through an apprenticeship, often under a family member. These apprenticeships required a period of attorney-supervised law office study.
As discussed, a court or panel of judges would evaluate the candidate’s moral and educational qualifications, lowering them if the student was headed towards America’s western frontier areas. This was the prototypical path many attorneys today scoff about. To them, study hours and good grades are the focus.
One or two years of course study materials, understanding legal terms, practice tests, graduating from law school, and a Juris doctorate is everything for many law students.
Having attended law school, completing law school, taking a BARBRI and PMBR course, and paying registration fees, along with a positive moral character determination, you’re off to take the California bar exam. Taking the bar exam without going to law school and only law school experience is something aspiring lawyers of the past would have likely dreamed of as a far easier method of entry into law practice.
It’s not that law school is bad. It’s just that even modern medicine requires a period of apprenticeship. Modern lawyers turned their futures over to academics, many of whom have never even practiced or owned a law practice. Old-timers would laugh at such an arrangement. Back then, going to law school was not possible, and certainly never a substitute for a supervising attorney. Employers and courts back then would probably ignore a lawyer without law office study training.
No, to skip law school and attend the Inns of Court, or Chancery Inn would have been their method of entry into legal practice would be their first law school of sorts. Back then they’d take the bar exam without having completed law school.
Skipping law school wasn’t a thing, because law schools were not around, as discussed. The modern law school alternative shows the different types of evolutions English common law and American common law have undergone since the American revolution.
The challenge presented by a law school, and bureaucrats against the traditional method is demonstrated by the fact only a few states even offer a semblance of our historic law society methodology in participation and educating yourself alongside mentors. The American Bar Association helped eliminate law reader programs across the country, and there is some evidence law school tuition and fees were used by law schools to deny bar entry to negros.
Although law readers have advantages, different aspects make academia attractive to many consumers. Many people feel the assistance of a law professor and college course before attorney’s practice is the only viable method to practice law. Most people won’t even be aware of an alternative to law school. Even then, many naysayers feel no JD will limit their career options or the number of job options in their local communities or location they wish to practice law.
Law school graduates need only attend classes, and eventually, they’re practicing attorneys. Paying law school tuition to practice law operates as a bar-to-bar entry for many underprivileged folks. Hands-on experience is something most other state bar organizations don’t offer, so it’s a rare path to follow in my opinion.
Bypassing this without going to law school obviously makes law school graduates upset, so don’t expect to find supervising attorneys to study law under easily. No, it has its disadvantages too. For one , there are no law school scholarships or grant dollars when you seek a law license Being a committed law apprentice is no easy task. The jobs you get while studying law are your entry into practice, not a list at your law school cafeteria or student lounge.
The dollars you earn will be based upon your business sense, not employment at a law firm. Passing the bar exam is the primary mission of all future legal professionals here.
The reality is, the negativity you will get from others as you go through all the study material and putting it all together means that only former military vets and highly disciplined, merit-based achievers will stand a chance at victory.
Other states don’t even offer a substitute for law school let alone preparing for the bar or being eligible without a JD. Hold out Wyoming recently eliminated their law study program. So don’t think a national conference of bar examiners is in any rush to start an apprenticeship program in a city near you!
Even after achieving a certain number of study hours, you won’t have a support network as you would have in law school. So if you are not a naturally driven, high achiever, you can forget about becoming a lawyer under the supervision of an attorney.
Even then, don’t expect pay to be taught the art of law. You will have four continuous years of arduous study before you’re admitted to the bar. And along the way, you still must pass the Baby Bar.
Here are some more resources to help you understand. On the other hand, if my writing is boring you, my colleague, Christina Oatfield has an amazing article about avoiding traditional law school. Recently, the New York Times and others have covered stories about Kim Kardashian trying to serve as a lawyer with no credentials.
Note that all we hear today is crickets when it comes to Kim getting a bar card without going to law school. Does anyone think her act of admitting she cheated to get through school will aid or hurt her chance to become a lawyer with no law school, let alone her chance to attend law school? The ethics alone are scary in terms of the costs to public trust in her as a practicing attorney or judicial officer hearing a case. This is why legal professionals undergo so much ethics training.
You may also need to seek out other study materials to improve your chances of passing the bar exam without going to law school. Resources follow motivated apprentices. When I see a motivated person, I always help. Just remember, it could take at least five years or longer depending on how long it takes you to pass both exams.
Despite the benefits of a law course, many law school graduates face similar problems, so whether you attend law school or not, being eligible to take a test doesn’t mean you’ll pass it.
Fun fact: It’s the responsibility of apprentices to listen to colleagues and mentors before setting foot in a law school, LOSP, or courtroom. Everyone involved must be positive and you must have no conflict preventing the apprentice from their goal of being eligible to pursue the challenge.
This means your life must have structure during the LOSP recruit training process. Again, the advantage goes to people who don’t blame others or use race, religion, or sex as a crutch to fail.
ANSWER: Yes, you can, and several Supreme Court and state court justices have done just that.
