List of Famous Americans Who Became A Lawyer Without College or Law School

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When I first started law practice, I noticed there was a lot of disinformation about Supreme Court Justices, senators, congressmen, state representatives and others who became lawyers without law school.

Below, I have provided a complete breakdown of famous lawyers who became lawyers without a traditional academic degree from a law school.

Here Is A Comprehensive List of Famous American Citizens who Apprenticed Reading Law

Other famous lawyers besides Abraham Lincoln and Clarence Darrow became lawyers with no JD degree. For example, John Marshall, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court; Benjamin N. Cardozo, Justice of the Supreme Court; and even Strom Thurmond, U.S. Senator, and South Carolina Governor, didn’t possess law degrees. In popular culture, the most famous case of a person with no law degree taking and passing the bar exam is the true story of fraudster “Franke Abagnale, Jr.”

Leonardo DiCaprio played this character in the movie “Catch Me If You Can.” Those familiar will recall that Frank Abagnale forged transcripts from Harvard. He fraudulently took and passed the Louisiana Bar exam using the self-taught approach. He isn’t the only famous case of a person illegally practicing law. The USA and Canada see their fair share.

Here are some more. This article is mainly about becoming a real lawyer without law school, not a fake one. In fact, Benjamin Curtis, appointed in 1851, was the first Supreme Court justice with a JD from an American law school. Some of the more famous Americans became lawyers, some with no education or undergrad, most with no law degree, or receiving their law degree later, but legally after obtaining knowledge and skill.


We will break down lawyers who read law into 4 categories:

  1. Lawyers with zero known parochial education who became lawyers with no law school,
  2. Lawyers with some higher education who read law with no law school,
  3. Lawyers with an undergrad who read law and passed the bar,
  4. Lawyers who attended law school and also read law.

1. Americans Who Passed the Bar With No Basic Education Or Law School

  • Q: Can you be a judge without a law degree?

ANSWER: Yes, you can, and several Supreme Court and state court justices have done just that.

  • Q: Do you need a law degree to be president of the United States?

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.

Top Four American Lawyers With No Law Degree

Patrick Henry: (1736-1799) [No Parochial Education – No Law School]


  • Birthplace: Hanover County, Virginia Colony.
  • Legal Education: Reading for the law (Self-taught approach, studying law possibly a month or less)
  • Law License: April 1760, Williamsburg VA, after oral examination by “Board of Examiners.”
  • Highest Social Status Achieved: Founding Father, Governor of Virginia.
  • Famous Quotes: Give me liberty, or give me death! (1775).

John Rutledge: (1739-1800) [No Parochial Education – No Law School]

SECOND CHIEF JUSTICE OF U.S. SUPREME COURT

Middle Inns Attendance Records. Founding father, John Rutledge

  • Birthplace: Charleston, South Carolina.
  • Legal Education: Circa 1751 [Need citation] Rutledge began to read law under home tutelage by attorney James Parsons.
  • Legal Education: 1754, Middle Temple records show that 15-year-old John Rutledge was admitted to London’s Middle Temple. (See attached screenshots of Middle Temple Records).
  • Law License: 1760, called to the English bar, soon sailing back to Charleston upon swearing his oath.
  • Law License: 1761, John Rutledge was admitted to the South Carolina Bar.
  • Highest Social Statuses Achieved: Elder brother of Founding Father Edward Rutledge, he chaired the 1787 committee drafting the Constitution. He became Associate Justice of the Supreme Court and second Chief Justice. He also served as the first President of South Carolina and later as its first governor after signing the Declaration of Independence.
  • Famous Quotes: “So long as we may have an independent Judiciary, the great interests of the people will be safe.”

*John Marshall: (1755-1835) [No Parochial Education – No Law School]

  • Birthplace: Germantown, Virginia.
  • Legal Education: Circa 1780, Marshall was on leave from the army when he received several lectures at William & Mary from George Wythe, reading for the law under his tutelage.
  • Law License: 1780, he was admitted to the Virginia State Bar.
  • Highest Social Statuses Achieved: Fought under George Washington during American Revolution. Associate Supreme Court of the United States, United States (1801-1835), Supreme court, United States (1801-1835)
  • Famous Quotes: “An unlimited power to tax involves, necessarily, a power to destroy.”

*Author of Marbury v. Madison (1803).

*Abraham Lincoln: (1809-1865) [No Parochial Education – No Law School]

  • Birthplace: Sinking Spring Farm, Hodgenville, Kentucky locale.
  • Legal Education: 1834, John T. Stuart, a Springfield attorney, encouraged Abraham Lincoln to study law, loaning him law books.

Abe Lincoln Did Not Attend Law School Or Read Law Under a Judge 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.

  • Law License: 1836, Honest Abe was admitted to the Illinois bar, and he relocated to remote Springfield, practicing law under the supervision of John T. Stuart. Lincoln was aggressive, stating he handled “every kind of business that could come before a prairie lawyer.”
  • Highest Social Status Achieved: U.S. President No. 16. (1861-1865).
  • Famous Quotes: “Tact: the ability to describe others as they see themselves.”

*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.

