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Reading the Law: Alternate Route to Becoming a Lawyer

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. | Last updated on

Did you know that it's possible for you to become a lawyer without having first earned a J.D. at a law school? It's true. It's called "reading the law" and it's an alternate route that many students have considered when faced with few options, but a real burning need to become an attorney.

Still, it's a tough choice for many to make, and the statistics can be discouraging. Here are a few points you should consider.

"Reading the Law"

Just to be absolutely clear, reading the law does not mean you get to bypass the bar exam. All attorneys in the United States must sit for the bar exam and pass one at least once in their lives. Reading the law just means you can bypass law school and perhaps dodge Mt. Fuji-sized debt.

You sometimes hear the word "apprenticeship" bandied about in place of "reading the law" and this is fair. When you read the law, you basically place yourself under the tutelage and guidance of a lawyer who's already licensed.

NOT Available in ll States!

Another consideration you must be aware of is that "reading" is not available in every state. Readers will be happy to know, however, that many states that have some of the largest concentrations of legal need do allow legal apprenticeships in lieu of the earning a J.D. and passing that state's bar. According to Law School Bible nine U.S. territories allow such apprenticeships, but details vary from state to state. As always, perform your own due diligence before jumping in. Always check your state.

For example, in California, the program is known as Law Office Study Program. In California, in other words, you simply cannot just study for the bar exam, pass, and march on forward. You are required to spend at least four years at a law office. The same goes for Virginia and Vermont. As you can see, you're not exactly saving any time at all. On the other hand, you're going to be a much better-prepared attorney than almost every other school-educated lawyer out there.

No Prestige, Closed Doors

Consider this option with both eyes open. The chances of you being accepted into BigLaw after reading the law and passing the bar are next to zero, so don't dream for Jupiter. BigLaw along with many government and mid-level boutique firms are specifically looking for brand-name schools to fill their ranks.

But if you're looking to practice as a solo and you don't have ambitions to hob-nob with over-worked BigLaw associates, a legal apprenticeship may just be the thing for you. The major advantage of reading the law is the experience. Law school grads have virtually zero practical experience under their belts while you earned your stripes through experience.

If you read the law having realistic expectations, you could do very well for yourself. We feel that it is our responsibility to point out many people who read the law pass the bar exam at much lower rates than others. Others have called apprenticeships a "scam," but these people probably have similar words for some traditional law school education programs, too.

But don't let us stop you. Conduct due diligence and research this option. It could be a perfect fit for your life circumstance.

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