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The History of Law School 101 covers the law office study programs and the divergence from traditional law study into academic organizations run by the political left as part of the legal industrial complex.
There is no direct evidence that every state eliminated Law Reader programs to keep blacks from bar admissions. I can’t find the exact date the reading law was abolished in most states. To be fair to the racebaiters, anecdotal evidence exists that one state, South Carolina, kept blacks out of the legal profession there back in 1957. (“Reading law” was “eliminated” in South Carolina in 1957, shortly after a black applicant used this method.”; Richardson, 540 F.2d 63 at 746; Alfred D. Moore III, Turning the Tide of Segregation: The Legacy of the Law School at the South Carolina State College, J. OF BLACKS IN HIGHER EDUC. (Sept. 7, 2017)).
Either way, black people comprised roughly 6% of the entire population during this period, so this mus be considered when determining the true variables. But the bar candidate would still have to pass the by-then ABA-accredited bar exam or be “waived-in.”
The North American bar exam evolved from the Inns of Court, first administered orally by judges, and then in writing, scored by bar examiners. Because the colonies received their lawyers almost exclusively from England, many faced formally trained lawyer shortages. America had no Inns of Court apprenticeship system in place. Remarkably, we lawyers entering the bar may have been called barristers had we more formally instituted an Inns system like Britania’s early on.
The first recorded united States bar exam occurred in 1763 in Delaware while still a colony. Like the English model, an oral examination took place before a judge. Other colonies soon borrowed this idea as a method of weeding out bad lawyers. This exam would culminate years studying under a lawyer or judge (reading the law). By 1860, all but two states had established oral bar examinations. Since there was no such thing as “law school,” the bar did not require graduation from law school as a condition of admission.
Examinations were generally oral, with some applicants waived in through exemptions based upon proof they had been a judicial clerk for a period of time. By the end of the civil war, all that was in all but a few states was to vote and have good moral character. Later, after academia took over the law, some waived students graduating from a few law schools in a few states.
*In 1921, the American Bar Association formally expressed a preference for required written bar examinations in place of diploma privilege, automatically exempting law school graduates from taking the Bar exam. Most states followed suit by 1948. Although 13 law schools in 9 remaining states retained diploma privilege, after 1980, only the states of Mississippi, Montana, South Dakota, West Virginia, and Wisconsin recognized “diploma privilege.” But since this article, Wisconsin remains the last holdout with exceptions.
Most legal scholars recognize 1885 as officially marking America’s first written bar exam. In Massachusetts, the test consisted of an essay exam only, with no Multistate Bar Exam (MBE) existing in that state until February 1972. (Created by the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE).)
From 1890 to 1920, several states had done away with oral examinations to enter the Bar. Written bar examinations became the universal standard, culminating in modern-day ABA-style lawyer bar examinations. Wisconsin eliminated theirs in 2015, discussed above.
During the mid-1700s, New York passed legislation mandating all state legal apprentices take and pass a state-administered bar examination. New York reaffirmed the need for an apprenticeship position first, requiring law clerks to study 7 years before taking the bar exam and practicing law.
We had lawyers before United States law schools, just not that many. America led the process of making law study and lawyering a profession rather than an academic discipline. There was a battle over who was first, but in our new society, where everyone gets a trophy, two law schools get to be first. Law schools were set up to aid in traditional law office study.
Either way, no court would swear a person in who had attended law school alone until the later 19th century. A court may have had the option to waive you in. Local courts are mostly required to study under a lawyer, including proof you read the law for the prescribed periods. Waivers most were granted for country lawyers headed west. Practical, hands-on legal education was the norm. (Not the novelty of academia with its endless discussions, often resolving nothing).
In colonial America, as in Britain in that day, law schools did not exist until Litchfield Law School was founded in 1773 by soon-to-be Chief Justice of the Connecticut Supreme Court, Tapping Reeve. However, Reeve, who read for the law himself, did not institute a Law Student’s Aptitude Test (LSAT). The new states started transitioning from England’s imported Inns members early on.
Thomas Jefferson saw the need for colonial legal reorganization and started with his Virginian alma mater, William and Mary College. Hence, in 1779, their Board of Visitors agreed to form a professorship of Law and Police. Along with the University of Pennsylvania, a “Chair in Law” was established to lecture, aid, but not replace existing law office study programs. “After decades of disagreement, William & Mary is now acknowledged as the first university-affiliated law school, and Litchfield as the first proprietary (independent) law school.”) (Source).
On December 28, 1779, the Board named Judge George Wythe, Jefferson’s mentor America’s first law professor. Years later, the first American law degree was earned in 1793.
Although the USA saw a few law schools established, our country would not see law schools begin to replace traditional law study until the later nineteenth century, well after the civil war. (See ABA discussion below)
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