2. Lawyers With Some Education Who Read Law With No Law School

James Monroe (1758-1831) [No Undergrad – No Law School]

  • Birthplace: Monroe Hall, Virginia, British America.
  • Legal Education: In 1780, after fighting in our war, he resigned from his army commission and started reading the law under the then governor of Virginia Thomas Jefferson. (He did not study law when he attended College of William and Mary in 1776).
  • Law License: 1782, he was admitted to the Virginia bar.
  • Highest Social Status Achieved: Founding Father, U.S president No. 5.
  • Famous Quotes: “To what, then, do we owe these blessings? It is known to all that we derive them from the excellence of our institutions. Ought we not, then, to adopt every measure which may be necessary to perpetuate them?”

Andrew Jackson: (1767-1845) [No Undergrad – No Law School]

  • Birthplace: Monroe Hall, Virginia, British America.
  • Legal Education: [Citation needed] As a teen, Jackson read law under several prominent lawyers’ tutelage.
  • Law License: 1787, he was admitted to the North Carolina bar, practicing law in Nashville, Tennessee.
  • Highest Social Status Achieved: U.S president No. 7.
  • Famous Quotes: “In England the judges should have independence to protect the people against the crown. Here the judges should not be independent of the people but be appointed for not more than seven years. The people would always re-elect the good judges.”

*William Wirt: (1772-1834) [No Undergrad – No Law School]

  • Birthplace: Bladensburg, Maryland.
  • Legal Education: Circa 1790 [Citation needed] Benjamin Edwards (NOT A LAWYER, but soon to be a Congress member from Maryland) believed Wirt to be gifted intellectually and scholastically, causing him to invite Wirt to live with the Edwards family. There, upon Wirt’s humble acceptance, Ninian, and his two nephews, along with Wirt, received tutelage, using Edward’s extensive library. Wirt resided there twenty months, learning the classics, history, better writing, and reading for the law on his own, then moving to Virginia upon completing his studies.
  • Law License: 1792, admitted to Virginia State Bar.
  • Highest Social Status Achieved: Attorney General of the United States (AG). (1817-1829).
  • Famous Quotes: Seize the moment of excited curiosity on any subject to solve your doubts; for if you let it pass, the desire may never return, and you may remain in ignorance.

*Credited for thrusting prestige and power into the AG public servant position.


*Martin Van Buren: (1782-1862) [No Undergrad- No Law School]

  • Birthplace: Village of Kinderhook, New York.
  • Legal Education: 1796, he began his seven-year clerkship law under attorney Peter Silvester and son Francis’ law offices. (“…sweeping floors or running errands by day and studying law at night,” as a favor to Van Buren’s father). (See also Miller Center).
  • Law License: 1803, admitted to NY bar.
  • Highest Social Status Achieved: U.S president No. 8.
  • Famous Quotes: “As to the presidency, the two happiest days of my life were those of my entrance upon the office and my surrender of it.” (Van Buren’s Words).
  • *Noteworthy fact: He was the first citizen-president under United States Constitution. Not a colonist or British subject. (Souce, History.Com)

Millard Fillmore (1800-1874) [No Undergrad – No Law School]

  • Birthplace: Village of Kinderhook, New York.
  • Legal Education: circa 1818, he began his clerkship law under judge Walter Wood and went on to study law under him. (Filmore’s father arranged for his son to read law under Judge Walter Wood of Cayuga County Court).
  • Legal Education: In 1822, he fell out with the judge and was engaged as a law clerk at a Buffalo law office.
  • Law License: 1823, admitted to the bar in the Erie County Court of Common Pleas.
  • Law License: 1827, admitted in Buffalo NY Bar as attorney of the Supreme Court (not to be confused with U.S. Federal Supreme Court.
  • Highest Social Status Achieved: U.S president No. 13. (1850-1853).
  • Famous Quotes: “Nations, like individuals in a state of nature, are equal and independent, possessing certain rights and owing certain duties to each other.”

*Stephen Grover Cleveland: (1837-1908) [No Undergrad – No Law School]

  • Birthplace: Caldwell, Essex County, New Jersey.
  • Legal Education: Took a clerkship in Buffalo, New York, under his uncle, Lewis F. Allen, and apparently read law under Rogers & Bowen law firm’s tutelage.
  • Law License: 1859, admitted to New York bar, joining the firm he studied under with no law degree.
  • Highest Social Status Achieved: U.S president No. 22 and 24. (1885-1889 and from 1893-1897)
  • Famous Quotes: “Communism is a hateful thing and a menace to peace and organized government.”

*He was the only president in American history to serve two non-consecutive terms in office.

Charles Curtis: (1860-1936) [No Undergrad – No Law School]

  • Birthplace: North Topeka, Kansas Territory.
  • Legal Education: After graduating high school, he read law, paying bills by working as a law firm’s custodian, and by driving a “hack.”
  • Law License: 1881, admitted to Kansas bar. He also opened his own firm and practiced criminal law.
  • Highest Social Status Achieved: U.S vice president No. 31. (1949-1953).
  • Famous Quotes: “There are only two ways to be quite unprejudiced and impartial. One is to be completely ignorant. The other is to be completely indifferent. Bias and prejudice are attitudes to be kept in hand, not attitudes to be avoided.”

