Wed. Apr 17th, 2024

Graduating law school is the path most people know to become a lawyer. However, that’s not always the case. Some jurisdictions do allow people to practice law without acquiring a Juris Doctor (JD) degree. Of course, in such jurisdictions, there are stipulations. For instance, such an individual may be required to work as an apprentice under an experienced lawyer for a certain amount of time before taking the bar exam. However, this path is usually not favorable if you intend to become a hotshot lawyer. Reputable firms like JacksonWhite Law do require their lawyers to have undergone law training by attending a conventional law school.

Why Avoid Law School?

With the cost of attending law school per year averaging about $49,000, many people are choosing to forego law school. A common trend among many graduates is that they leave law school with a ton of debt. For instance, it’s not uncommon for a law graduate to have student debts of over $250,000 after graduation. Given the chance of avoiding law school altogether, many aspiring lawyers are choosing to start practicing without acquiring a JD. Another reason for this trend is that many people are naturally gifted at arguments regarding the law. This natural aptitude makes some more likely to be excellent lawyers. As such, they may choose to avoid the financial commitment and debt associated with attending law school. Some may also argue that law school graduates tend to have limited experience at the time of graduation. Those that choose to become apprentices under a practicing lawyer, on the other hand, will acquire much more experience than their law graduate counterparts.

History of Law School

While it may seem unbelievable today, becoming a lawyer in the olden days did not require a college degree. In fact, many apprentices simply began their practices under an experienced lawyer and put in the work until they were qualified. While there are no accurate dates, the consensus is that law schools first emerged in the United States in the late 18th century.

Places Where You Can Become a Lawyer Without a Degree

Much like the medical profession, being a lawyer is a serious thing. That is why most jurisdictions require people to attend law school for some years before being allowed to practice law. However, there are places where one can practice law without a JD. These places include:

i) Vermont

ii) California

iii) Virginia

iv) Washington

In these four states, an individual can skip law school entirely.   

Other states require some form of apprenticeship before being allowed to practice. These include:

i) Wyoming

ii) New York 

iii) Maine

In these three states, an individual is allowed to substitute one or two years of law school for an apprenticeship program. For example, instead of attending 4 years of Law School, a person may choose to do only 3 years of law school study and supplement it with one year of apprenticeship. Such apprenticeship comes with certain conditions. For instance, the apprentice must do an internship program under an experienced lawyer with an established practice. Still, some states have strict rules about remuneration for apprentices. For instance, in Virginia, an apprentice cannot take payment from the lawyer under whom they are working.

In most of these states, aspiring lawyers will still have to take the bar exam regardless of whether or not they spend any amount of time at a law school.

A typical apprenticeship program involves several hours I work every week under the supervision of a senior lawyer. For example, an apprentice may be required to work 30 hours a week under the direct supervision of a senior attorney. Additionally, such an apprentice will have to put in a specific amount of hours studying law-related material. 

Practicing law Without a degree comes down to the state where you are. In California, apprentices are required to pass the “baby bar,” a first-year law school students’ examination. This exam is quite difficult, with a very low pass rate.

In places like Row Virginia, an apprentice can only do an internship under a lawyer with over 10 years of experience.

Disadvantages of Skipping Law School

It is so easy for most people the focus on the upside of skipping law school that they forget its downsides. Common among them is the fact that passing the bar is exceedingly difficult without some form of law school experience and study. Additionally, many employers and law firms are reluctant to hire someone who has not attended law school simply because of how unusual it is.

All in all, choosing to skip law school while aspiring to be a practicing law needs some serious thought. This is because you may choose to enroll in an apprenticeship program and never pass the bar, having spent years shadowing a lawyer.

By Manali