ANSWER: Nope. Check out our below list of famous Americans who became judges, lawyers, and even U.S. presidents, sometimes with zero basic school education.
*Author of Marbury v. Madison (1803).
Abe Lincoln Did Not Attend Law School Or Read Law Under a Judicial Officer or Lawyer? No. In rural America, students often read the law alone, including Abe Lincoln. When our prized president, Honest Abraham Lincoln, became a lawyer, he was required to “obtain certificate procured from the court of an Illinois county certifying to the applicant’s good moral character.”
This meant that an Illinois county court had to stamp their seal, certifying his good, moral character. How that was proved to a court may seem ambiguous today. But back then, our court traditions dictated that good character was shown in part by proving you knew the law and meant to keep it well. (Source).
Typically witnesses, including legal peers, would attest, and a court would allow you to “pass into the bar.” Later, when asked by a young man about becoming a lawyer with no law school, Lincoln retorted: “If you are absolutely determined to make a lawyer of yourself, the thing is more than half done already.”
“It is a small matter whether you read with anyone or not; I did not read with anyone . . . always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other one thing.” – Abraham Lincoln – 1855 letter. (Source). This American practice evolved primarily through necessity because few trained lawyers existed in several states.
*Famous for freeing slaves, suspending the right of Habeus Corpus, instituting martial law, and installing unelected Southern state judges and state representatives to pass laws restricting state’s rights in the confederated southern united States. Assassinated by stage-actor John Wilkes Boothe.
Yes. The truth is, few states allow applicants to skip any formal education. No states allow pure independent study like Abe Lincoln’s days, and a handful of states, including California, allow you to completely skip higher legal education classes. Below, I will differentiate between state law reader/apprenticeship programs, starting with requiring no undergrad diploma or law school courses.
This is the number one question we receive at our personal injury law firm daily, much to my staff’s consternation. How do I find a lawyer or judge to study law under? An established lawyer/judge or firm will not always want to accept the disadvantages of training someone for free. So finding a sponsoring attorney for help with this time-consuming and distracting study-teaching process remains vital.
You must offer these mentors something more to make yourself a valuable, indispensable, loyal, reliable commodity. The reality is, you must focus on modeling yourself after an ancient Knights Templar Squire receiving tutelage in the arts of war and religious laws! You carry your knight’s lance for use in the joust.
As a legal apprentice, be prepared to carry your supervising judge or lawyer’s briefcase, laptop, easel, movie projector screen, case notes, files, and boxes of evidence.
Be prepared to field parlays with insurance adjusters seeking arbitration with your knight, as he does battle with opposing counsel on the other line in furtherance of his duties to his king (his client). I would look to my leadership example as a Marine or biker club.
When I sought a Knight to squire under, I humbled myself in fealty, for although I may have had superiority over these masters in some areas, they were offering me the stuff of legend. To become a holy crusader for my client’s rights and service before the bar, what greater calling can there be for those called?
How you do that and remain in compliance with your state bar guidelines is up to you?
Only four states in the U.S. offer full lawyer apprenticeship programs (no law school required), including:
Of those few states, only one doesn’t require an undergrad, California. However, California does waive this requirement; if the candidate demonstrates through a CLEP (Discussed below) test, they have the knowledge and skill to enroll. Contrary to misinformation online, West Virginia requires law school before entering legal work on their particular area of law and legal apprenticeship program.
True, each pupil must pass a First-Year Law Student’s Exam after a lawyer supervised study period. Even if you pass, with its less than approximately 12% average pass rate, pundits claim you must attend an ABA law school.
Or you’ll risk failing the general bar, they say. Of all the programs, the only one Abe Lincoln and several other legal greats above could’ve studied law under is California’s Law Office Study Program (LOSP).
Going to law school has its advantages. But Abe Lincoln would have taken the CLEP, as he had zero basics, let alone higher legal education to speak of. That means only CA and definitely not Illinois would have been his only avenue to the bar exam without going to law school.
Open to tutoring judge and attorney supervisors, California’s Law Office Study Program (“LOSP “) REQUIRES Several BASIC RULES For General Applicants With No College*
Whether or not virtual meetings/study/personal supervision count as supervising attorney or independent study in a law office or judges chambers apparently depends on whether the court or law firm conducts business regularly online. Clearly, students cannot be studying law in open court, for example. We have reached out to Nathalie Hope, and I Hope she has the answer for any interested supervising attorney.
LOSP applicants without proof of two years or more college work must satisfy the Cal Bar’s general education requirements before officially commencing law study. Student hopefuls must attain 50 or higher test scores on three College Board administered CLEP examination topics. (See Rule 4.25(A) of Cal Bar Admissions Rules, including Business and Professions Code Section 6060(c)(1) et seq.)