Stephen Douglas (1813-1861) [No Undergrad – No Law School]

  • Birthplace: Brandon, Vermont.
  • Legal Education: 1833 [Citation Needed] After studying law under Hubbell Law Firm’s tutelage for six months, Douglas realized he could be sworn into the bar in the court of a frontier state faster. After traveling west, spending a winter reading law in Jacksonville, Illinois, Douglas went before the court to examine bar entry competency.
  • Law License: 1834 was admitted to the Illinois bar.
  • Highest Social Status Achieved: United States Senate (1847-1861), and the representatives’ house (1843-1846).
  • Famous Quotes: “My friends, I have detained you about as long as I desire to do, and I have only to say let us discard all this quibbling about this man and the other man-this race and that race, and the other race being inferior, and therefore they must be placed in an inferior position, discarding our standard that we have left us. Let us discard all these things and unite as one people throughout this land until we shall once more stand up declaring that all men are created equal.”

*Clarence Darrow: (1857-1938) [No Undergrad – No Law School]

  • Birthplace: Farmdale, Ohio.
  • Legal Education: 1877, Clarence Darrow read law in a law office after studying for a short stent at Allegheny College and University of Michigan Law School. Then he read law for a stent and enrolled at the Ann Arbor Law Department for another twelve months. Ultimately, Darrow ended formal education to read law, and he never received a law degree. He said later he was trying to save money apprenticing, reading the law on his own.
  • Law License: 1878, Clarence Darrow was admitted to the Ohio bar.
  • Highest Social Status Achieved: He was the Leopold and Loeb case lawyer, Massie Trial, Ossian Sweet. A supporter of eugenics, euthanasia, agnostic in religion, shaped and altered social norms in public education, religion, human rights, and about anything else. (Read more).
  • Famous Quotes: “True patriotism hates injustice in its own land more than anywhere else.”

* Scopes “Monkey” Trial attorney. (1925).

*Joseph Story: (1779-1845) [No Undergrad – No Law School]

  • Birthplace: Marblehead, Massachusetts.
  • Legal Education: 1798, although Story took academic legal education courses at Harvard after attending Marblehead Academy, he studied under a legal apprenticeship. Law school and law degrees at Marblehead did not occur until 1817.
  • Law License: 1801, Story was admitted to the Massachusetts bar.
  • Highest Social Status Achieved: Supreme Court of the United States. (1812-1845).
  • Famous Quotes: “[Citation needed]”

*He was made famous for The Amistad case and his 1833 work, magisterial Commentaries on the United States Constitution. (a cornerstone of early American jurisprudence). He was the youngest justice ever appointed to the Court.

James O. Eastland: (1904-1986) [No Undergrad – No Law School]

  • Birthplace: Scott County, Missississippi. (Doddsville, in the Mississippi Delta)
  • Legal Education: 1926, Eastland studied law at his father’s law offices, passing the bar examination during his senior year at the University of Alabama in 1927; he dropped out on his father’s advice and was successfully elected Scott County, Mississippi Legislature. Eastland also attended the University of Mississippi (1922-1924) and Vanderbilt University (1925-1926).
  • Law License: 1927, he was admitted to the Missississippi bar.
  • Highest Social Status Achieved: U.S. Senator from Mississippi (1943-1978).
  • Famous Quotes: What explanation is there except that some Communist influence is working within the Court?”

James F. Byrnes: (1882-1972) [The Last Justice With No College Undergrad Or Law School]

  • Birthplace: Charleston, South Carolina.
  • Legal Education: 1900, Byrnes’s cousin, Governor Miles B. McSweeney, appointed him as a clerk for Judge Robert Aldrich of Aiken after seventh grade. He is the most recent justice without an undergrad or a law degree appointed to the Supreme Court. He received tutelage, reading law under several prominent judges, making him a force of nature.
  • Law License: 1903, he was admitted to the South Carolina bar. In 1908, he was appointed solicitor for the second circuit of South Carolina, serving until 1910.
  • Highest Social Status Achieved: 104th Governor of South Carolina. (1951-1955). Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. (1941-1942). Secretary of State (1940-1945), and he was also United States Solicitor General and United States Attorney General. U.S. Congress, where he served from (1911-1925). U.S. Senate (1931-1941). He served in top positions of each federal branch, and he even remained active in state government.
  • Famous Quotes: “Too many people are thinking of security instead of opportunity. They seem more afraid of life than death.”

*Marilla Marks (Young) Ricker: (1840-1920) [No Undergrad – No Law School]

  • Birthplace: New Durham, New Hampshire.
  • Legal Education: Circa 1876, she read law four years under attorneys Albert G. Riddle and Arthur B. Williams, after returning to Washington, D.C., from Europe. She received her early education from Colby Academy (an all-girls college) in New London, New Hampshire.
  • Law License: 1882, she was admitted to the bar of the District of Columbia, placing first in her bar examination call out of eighteen men. [Citating needed].
  • Law License: 1890, she opened the New Hampshire bar to women when she was admitted to their bar.
  • Law Licence: 1891, she was admitted to the Supreme Court of the United States bar.
  • Highest Social Status Achieved: First female lawyer in New Hampshire.
  • Famous Quotes: “Give me then the man who is not a Christian, and who has no religion, for if the man who loves his wife and children, who give to them the strength of his arm, the thought of his brain, the warmth of his head, has not religion, the world is better off without it, for these are the highest and holiest things which man can do.” “there is no gender in brain, and it is time to do away with the silly notion that there is.” [Emphasis].

*She paved the way for women’s rights and irreligion.

