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You Don't Need Law School to Become a Lawyer (In Some States)...

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

You go to med school in order to become a doctor, right? So, it's perfectly rational to think that you need law school in order to eventually become a lawyer. Well, that's not necessarily the case. You can become a lawyer without first graduating from law school bearing a J.D. And we're here to guide you.

"Reading the Law"

There is a little known technique that practically no one goes through on their journey to becoming a lawyer. This is known as "reading the law." The term is a little misleading because it implies that one can simply study the law, pass the bar exam, and start practicing. Not quite.

"Reading the law" should really be called "lawyer by apprenticeship" -- but even that has its dangers. Reading the law involves the would-be attorney devoting a number of years to dedicated law office work, jumping through a series of compliance measures including the FYLSE, and other blocks that usual law students don't have to pay any attention to. Only after all this is passed are you allowed to sit for the exam.

Check Your State!

This little trick of bypassing law school (and law-school debt) isn't allowable in every state. According to The Christian Science Monitor, only seven states allow reading the law as an alternative means of becoming an attorney:

  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • Wyoming
  • California
  • Maine
  • New York

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. Note that you must notify your state's bar of your intent to "read the law" BEFORE you begin accumulating experience in chambers or at a firm. Always verify that your state allows for you to read the law!

Time isn't really going to be saved at all. Still, it will allow you to bypass the expense of law school. And there's something to be said of having approximately four years of actual legal experience under your belt by the time you have your bar exam passed.

Cheaper? Not Exactly ...

According to the Priceonomics article linked above, last year only 60 of the 83,963 bar exam takers were apprentices. Of those, only 17 succeeded in passing the bar exam and become eligible to practice law. In California, it's said that the pass rate falls down to 5 percent for RLers. Reading the law isn't easy.

It's also just as long (if not longer) than going to law school. Jurisdictions differ, but the standard "read the law" track usually requires the aforementioned four years of mentorship, thousands of hours of self-discipline, and self-guided study and legal work.

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