Under the Composition and Literature category, you must take and pass the:
Two other examinations from the following subjects:
Each exam corresponds to receiving full-year equivalent college courses (six semester hours each*) or four other examinations designed to correspond with semester courses (three semester hours each*)
Applicants seeking a general education evaluation to pursue law study under the Committee of Bar Examiners’ Law Office Study Program must instruct the College Board to send official score reports to the State Bar’s Office of Admissions in Los Angeles; 845 S. Figueroa St., Los Angeles, CA 90017-2515.
The score recipient code for the California State Bar Office of Admissions is 7165. Copies of informational brochures and registration forms are available at local colleges and universities or by contacting:
Follow the other steps above upon meeting the general education standards. Also, the Golden State offers a Certified Law Student Program (See below) (I co-chaired three trials doing this) and a Practical Training of Law Students (PTLS) program certifying law students to provide attorney-supervised legal services. Find out how to apply here.
Answer: Under 4.29(B)(6), a judge or supervising lawyer may “… not personally supervise more than two applicants simultaneously.” (4.29(B)(6)).
LOSP students can register as certified law students after passing their FYLSX (amounting to 270 hours of study). But enrollees must provide satisfactory proof the supervising lawyer or judge has taught them or is teaching them “Evidence and Civil Procedure courses.” Here is where you, the law-certified student, can play the role of supervising attorney legally, with conditions.
Generally Permitted Student Student Activities:
Agencies have different rules. For example, non-government employed lawyers may supervise no more than 5 students law students. But criminal prosecutors may supervise up to 25 certified law students. (See attached “Practical Training of Law Students Program Declaration by Supervising Attorney”).
Point of Special Interest: This rule may or may not abrogate State Bar Admissions Rule 4.29(B)(6), allowing only two students under attorney supervision concerning certain practical tasks.
I receive calls from judges and lawyers constantly since Kim Kardashian made my LOSP famous. And these otherwise brilliant jurists are perplexed as to what they must do. I have many tips, which I will cover in later articles.
But if you are a serious mentor, you will provide lectures, send your student for any open lectures in law schools, like UWLA. For your PI lawyers, CAALA and CAOC is a great place to learn torts, evidence, and procedure. Immediately have your students review PMBR audio lessons and order copies of released bar exams and FYSLX When law students graduate, these are the same tools they use to pass the bar exam.
That will make up the bulk of your testing materials. As far as testing goes, again, that will be up to the supervisor. My mentors preferred using released bar exams, including MCLEs, with me taking them over and over and over until I was smoking it! I also got my hands on some used BARBRI books.
Maybe. Under Rule 4.57, certain applicants exempt from taking the FYLSX can still take the FYLSX with no adverse effect on their taking the General Exam, pass or fail. (There may be disparities between LOSP pass rates taking the FYLSX and exempt applicants taking the exam. So the actual pass rates of LOSP grads may never be publicly known)
Simple, the junior bar actually covers contracts, torts, and criminal law. (to a lesser degree, it covers remedies and procedures). In other words, it can give you a good idea of your expected performance on the General Bar Exam and give you a small dry run without going to law school prior to the full bar exam.
Foreigners can also gain admission under certain conditions under Rule 4.30 (A),(B),(1),(2),(3) not personally supervise more than two applicants simultaneously for this form of legal education.
Success in this form of intensive tutelage requires tenacity, focus, perseverance, valuable time, great oratory and writing skills, and motivation to succeed, As noted above, law school does little to prepare you for practicing law or passing the bar exam. The reality is, law school is great for educating some people.
So don’t knock it. But studying law under a lawyer already doing what you want to do, is the same modeling technique taught by high achievers, including the late Horatio Alger, Zig Ziglar, and Norman Vincent Peale. The reality is, those involved in the positive thinking communities will always fare better than people with a background as excuse makers who focus on disadvantages.
Most importantly, please bookmark this page as your future legal training resource for you or your organization. At least you will have some background and skills in explaining the classroom reality of legal apprenticeships 101.
About the author: Michael Ehline runs Ehline Law Firm Personal Injury Attorneys, APLC. He passed the bar examination in 2005. Michael works in Torrance, and Downtown Los Angeles, and commutes to several other locations during the week. He began his LOSP apprenticeship in 2000 and became a sworn practicing attorney in 2005.
Michael externed under an Appellate Court justice in 2004, studied law and worked in paralegal and law clerk jobs under multiple supervising attorneys and organizations. We hope this website material and advice gives you the skills to navigate any number of aspects you may face before and after you have completed your course of legal studies.
Michael feels he is at an advantage having pursued an alternative and foreign to many in our modern society. If you think you have the responsibility, structure, and drive to progress in this law society, consider being a law clerk. Write a resume that will suit your goals of becoming a lawyer without law school. After you write your letter, and it’s completed, there is no limit on who you can email it to, or interest you may garner.
And remember, it’s not the number of times you take the test that counts, its the fact you never gave up that really matters with these apprenticeships and many aspects of life in general. No matter your location, use what you have read about law school graduates and apprenticeships to inspire you. Michael’s story is intended to help less fortunate people with no dollars to pay tuition become lawyers without going to law school.
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