Frank Billings Kellogg: (1856-1937) [No Undergrad – No Law School]

  • Birthplace: Potsdam, New York.
  • Legal Education: 1865, after moving to Minnesota, Kellogg read law, apparently by himself.
  • .Law License: 1877, Kellogg was admitted to the Minnesota bar, and in 1908, he was appointed solicitor for the second circuit of South Carolina, where he stayed until 1910.
  • Highest Social Status Achieved: U.S. Senate (1917-1923). Nobel Peace Prize in 1929.
  • Famous Quotes: “It is not to be expected that human nature will change in a day.”

Thomas Clarke Rye: (1863-1953) [No Undergrad – No Law School]

  • Birthplace: Camden, Tennessee.
  • Legal Education: [Citation needed] He was educated at county schools and began reading law under his uncle, Colonel Tom Morris.
  • Law License: 1884, he was admitted to the Tennessee bar.
  • Highest Social Status Achieved: Governor of Tennessee (1915-1919).
  • Famous Quotes: “[citation needed].”

Granville Pearl Aikman: (1858-1923) [No Undergrad – No Law School]

  • Birthplace: London, Kentucky.
  • Legal Education: 1881, Aikman began reading law in the offices of Sluss & Hatten in Wichita, Kansas, after he received a basic education, attending local schools. He had simultaneously read law under his uncle, Colonel Tom Morris. He went on to obtain a teaching certificate. He used money he earned tutoring students for four years to help his surviving family and cover his future education.
  • Law License: 1881, he was admitted to the Kansas bar.
  • Law License: 1884, he was admitted to the Tennessee bar. [Citation needed]
  • Highest Social Status Achieved: Judge of the 13th District Court of Kansas from 1900 until 1913.
  • Famous Quotes: “[Citation needed].”

*He appointed the first female bailiff in the history of the United States. He also empaneled the first jury all-female jury in Kansas’s history (and only number two in the United States).

*Edmund Pendleton: (1721-1803) [No Undergrad – No Law School]

  • Birthplace: Caroline County, Virginia.
  • Legal Education: Circa 1773 [Citation needed], when Edmund was 14 years old, he received an apprenticeship, clerking under Benjamin Robinson of the Caroline County Court. Soon he took to politics, books, and reading law.
  • Law License: 1741, Edmund Pendleton was admitted to the Virginia bar. Pendleton tutored trained many young lawyers, including his nephews John Penn (signer of the Unanimous Declaration) and John Taylor (later U.S. Senator).
  • Highest Social Status Achieved: Pendleton attended the First Continental Congress as one of Virginia’s delegates besides George Washington and Patrick Henry. He led both conventions, with Virginia declaring independence (1776) and later adopting the U.S. Constitution (1788). He also achieved the position of First Chief Justice, Supreme Court of Virginia
  • Famous Quotes: “Avarice seems to have so pervaded our vital principles as to battle all hopes of a remedy but for peace and plenty.”

*Served as English Colonial lawyer and lawyer in the newly united States of America.


*Francis Scott Key: (1779-1843) [Undergrad – No Law School]

  • Birthplace: Frederick, Maryland.
  • Legal Education: 1796, he graduated from St. John’s College, Annapolis, Maryland, in 1796 and read law under his uncle Philip Barton Key who was loyal to the British Crown during the War of Independence…Key’s father, John Ross Key, was a lawyer, a commissioned officer in the Continental Army, and a judge of English descent.
  • Law License: 1801, he was admitted to the Maryland bar.
  • Highest Social Status Achieved: United States Attorney for the District of Columbia (1833–1841).
  • Famous Quotes: “Nothing but Christianity will give you the victory. Until a man believes in his heart that Jesus Christ is his Lord and Master… his course through life will be neither safe nor pleasant. My only regret is that I was so long blinded by my pleasures, my vices, and pursuits, and the examples of others that I was kept fr…om seeing, admiring, and adoring the marvelous light of the gospel.”

*Key is famous for composing the American national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

3. Lawyers With An Undergrad Who Read Law And Passed The Bar

John Adams: (1735-1826) [Undergrad – No Law School]

  • Birthplace: Braintree County, Massachusetts Colony.
  • Legal Education: Reading for the law (Self-taught) Arts undergrad from Harvard.
  • Law License: 1758, passed the Braintree Court’s bar after his oral examination.
  • Highest Social Status Achieved: Founding Father, U.S president No.2.
  • Famous Quotes: “Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.”

Thomas Jefferson ( 1743-1826) [Undergrad – No Law School]

  • Birthplace: Albemarle County, Virginia Colony.
  • Legal Education: Over two years reading law under the tutelage of George Wythe (Judge).
  • Law License: 1765, admitted to the Virginia bar.
  • Highest Social Status Achieved: Founding Father (Main author, Declaration of Independence), U.S president No. 3.
  • Famous Quotes: “I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.”

*John Jay: (1745-1829) [Undergrad – No Law School]

Injury lawyer infograph about John Jay never attending law school.

  • Birthplace: New York City, New York.
  • Legal Education: 1764, began clerkship, reading law under the tutelage of attorney Benjamin Kissam.
  • Law License: 1768, he admitted to the New York bar, later working under lawyer Robert Livingston.
  • Highest Social Statuses Achieved: Founding Father. First Chief Justice of US Supreme Court. (1789–1795)
  • Famous Quotes: “Too many in your state [Pennsylvania], as in this [New York], love pure democracy dearly. They seem not to consider that pure democracy, like pure rum, easily produces intoxication, and with it a thousand mad pranks and fooleries.”

