Can I Take The California Bar Exam Without Law School?
Many aspiring lawyers wonder if they can take the California Bar Exam without actually going to law school. The short answer is yes, they can. In the state of California, there are avenues that make it is possible to become an attorney without going to law school. However, there are still many things you should consider before doing this.
In this post, we discuss how that is done and review the advantages and disadvantages of taking the California Bar Exam without law school.
Can I Take The California Bar Exam Without Law School?
How it’s Possible
California is one of the few states that allows aspiring lawyers to take the bar exam without going to law school. They can do this by instead completing a four-year law office study program to become a legal professional. However, this path is not an easy alternative to skipping law school that many may think it is.
Rule 4.29 of the State Bar of California allows an applicant to “[s]tudy in a law office or judge’s chambers” in order to qualify to take the bar exam.
To qualify, among other reporting and procedural compliance, a person must:
- study law in a law office or judge’s chambers during regular for at least 18 each week for a minimum of 48 weeks to receive credit for one year of study. If a person does this for only 24 weeks, they are eligible to receive credit for one-half year of study.
- pass the First-Year Law Students’ Examination, also known as “Baby Bar”. Check out our post on What is the Baby Bar? to learn about what subjects are tested and how to pass.
- pass the MPRE. Learn more about JD Advising’s free, online MPRE course here.; and
- pass the California Bar Examination.
If you choose to do this, you are not alone! The famous defense attorney, Clarence Darrow, chose this route to become a lawyer. He decided that it would be much more cost-effective to apprentice in an actual law office than to go to law school. He then took the bar exam and passed. Currently, Kim Kardashian West is participating in the California Law Office apprentice program. She says that she has been completing 18 hours of weekly supervised student practice since July 2019 under the supervision of two mentor lawyers. In a few months, she will take the Baby Bar. Kim Kardashian West also gave JD Advising a shout out recently while she used bar our materials to help her study!
The Advantages of Skipping Law School
The obvious advantage of skipping law school is avoiding the high cost of traditional legal education. Most students cannot finance their legal education themselves and take out loans to do so. Not only is law school tuition expensive, but there are other additional high costs such as the cost of books, cost of living, lost income if you stop working to pursue your education, and moving costs (if you’re not already living near the school). (Check out Five Law School Cost Considerations to better understand some of these financial factors.)
Another advantage to skipping law school and choosing the apprentice program is getting more hands-on experience by working with a practicing attorney, instead of going to law school and learning the black letter law. Working for a practicing attorney allows you to learn legal principles and immediately put them to use. This is an experience that you will not get in law school.
Lastly, spending your time actively working in a law office or judge’s chambers allows you to build your network of lawyers. Knowing the “right” people is an essential part of finding your next legal job, closing deals, or negotiating a great resolution for your client. While going to school allows law students to network with classmates (who are future lawyers and judges), those that are working in a law office or courtroom are instead directly in contact with people with already established careers.
The Disadvantages of Skipping Law School
But how does one actually pass the bar exam without at least some law school experience? The apprenticeship exam candidates do not have the benefit of a structured legal education background that law school candidates have, which includes deadlines, exams, classroom environment. Candidates who skip law school also don’t have the luxury of having a professor walk them through each and every case or legal principle. There are no office hours set aside to answer your questions!
Additionally, bar exam pass rates are far lower for candidates who have chosen this path instead of the traditional path. Moreover, most of America’s prestigious law firms tend to only recruit from top-tier law schools, putting the best positions out of reach for apprentices.
There are a lot of factors one should consider before enrolling in the apprentice program. Apprenticeships are not for everyone. Candidates, who choose this route, should do so with the full understanding that it is not an easy alternative to going to law school!
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