Can You Be a Lawyer Without Going to Law School? The study of Law is known for its rigorous academic challenge, extensive reading, research, and critical analysis. Many students who opt to pursue Law also enjoy debating and are determined to express their point of view precisely and articulately.

Can You Be a Lawyer Without Going to Law School?
Can You Be a Lawyer Without Going to Law School?

If you like to do the same, then a career in Law might fit your personality as well as your ambition to succeed within the field.

Can You Be a Lawyer Without Going to Law School?

Here is how you can step into the legal field as a practicing lawyer, solicitor, or barrister, without studying a traditional Law degree and what the key differences are between these roles.

How Do You Obtain an Apprenticeship?

If you think that an apprenticeship would be a great solution for you, you may also be wondering how to successfully obtain one and start your journey to becoming a lawyer. The best way to secure yourself a legal apprenticeship is to politely inquire at a law firm where the supervising lawyer would meet the state’s practice requirements (This refers to how long they have been actively practicing in the state) and where you would want to study.

You can check on a law firm’s website, as many legal offices in states accept apprenticeship inquiries. Don’t get disheartened if you don’t find a position right away, it can take time for you to find the right fit with a firm and supervising lawyer. It is a good idea not to rush the process of selecting somewhere to apprentice, as you will be studying with them for an extended period and want to ensure the experience is as supportive as possible.

States Offering Legal Apprenticeships

The states we discuss below do not require any type of law school degree before you are allowed to take the bar exam. The requirements for each state are different, so make sure you understand what an apprenticeship in that jurisdiction would entail before enrolling in one.

  • Washington

For an apprenticeship in Washington, you will need to spend four years working in a law office with a supervising attorney who has at least 10 years of active law practice. You must work 32 hours a week and spend three of those hours under the direct supervision of the lawyer. It is required for you to be employed by the lawyer, which means you can’t work voluntarily or without compensation for your time, and you will also need to pay an annual fee of $1,500.

  • Vermont

An apprenticeship in Vermont will need to consist of four years of studying under an attorney or a judge who has at least three years of active law practice in the state.

  • California

An apprenticeship in California must contain four years of studying in a law office with a supervising lawyer who has at least five years of active law practice in California. You will need to study a minimum of 18 hours a week, with five of those hours under the direct supervision of the lawyer. Throughout the apprenticeship, you will need to take monthly exams, file bi-annual progress reports, and be required to take the California First Year Law Students’ Examination.

You must pass the first-year law students’ exam within your first three attempts after your first year of studying in the apprenticeship to receive recognition for your work thus far.

  • Virginia

In Virginia, your apprenticeship will need to contain three years of studying in a law office with a supervising lawyer who has at least 10 years of active law experience. You will need to study at least 25 hours per week for 40 weeks per year. You are not allowed to be employed or paid for your work during this time, as the position and work you do are completely voluntary.

How To Take the Bar Exam Without Going to Law School

If you want to take the bar exam without completing law school, follow these steps:

Choose Your Location

Before you can practice law, you will need to choose a state that will allow you to take the bar exam without attending a law school. Currently, California, Virginia, Washington, and Vermont are the only four states that allow this process. A legal apprenticeship may be able to substitute for one or two years of school. If you plan to live in any other state, you will have to complete law school to practice as a lawyer.

Find An Attorney or Judge to Supervise You as Your Mentor

It’s up to you to find someone willing to mentor you for the next four years. The lawyer or judge you choose must be admitted to the active practice of law in the state they are in, and have been in good standing for at least five years. You will not be working for your mentor. Rather, you will be following a course of study proposed by the lawyer or judge, who will personally supervise you for at least five hours a week.

Try to study under a lawyer who practices the same type of law you want to practice after you pass the bar exam. Your mentor must examine you at least once a month on the material you studied that month. Once every six months, your mentor will report to the Committee of Bar Examiners the hours you studied each week and the subjects and materials you studied.

Study And Take the First-Year Law Students’ Examination

You must take and pass the First-Year Law Students’ Examination, also known as the Baby Bar. The exam takes one day. During the morning section, you have approximately four hours to answer four essay questions. After a lunch break, the test day concludes with a three-hour afternoon session during which you’ll answer 100 multiple-choice questions. Since the exam covers contracts, criminal law, and torts, these subjects should be the focus of your first year of study.

Your application must be accompanied by a fee of $566. If you file your application after the regular deadline passes, expect to pay additional late filing fees, which can be up to $200. After you apply, your mentor will send you a certification form to prove you’ve completed a year of law school. You have until the final eligibility deadline to submit your certification. A passing score on the exam is a total score of 560 or higher.

Study For the Bar Exam

The Bar Examination consists of a written section that includes six essay questions and two performance tests, along with the 200 multiple-choice questions for the Multistate Bar Examination. The Bar Exam takes three days and consists of two three-hour testing sessions broken up by a lunch break. To pass the exam, you must have 1440 points out of a possible 2000.

Your result letter will include your raw scores on each of the eight parts of the exam, your total grade and scaled written score, your MBE scaled score, and your total scaled score.

Advantages Of Skipping Law School

The most obvious benefit of becoming a lawyer through a legal apprentice program is avoiding the high cost of traditional legal education, which most students finance with student loans. Of course, some of this cost can be offset via law school scholarships, but the harsh reality is that many law students graduate with more debt than they can comfortably pay back. It can limit their career options.

Other potential benefits include learning the law in the community instead of going to school. Given that rural areas tend to face a shortage of lawyers, setting up apprenticeship programs in these locations can be a good way to keep ambitious local students in the community and work on local legal needs.

Finally, it is indisputable that the average legal apprentice will have more hands-on experience than most new law school graduates. At most, the average law graduate has done one clinic and perhaps a handful of summer jobs, internships, or externships. Most of a student’s time is taken up with classes, particularly in the first two years.

Disadvantages Of Skipping Law School

It’s critical to decide where you want to live long-term before entering an apprenticeship program because you probably won’t be admitted to practice in any other state. And potential clients and employers might be reluctant to hire anyone who didn’t go to law school simply because it’s so unusual.

Finally, the reality is that it’s hard to pass the bar exam without at least some law school experience. Although not impossible, the pass rate is low. It’s risky to spend years as a legal apprentice if you never manage to pass the bar exam. In fairness, however, this is also an issue faced by students of non-ABA-accredited law schools and even some ABA-accredited ones.

Final Thoughts

If you’re considering becoming a lawyer but don’t want to go to law school, you may have a chance. This pathway isn’t available to many people because only a few states provide it. However, living in one of those states may be worth it because of the hands-on experience you’ll receive.


Is It Okay to Take the Bar Without Going to Law School?

Of course. If it is allowed by your state, then it is okay to do it. However, taking the bar exam without going to law school does have pros and cons. On the one hand, it can save you money because law school is expensive and gives you hands-on experience before taking the bar. On the other hand, gaining the experience necessary to become a lawyer without getting a JD can be time-consuming and will limit when and where you can practice law.

Can You Pass the Bar Exam Without Law School?

Yes, you can pass the bar exam without attending law school. States that allow applicants to take the bar exam without attending law school require the applicant to participate in an apprenticeship. During their apprenticeship, the applicant learns what they need to know to take the bar exam.


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