*In addition to being our First Chief Justice, his parents were not British citizens but French Huguenot refugees.

*James Abram Garfield: (1831-1881) [Undergrad – No Law School]

  • Birthplace: Orange Township, Ohio.
  • Legal Education: Circa 1857, James began to study, reading for the law privately, disliking private learning institutions, despite his incredibly high formal education level and professorship.
  • Law License: 1860, admitted to Ohio bar.
  • Highest Social Status Achieved: U.S president No. 20. [assassinated September 1881, four months into the first term]
  • Famous Quotes: “He who controls the money supply of a nation controls the nation.” (Garfield hated private central banks like the Bank of England, with its FIAT currency).
  • *He holds the distinction of being the only sitting member of the United States House of Representatives elected directly to the presidency.

Calvin Coolidge: (1872-1933) [Undergrad – No Law School]

  • Birthplace: Plymouth Notch, Vermont.
  • Legal Education: 1895-1897, after college, Coolidge read law in a Northampton, Massachusetts law firm, Hammond and Field.
  • Law License: 1897, admitted to Mass bar, opening a law office in Northampton.
  • Highest Social Status Achieved: U.S president No. 30. (1923-1929).
  • Famous Quotes: “No person was ever honored for what he received. Honor has been the reward for what he gave.”

Alben William Barkley: (1877-1956) [Undergrad – No Law School]

  • Birthplace: Lowes, Kentucky.
  • Legal Education: Circa 1898, after being unable to continue college, he studied law independently.
  • Law License: 1901, admitted to Kentucky bar, opening a law office in Northampton.
  • Highest Social Status Achieved: U.S vice president No. 35. (1949-1953).
  • Famous Quotes: “I would rather be a servant in the House of the Lord than to sit in the seats of the mighty.”

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Roger B. Taney: (1777-1864) [Undergrad – No Law School]

  • Birthplace: Calvert County, Maryland.
  • Legal Education: Circa 1795, after Taney received his formal education at Dickinson College, he began reading law, studying law independently.
  • Law License: 1799, admitted to Maryland bar.
  • Highest Social Statuses Achieved: Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. (1836-1864).
  • Famous Quotes: “Every intelligent person whose life has been passed in a slaveholding State, and who has carefully observed the character and capacity of the African race, will see that a general and sudden emancipation would be absolute ruin to the Negroes, as well as to the white population.”

Daniel Webster: (1782-1852) [Undergrad – No Law School]

  • Birthplace: Salisbury, New Hampshire.
  • Legal Education: 1797 [?] [Citation Needed] He began studying law in a law office. Webster was an expert public speaker, prompting him to teach and read law in Boston under prominent Salisbury lawyer Thomas W. Thompson’s tutelage. Webster studied general education under clergy, in the ancient English tradition, attending Phillips Exeter Academy at age 14, entering Darthmough college at 15, graduating in 1797.
  • Law License: 1805, admitted to Massachusetts bar, practicing law in Boscawen, New Hampshire. Webster practiced law while serving in the House of Representatives, arguing his first case before the Supreme Court of the United States in early 1814, despite US officials being barred from bearing titles of nobility, including “Esquire.”
  • Highest Social Statuses Achieved: Son of American Revolutionary war soldier. He did two tours, serving as 14th and 19th United States Secretary of State (1841-1843 and 1850-1852) and US Senator from Mass. (1845-1850). He was also a U.S. House representative for New Hampshire and Mass.
  • Famous Quotes: “Whatever makes men good Christians, makes them good citizens.”

*Salmon P. Chase: (1808-1873) [Undergrad – No Law School]

  • Birthplace: Cornish, New Hampshire.
  • Legal Education: Circa 1826-29 [Citation Needed] He worked in Washington, D.C., reading law under U.S. Attorney General William Wirt, often attending US Supreme Court, learning from the greats. Previously, after his father passed away in 1817, Chase moved to Ohio in 1820 to receive tutelage, first living with a judge, ultimately moving in with his uncle Philander Chase, an Episcopalian bishop. Chase attended Cincinnati College beginning in 1822, ultimately graduating from Dartmouth College in 1826.
  • Law License: 1829 was admitted to the Washington DC bar. “When, after two years of study, Chase applied for the bar, his examination by the judges went well until he was asked about the length of his legal training. When he admitted it was not the required three years, the presiding judge instructed him he would need to study another year. Chase pleaded with the court. “‘Please your honors, . . . I have made arrangements to go to the Western country and practice law” there. After a brief conference, the judges decided to swear him in as a member of the bar.”‘ (Case Western Reserve Law Review, Volume 63, Issue 3-2013 – The Remarkable but Forgotten Career of Salmon P. Chase p. 658 para. 5).
  • Law License: 1830 was admitted to Ohio bar, practicing law in Cincinnati beginning 1830. (Source).
  • Highest Social Statuses Achieved: Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, U.S. senator, 1849–1855, 1861; governor of Ohio, 1856–1860; secretary of the Treasury, 1861–1864. (Source).
  • Famous Quotes: “The law of the Creator, which invests every human being with an inalienable title to freedom, cannot be repealed by any interior law which asserts that man is property.”

