Bar Exam Without Law School - (2023)

If you are considering becoming a lawyer, you might be dreading the thought of spending three to four years (or more) in law school, then sitting (possibly multiple times) for the challenging bar examination, in order to be able to practice law. These years of law school add up, and can cost from $84,792 to $148,644 or more (perU.S. News and World Report). Added to the cost of getting a bachelor’s degree before that, which can cost between $30,000 and $55,000, in total, many law school graduates have loans between $100,000 and $200,000 or more to repay. It is not a welcoming prospect to look forward to paying off huge college and law school loans as graduates are beginning their careers as attorneys. On top of that, one must also pay to take the bar examination, sometimes multiple times, if it is not passed on the first try. Although the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes that the average median salary for lawyers for 2020 is $126,930, most lawyers don’t begin their law careers making that amount.

All of this begs the question, can you take the bar exam and become a lawyer without going to law school? The answer to this question is yes – in some cases, and in some states, this can be accomplished. In fact, there have been some famous lawyers throughout history who did not attend law school. We will now delve into the process of becoming a lawyer through “reading the law” rather than going to law school.


Bar Exam Without Law School - (1)

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Famous Lawyers Who Did Not Attend Law School

Apprenticeship law has been used in the United States as a valid way to become a lawyer for many years. One of the most famous lawyers who benefited from apprenticeship law is President Abraham Lincoln. He independently studied law and passed the Illinois bar examination on his own before becoming president. Others who didn’t go to law school yet still became famous lawyers include:

  • John Marshall (Chief Justice of the Supreme Court) – he attended six weeks of law classes at William & Mary University before deciding to apprentice in law instead
  • John Adams – our second president was also a law apprentice
  • Daniel Webster – the renowned senator studied law in a friend’s law office
  • Clarence Darrow- the famous lawyer dropped out of law school and opted for independent study in a law office
  • Thomas Jefferson – the celebrated politician and author of the “Declaration of Independence” was a law apprentice

States Which Allow Taking of Bar Exam Without Going to Law School

There are just a few states that allow people to take the bar exam without going to law school. Instead, these bar exam applicants have studied the law with the assistance of a lawyer, doing something called “reading the law.” Four states currently allow this:


TheState Bar of California’s Rule 4.29allows a person who has completed at least two years of college to fulfill the remainder of their legal education in a law office or judges’ chambers. They must have studied law in a law office or judges’ chambers for 18 hours each week for at least 48 weeks to receive credit for one year of study in law school; or for 18 hours each week for 24 weeks to receive credit for a half-year of study in law school. The attorney or judge supervising the applicant must have been an active California bar member for at least five years, and must personally supervise the applicant for at least five hours each week. They must examine the applicant at least once each month during study time, and report to the Bar Committee every six months how many hours the applicant has studied each week, how many hours they were supervised, and include specific information on what materials were studied. Additionally, an attorney or judge may not supervise more than two applicants at one time. After completion, the applicant may sit for the California bar exam and, if they pass, they willbecome a lawyer in California.


TheVermont Supreme Courtoffers a law office study program in lieu of law school. An applicant must first have a bachelor’s degree. They must study law for 25 hours a week for four years under the supervision of a lawyer or judge. (The Board has the discretion to award an applicant partial credit for up to two years of the four-year term, based on the applicant’s prior legal study). Every six months, the supervising lawyer or judge must submit a report certifying that the applicant has completed requirements during that period, including the number of weeks studied, the content studied, and the outline for the next six-month reporting period. After completing four years of study, the applicant must submit a Completion Notice to the Board. When approved, they may sit for the bar examination inVermont.


TheVirginia Board of Bar Examinershas approved a Law Reader Program as an alternative to attending law school. Applicants must have a bachelor’s degree and be supervised by an attorney or retired circuit court judge. A law reader must study for three years, 40 weeks each year, 25 hours of study each week. The supervising attorney must personally supervise the reader for at least three hours each week. The supervising attorney must prepare and submit quarterly certificates of the number of hours the reader studied each week and the progress being made. At the end of the three years, the applicant must pass an examination prepared, administered and graded by the supervising attorney. The applicant who passes that exam may then sit for theVirginia Bar Exam.


TheWashington State Bar Association’s Law Clerk Programis an alternative to attending law school that is authorized under the Washington Supreme Court’s Admission and Practice Rule 6. Applicants to the program must first have a bachelor’s degree and a full-time job with aWashington lawyeror judge with at least 10 years of experience. That person will serve as the primary tutor of the applicant in the Law Clerk Program. The applicant must work at least 32 hours per week, with three hours of personal supervision each week, and must pay $2000 per year while in the program. Each year of study must consist of six courses completed in 12 months. The prescribed course of study is equivalent to four years of law school. Monthly examinations must be given by tutors, and certificates submitted monthly. At the end of the course, the applicant may sit for the Washington state bar exam.

