Can You Become a Lawyer Without Going to Law School? Becoming a lawyer traditionally involves getting a four-year university degree, followed by three years of law school. However, there’s another option that allows you to become a lawyer without going to law school: the legal apprenticeship program.

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

This program offers a different approach for aspiring lawyers. Instead of going to law school, you can study under a judge or an experienced attorney for four years.

Can You Become a Lawyer Without Going to Law School?

If you meet the study requirements, you can skip law school and go straight to taking the state bar exam. Passing the bar exam will give you a license to practice law. But this can only be practiced in four states. In these four states, you can take the bar exam without first going to law school. However, most people attend law school to gain the knowledge they’ll need to pass the bar exam.

If the state where you want to practice law does not require that you first attend law school, you should still consider whether you would be able to adequately prepare to take and pass the bar exam without a formal education.

States That Allow You to Take the Bar Without Going to Law School

Below is a list of states that allow a person to take the bar exam without attending law school.


The State Bar of California’s Rule 4.29 allows a person who has completed at least two years of college to finish the rest of their legal education in a law office or judge’s chamber. A person must have studied in a law office for at least 18 hours each week for at least 48 weeks to receive credit for one year of study in law school.

The attorney or judge supervising the applicant must also have been an active California bar member for at least five years and personally supervise the applicant for at least five hours a week. The attorney or judge must also report to the Bar Committee every six months on how many hours the applicant studied, how many hours they were supervised, and include specific information on what was studied.

Once the applicant has completed their legal training, they can take the bar exam and become a lawyer in California if they pass.

California Requirements

. Four years studying in a law office

. 18 hours per week

. Five hours of direct supervision

. Monthly exams

. Bi-annual progress reports

. Supervising attorney must have five years of active law practice in California


The Washington State Bar Association’s Law Clerk Program is an alternative to attending law school. An applicant must have a bachelor’s degree and a full-time job with a lawyer or judge with at least 10 years of experience. The applicant must work at least 32 hours a week and pay $2000 per year while in the program.

Washington Requirements

. Four years employed in a law office

. 32 hours per week

. Three hours of direct supervision

. Supervising attorneys must have ten years of active law experience.

. Annual fee of $2,000

. Employment by the attorney is required.


The Virginia Board of Bar Examiners has allowed applicants to participate in the Law Reader Program as an alternative to law school. An applicant must have a bachelor’s degree and be supervised by an attorney. The applicant must study at a law office for 25 hours a week, 40 weeks each year. After the completion of this program, an applicant can take the Virginia bar exam.

Virginia Requirements

. Three years studying in a law office

. 40 weeks per year

. 25 hours per week

. Three hours of direct supervision

. Supervising attorney must have ten years of active law experience

. No employment or compensation is allowed


In Vermont, an applicant can participate in a law office study program, an alternative to attending law school. An applicant must have a bachelor’s degree and study law for 25 hours a week for four years. This program must be administered under the supervision of a lawyer or a judge. After completing the four-year program, the applicant must submit a Completion Notice to the Board. Once approved, the applicant takes the bar examination.

Vermont Requirements

. Four years studying with an attorney or judge

. Supervising attorney must have three years of active law practice

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 completing law school. Currently, Washington, Virginia, Vermont, and California are the only four states that allow this process. Wyoming, New York, and Maine allow lawyers to practice without earning a J.D. degree, although they must have at least some law school experience.

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 A Legal Apprenticeship

The next step is working as a legal apprentice, which will help you gain hands-on experience in the field. Apprentices typically work a certain number of hours every week for a set period under the supervision of a practicing lawyer. This type of apprenticeship also usually requires participants to complete a set number of study hours. The supervising lawyer must have a specific level of experience, which varies by state but could be between three and 10 years.

Pass The First-Year Law Students’ Examination

If you live and plan to practice in California, you must pass the First-Year Law Students’ Examination as part of your legal apprenticeship. This exam, also called the “Baby Bar,” is also required for first-year law students who attend unaccredited law schools.

California is currently the only state that requires the completion of this exam, which is because the state’s bar exam is the most difficult, with the lowest pass rate of all 50 states between 1995 and 2014.

The First-Year Law Students’ Examination is a single-day exam that covers:

. Community property

. Business associations

. Contracts

. Professional Responsibility

. Civil procedure

. Evidence

. Remedies

. Wills

. Torts

. Criminal law and procedure

. Real property

. Trusts

. The first two articles of the Uniform Commercial Code

Prepare For the Bar Exam

After completing the requirements of your legal apprenticeship, you will need to prepare to take the bar exam. The exam varies by state, as does the average pass rate. The pass rate for legal apprentices is approximately one-third that of those who have completed law school, so it is important to prepare as much as possible. Use online resources, including study materials and practice tests; limit other activities, and adhere to your study schedule to increase your chances of passing.

Benefits Of Having Direct Attorney Supervision Instead of Attending Law School

Some of the benefits are:

. You will have a personal mentor, so you will not study for the bar alone.

. You can choose which law practice you would like to study, such as criminal prosecution, civil rights law, appeals, personal injury, and many others.

.  Apprentice students have more control over their schedules.

. You will get to attend court (trials, hearings, arguments, cross-examinations, etc.).

. Will get to attend depositions.

. You will visit jails and prisons for prisoner interviews.

Frequently Asked Questions
  • Can I Take the Bar Exam Without Going to Law School In New York?

In New York, a person must complete a year of law school and three years of study in a law office under New York Bar Admission Rules Section 520.4. Once all that is completed, an applicant can take the bar exam.

  • What Are the Disadvantages of Taking the Bar Exam Without Attending Law School?

Here are some disadvantages to taking the bar exam without attending law school:

Cannot Practice Law in Another State

If a person completes a state’s program of taking the bar without going to law school, they can only practice law in that state. This route prevents a person from practicing law in any other state in the country.


Often, to substitute the time and knowledge a person would acquire in law school; the state would require an applicant to complete part-time to full-time hours for many years to complete the program. Although law school is also very time-consuming, apprenticeships seem to be much more so.


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