*Chase is one of a handful of U.S. politicians achieving serving in all three branches of the U.S. federal government.

Mahlon R. Pitney IV: (1858-1924) [Undergrad – No Law School]

  • Birthplace: Morristown, New Jersey.
  • Legal Education: 1879, after Pitney attended the College of New Jersey, now Princeton University, with classmate Woodrow Wilson, he read law under his father’s tutelage in a law office.
  • Law License: 1882, admitted to the New Jersey bar, establishing his private practice in Dover.
  • Highest Social Status Achieved: Associate Justice, Supreme Court of the United States. (1911-1922)
  • Famous Quotes: THE CONSTITUTION … IMPOSES UPON THE STATES NO OBLIGATION TO CONFER UPON THOSE WITHIN THEIR JURISDICTION EITHER THE RIGHT OF FREE SPEECH OR THE RIGHT OF SILENCE.

George Shiras Jr.: (1832-1924) [Undergrad – No Law School]

  • Birthplace: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
  • Legal Education:1854, Shiras finished his training by reading law in a law office, leaving Yale Law School before earning a law degree. He attended Ohio University and graduated from Yale College, Phi Beta Kappa, in 1853.
  • Law License: 1855? [Citation needed] He practiced law in Dubuque, Iowa, from 1855 to 1858, and in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, from 1858 to 1892.
  • Highest Social Status Achieved: Associate Justice, Supreme Court of the United States. (1892-1903).
  • Famous Quotes: [Citation Needed]

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Pierce Butler: (1866-1939) [Undergrad – No Law School]

  • Birthplace: Waterford, Dakota County, Minnesota. (modern Northfield, Minnesota).
  • Legal Education: 1887, after Butler graduated from Carleton College, he read for the law.
  • Law License: 1888, he was admitted to the Minnesota state bar.
  • Highest Social Status Achieved: Chief Justice, Supreme Court of the United States. (1922-1939).
  • Famous Quotes: The two great evils to be avoided are cabal at home, and influence from abroad.”

*J. Strom Thurmond: (1902-2003) [Undergrad – No Law School]

  • Birthplace: Edgefield, South Carolina.
  • Legal Education: 1929, he began reading the law on his own after graduating from Clemson Agricultural College of South Carolina (now Clemson University) in 1923.
  • Law License: 1930, he was admitted to the South Carolina bar.
  • Highest Social Status Achieved: Highly decorated WWII colonel, attaining the rank of major general, president pro tempore of the United States Senate 2001, United States Senator from South Carolina 1956-2003.
  • Famous Quotes: Mr. Gore, I knew Harry Truman, … I ran against Harry Truman. And Mr. Gore, you are no Harry Truman.”

*After Thurmond’s death, reports surfaced he had a 22-year-old mixed breed daughter with the 16-year-old African American maid employed by his family.

John Hessin Clarke: (1857-1945) [Undergrad – No Law School]

  • Birthplace: New Lisbon, Ohio.
  • Legal Education: 1887, Clarke did not attend law school but studied the law under his father, a judge, clerking as a legal apprentice, passing the bar exam [Need citation “cum laude“] in 1878. Previously, he received his undergrad from Western Reserve College and graduated from Phi Beta Kappa in 1877. Clark previously attended New Lisbon High School.
  • Law License: 1878, he was admitted to the Ohio bar.
  • Highest Social Status Achieved: Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. (1916-1922).
  • Famous Quotes: Resort to science has rendered modern war so destructive of life and property that it presents a new problem to mankind, such, that unless our civilization shall find some means of making an end to war, war will make an end to our civilization.”

Thomas Riley Marshall: (1854-1925) [Undergrad – No Law School]

  • Birthplace: North Manchester, Indiana.
  • Legal Education: 1873, because he was sued for and won a libel case while he tutored at Wabash, he had become interested in studying law, so he started seeking a supervising mentor to teach him. Marshall read law in Columbia City at the law office of Walter Olds (future Indiana Supreme Court member) for more than a year. At that time, the only way to become a lawyer in Indiana was to apprentice under an Indiana bar association member. Before this, he received a classical education from Wabash College in Crawfordsville.
  • .Law License: 1875, he was admitted to the Indiana bar.
  • Highest Social Status Achieved: Vice president of the United States No. 28 (1913-1921).
  • Famous Quotes: “Once there were two brothers. One ran away to sea; the other was elected vice president of the United States. And nothing was heard of either of them again.”

Charles Daniel Drake: (1811-1892) [Undergrad – No Law School]

  • Birthplace: Cincinnati, Ohio.
  • Legal Education: Circa 1830, Drake read law with Benjamin Drake in Cincinnati after Drake served in the U.S. Navy as a midshipman beginning 1827. Previously, in 1824 he attended Partridge’s Military Academy in Middletown, Connecticut, and he graduated in 1825. Drake did possess an undergrad, attending St. Joseph’s College in Bardstown, Kentucky, in 1823.
  • Law License: 1833, he was admitted to the Cincinnati bar.
  • Law License: 1834, he was admitted to the Missouri bar. [Citation needed]
  • Highest Social Status Achieved: United States Senator from Missouri and Chief Justice of the Court of Claims.
  • Famous Quotes: “[Citation needed]”

*He was a delegate and Vice President overseeing the Missouri constitutional convention in 1865.

