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Pepperdine University School of Law

Monday, December 5, 2011

NLJ: 'Reading the Law' Is Law School Alternative in Seven States

National Law Journal, Law School? Who Needs It?:

Abraham Lincoln. Clarence Darrow. John Marshall. Some of America's most famous attorneys never graduated from law school. They "read the law," teaching themselves or apprenticing with an experienced lawyer before joining the bar.

Reading the law fell out of vogue in the United States during the late 19th century, when schools of law were established and the newly formed ABA started pushing states to require formal postgraduate education.

A handful of states still allow would-be lawyers to bypass law school altogether and learn the law under an experienced attorney, or to supplement one or two years of formal law school with a year or two of apprenticing. ...

California, Vermont, Virginia and Washington state allow people to skip law school and instead spend three or four years learning the law in the office of an experienced attorney before taking the bar. Maine, New York and Wyoming allow people with one or two years of law school to take the bar exam if they supplement their missed law school years with a legal apprenticeship.

The chance to skip law school in favor of hands-on training might seem especially appealing, considering that tuition has doubled during the past 15 years and in light of criticism that formal legal educators are failing to teach practical skills. But the programs have never been hugely popular, and bar examiners in most states where the option is available report that the number of people reading the law has stagnated or declined. ...

Nationwide, 59 people took a state bar exam in 2010 after completing a law office study program rather than graduating from law school, according to the National Conference of Bar Examiners. They represented just 0.08% of the nearly 70,000 people who sat for the exam last year. ... The exam has proven a significant hurdle for those who take the alternative route. Of those 59 who took the test in various states last year, only 17% passed, compared with 74% of test takers who graduated from ABA-approved law schools.

Low bar-passage rates help explain why few people sign up for these alternative programs. ... Lack of mobility is another. In most cases, the only state that recognizes the law license is the state in which it was obtained.

Gary Blasi, a professor at UCLA School of Law, joked that his legal schooling was the "100% clinical education method." He started California's Law Office Study Program in 1971 after getting burned out in graduate school, he said. On a bit of a lark, he began studying with five other aspiring lawyers in a community law office in Los Angeles. He began performing clerical tasks around the office and moved on to drafting briefs, all while studying for the bar exam. He passed on his first try.

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Christine Beshar, the first female partner at Cravath, also read the law. She was made a partner in 1971 and retired about ten years ago. She was clever and a delightful person.

Posted by: Bill | Dec 5, 2011 2:56:01 PM

Any intellectual heir of Jefferson with even a hint of egalitarianism in their blood should revolt at the ABA's hegemony over the legal profession and support the time honored practice of reading for the law.

Posted by: Jake | Dec 5, 2011 6:58:44 PM