*Tapping Reeve: (1744-1823) [Undergrad – No Law School]

  • Birthplace: Brookhaven, Long Island, New York.
  • Legal Education: In 1771, Reeve left his post as tutor at Princeton to read law traditionally in Judge Jesse Root’s office in Hartford, Conn. In a year, he was admitted to the bar, and he moved to the remote village of Litchfield, Conn. Fifteen-year-old Reeve graduated top in his class at Princeton (then College of New Jersey) and tutored for attendees from 1767 to 1770.
  • Law License: 1772, Reeve was admitted to the Connecticut bar.
  • Highest Social Status Achieved: Patriot, a friend of Thomas Jefferson, a supporter of the Revolution. However, in December 1776, the Connecticut Assembly called upon him to travel the state to drum up volunteers for the Continental Army. He then accepted a commission as an officer and accompanied his recruits as far as New York before returning to his ailing wife. After 16 years on the state supreme court, Reeve was elevated in 1814 to chief justice. In 1814, Reeve was appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Connecticut.
  • Famous Quotes: “[Citation needed].”

*In 1784, he opened the Litchfield Law School, considered by most historians to be the first law school in the United States.

4. Lawyers Who Attended Some Law School And Read Law

George Smith Houston: (1811-1879) [No Undergrad – Some Law School]

  • Birthplace: Williamson County, Tennessee.
  • Legal Education: [Need citation]. Houston worked on his family farm, reading law under Judge George Coalter.
  • Legal Education: [Need citation]. He left the judge and studied law at a school in Harrodsburg, Kentucky, where he graduated from law school.
  • Law License: 1863, admitted to Kansas bar. He opened a firm and practiced law in Newcastle.
  • Highest Social Statuses Achieved: He was a congressman and senator for Alabama and was 24th Governor of Alabama from 1874-1878. United States House of Representatives (1840- ). Alabama House of Representatives. (1831- )
  • Famous Quotes: [Citation Needed].

Chester Alan Arthur: (1829-1886) [Undergrad – Some Law School]

  • Birthplace: Fairfield, Vermont.
  • Legal Education: 1853, read law under the tutelage of his friend, abolitionist lawyer, Erastus D. Culver. However, he did attend some law school at State and National Law School in Ballston Spa, New York, before relocating to Culver’s law offices.
  • Law License: 1854, admitted to New York bar, joining Culver’s firm, becoming a law partner with no law degree.
  • Highest Social Status Achieved: U.S president No. 21. (1881-1885).
  • Famous Quotes: “The extravagant expenditure of public money is an evil not to be measured by the value of that money to the people who are taxed for it.”

Thomas Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924) [Undergrad – Some Law School]

  • Birthplace: Staunton, Virginia.
  • Legal Education: Attended some classes at the University of Virginia School of Law, but he fell ill, forcing his withdrawal.
  • Legal Education: Wilson read law, residing with his parents, living in Wilmington, North Carolina.
  • Law License: 1882, admitted to Georgia bar, hanging out his shingle for a time, then entering political academia.
  • Highest Social Status Achieved: U.S president No. 28. (1913-1921).
  • Famous Quotes: “Liberty has never come from Government. Liberty has always come from the subjects of it. The history of liberty is a history of limitations of governmental power, not the increase of it.”

*Apparently, he had had dyslexia since birth, learning to read at age 10.

George Gray (1840-1925) [Undergrad – Some Law School]

  • Birthplace: New Castle, New Castle County, Delaware.
  • Legal Education: Circa 1859. Attended Harvard Law School, then stopped
  • Legal Education: Circa 1863 He read reading law at his father’s prestigious law practice. (Learn more).
  • Law License: 1863, admitted to Kansas bar. He also opened his own firm and practiced law in Newcastle.
  • Highest Social Statuses Achieved: United States Senator from Delaware and the United States Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit and the United States Circuit Courts for the Third Circuit (1899-1914). Attorney General of the State of Delaware, 1879-1885, U.S. Senator from Delaware, 1885-1899, Member, Permanent Court of Arbitration, The Hague, 1900-1925.
  • Famous Quotes: [Perhaps found in Crosslin, Michael Paul. “The Diplomacy of George Gray.” Ph.D. dissertation, Oklahoma State University, 1980].

Joseph Rucker Lamar (1857-1916) [Undergrad – Some Law School]

  • Birthplace: Elbert County, Georgia.
  • Legal Education: Circa 1877, after completing his undergrad at Bethany College, he studied law at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia. He soon abandoned academic instruction, instead choosing to learn by doing. He returned to Georgia, reading law under the tutelage of prominent Augusta attorney Henry Clay Foster.
  • Law License: 1878, admitted to the Georgia bar (only 20 years old).
  • Highest Social Status Achieved: Associate Justice, Supreme Court of the United States. (1910-1916)
  • Famous Quotes: “[Citation needed]”

*William Henry Moody: (1853-1917) [Undergrad – Some Law School]

  • Birthplace: Newbury, Massachusetts
  • Legal Education: 1876, Moody attended the Newbury, Salem, and Danvers schools, graduating from Phillips Academy in 1872 and Harvard University, Phi Beta Kappa in 1876. Dropped out of Harvard Law School after four months, reading law under Richard Henry Dana, Jr.
  • Law License: 1878, he was admitted to the Massachusetts bar.
  • Highest Social Status Achieved: Associate Justice, Supreme Court of the United States. (1906-1910).
  • Famous Quotes: It is always well to get near to men of genius.”

*Held office in all three branches of the U.S. Government.

*Edward Douglass White Jr.: (1845-1921) [Law School Grad + Read Law]

  • Birthplace: Thibodauxville, Lafourche Parish, south Louisiana.
  • Legal Education: Circa 1863 began law studies privately, studying law at the University of Louisiana (now Tulane University) in New Orleans.
  • Law License: 1868, he was admitted to the Lousiana state bar, a Roman Civil Law colony.
  • Highest Social Status Achieved: Chief and Associate Justice, Supreme Court of the United States. (1894-1921).
  • Famous Quotes: It is always well to get near to men of genius.”

*He is best known for formulating the Rule of Reason standard of antitrust law.

*Benjamin N. Cardozo: (1870-1938) [Undergrad – Some Law School]

  • Birthplace: New York City.
  • Legal Education: Cardozo read law under his father in a law office after he dropped out of Columbia law school in 1889. Undergrad obtained from Columbia University. Cardozo received his early private education from my hero, Horatio Alger, who wrote about achievement through hard work and merit.
  • Law License: 1891, admitted to New York bar.
  • Highest Social Status Achieved: Associate Justice, Supreme Court of the United States. (1931-1938).
  • Famous Quotes: “In the end, the great truth will have been learned that the quest is greater than what is sought, the effort finer that the prize (or rather, that the effort is the prize), the victory cheap and hollow were it not for the rigor of the game.” [You can see Alger’s influence in that quote!]

*Jew number two on Supreme Court. His opinion in Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad Co. (1928) made American negligence law easier to understand and prosecute.

*George Alexander Sutherland: (1862-1942) [Undergrad – Some Law School]

  • Birthplace: Stony Stratford, Buckinghamshire, England.
  • Legal Education: 1882, Sutherland left the University of Michigan Law School before earning his law degree, reading for the law privately. Sutherland Brigham Young Academy in 1879, after saving enough to attend.
  • Law License: 1883, he was admitted to the Michigan bar.
  • Highest Social Status Achieved: Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. (1922-1938).
  • Famous Quotes: If the provisions of the Constitution be not upheld when they pinch as well as when they comfort, they may as well be abandoned.”

*English-born U.S. jurist and politician.

Robert Houghwout Jackson: (1892-1954) Last SCOTUS Justice Attending Law School With No Law Degree [Undergrad – Some Law School]

  • Birthplace: Spring Creek Township, Warren County, Pennsylvania.
  • Legal Education: 1912, after finishing a year at Albany Law School, Jackson returned to Jamestown to read law under an established lawyer. Jackson used this combination to gain early admission when local courts expected a customary three to four law office study years.
  • Law License: 1913, he was admitted to the New York bar and joined a law practice in Jamestown.
  • Highest Social Status Achieved: Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. (1941-1954). United States Solicitor General and United States Attorney General is the only person to have held all three offices.
  • Famous Quotes: “Any lawyer worth his salt will tell the suspect, in no uncertain terms, to make no statement to the police under any circumstances.”

*Jackson was also notable for his work as Chief United States Prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals following World War II. Jackson’s reputation for writing remains unparalleled on the Supreme Court. He was true to our founder’s ideals of due process and wished to protect Americans from overreaching federal agencies.

Robert G. Storey: (1893-1981) [[Citation Needed] No Law School]

  • Birthplace: Greenville, Texas.
  • Legal Education: [Citation needed] Never attended law school. [Author: I could find nothing about his legal education]
  • Law License: [Citation needed] Texas?
  • Highest Social Status Achieved: Storey served in both World Wars. In 1945-1946 Storey acted as executive trial counsel to Justice Robert H. Jackson of the U.S. Supreme Court, seeking to execute high-ranking Nazi officials. Storey was also president of the Dallas Bar in 1934. He received many honors.
  • Famous Quotes: “[Citation needed]”Generally, as students learned the law, they became collegial with judges, earning respect along their journey. These legal students would meet with court clerks, Sheriff’s, and officers for years before being sworn in. These pupils typically earned group recognition before “Passing” into their Bar! Modernly, law students get little if any of the above and get stuck with gigantic student loan debt.
  • Solo Law Reading Was Made Famous By Abe Lincoln and Rare

Anciently and during the colonial era, solo law reading was never widely used as a bar entry method. Reading for the law with no supervisor other than books seems to have been made famous in the states due to our need for lawyers, as ours mostly came from England. There was no such thing as a modern classroom either.

Apprentices received legal educations through apprenticing. While we simultaneously grew westward, we badly needed prairie lawyers and had no Inns of Court, reliant on existing lawyers and judges for lawyer training, including independent study.


  • Standing in the Local Community Was A Big Deal

One major aspect of bar entry was the apprentice learning tact and judicial temperament. Judges would evaluate a candidate’s standing in their community and often interview mentoring attorneys and fellow lawyers who had worked with the bar candidate. The point is, professionals in the Bar were best suited to decide the moral character, not just legal ability. Both matter!

If you have additional information or know of someone famous who became a lawyer without law school, or college, contact us and we’ll add it to the most comprehensive list of becoming a lawyer with no law school.

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