States Allowing Taking of Bar Exam With Some Time in Law School Combined With Study in Law Office

Another alternative offered by three states is a combination of studying in a law office and spendingsometime (not three years) in law school. They are:


Mainerequires a minimum of two years of study in law school, followed by one year of study in a law office, in order to become a lawyer via the apprenticeship route. Under theMaine Bar Admission Rules,any attorney who supervises an applicant who studies in their law office must provide the bar with a certificate verifying the dates of study and the successful completion of that course of study. Only after completing two years of law school and one year apprenticeship is a person eligible to sit for Maine’s bar exam.

New York

Under New York Bar Admission RulesSection 520.4, an applicant may complete one year of study in law school and three years of study in a law office inNew York, under the supervision of a licensed attorney, in lieu of spending three to four years in law school. After completion of four years of study combined, that person may sit for the New York bar exam.

West Virginia

West Virginia Judiciary’s Rules for Admission to the Practice of Laware a bit tricky on this point, but it is possible to study at a law school and complete study in a law office in the state. If you have attended three years of law school at a non-ABA-accredited law school, in a state where attendance at that law school would make you eligible to take that state’s bar exam, you may become eligible to take West Virginia’s bar exam by completing three years of study in aWest Virginialaw office.

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Can I Still Pass the Bar Exam Without a Law Degree?

If you are contemplating becoming a law apprentice in lieu of attending law school and getting a degree, you might wonder if you still have a good chance of passing yourstate’s bar examination. The answer is, it depends upon the state. If you study law in an office in Washington, their state bar provides much support for students choosing to apprentice. As a result, in 2014, 67 percent of apprentices who took Washington’s bar exam passed it. California’s state bar exam, on the other hand, is considered to be among the hardest in the country to pass, and accordingly, pass rates for apprentices are quite low. In general, the bar exam pas rate of an apprentice is about half that of a student who graduates from an ABA-approved law school – overall, it is about 27 percent.


Can you take the bar exam without going to law school in the US? ›

In 2021, only four states (California, Virginia, Vermont, and Washington) permit those aspiring to be lawyers to take the state's bar exam without attending law school. The alternative is the option to apprentice with a practicing attorney or judge.

Has there ever been a lawyer who didn't go to law school? ›

Other famous lawyers besides Abraham Lincoln and Clarence Darrow became lawyers without J.D. degrees. For example, John Marshall, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court; Benjamin N. Cardozo, Justice of the Supreme Court; and even Strom Thurmond, U.S. Senator and South Carolina Governor, didn't possess law degrees.

Do you have to go to law school to take the bar in Georgia? ›

The Georgia Board of Bar Examiners requires that you graduate from an ABA-approved law school (listed in the LSAC Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools) or a Georgia Board of Bar Examiners-approved law school (if graduation occurred before January 1, 1998) prior to sitting for the Georgia bar exam.

What are the requirements for the bar exam in Georgia? ›

To sit for the Georgia Bar Exam, you must have graduated with a Juris Doctorate (JD) or LL. B from a law school approved by the American Bar Association (ABA) or the Georgia Board of Bar Examiners and be of sound character and fitness as defined by the Supreme Court of Georgia.

What state has the easiest law bar exam? ›

Easiest Bar Exams
  • South Dakota (Pass rate: 68%)
  • Wisconsin (Pass rate: 59%)
  • Nebraska (Pass rate: 80%)
  • Iowa (Pass rate: 79%)
  • Montana (Pass rate: 77%)
Jan 18, 2023

Can you call yourself a lawyer without passing the bar? ›

In the U.S., the only requirement for calling oneself a lawyer is that they graduated law school. They do not have to pass a bar exam or be admitted to a state bar. An attorney, however, has passed a bar exam and is licensed to practice law in some jurisdiction.

Is Kim Kardashian done with law school? ›

As times have changed, law school and the Socratic method teaching tactic have become the norm, with only seven states – California included – still allowing for the apprenticeship option. After countless hours of studying and three failed attempts, Ms. Kardashian finally passed the baby bar in October 2021.

How common is it to fail law school? ›

“The flunk-out rate for law students is in the range of 12-25%” says Lisa Blasser, a Claremont-based attorney, and author of “Nine Steps to Law School Success: A Scientifically Proven Study Process for Success in Law School.” So, what explains someone failing?

Is law school worth it if you don t want to be a lawyer? ›

It's true: you can go to law school even if you don't want to be a lawyer. A JD can turbocharge your career prospects and teach you incredibly versatile and in-demand skills.

Can you just pass the bar and be a lawyer in Georgia? ›

Once you pass the bar exam and MPRE, the Georgia Office of Bar Admissions enrolls you in the Transition into Law Practice Program, a training experience for new law practitioners. This mandatory program helps new bar members develop valuable skills for their legal career.

Which state has the hardest bar exam? ›

While California's bar exam may be largely perceived as the hardest one in the nation, some other states that may pose similar difficulty and the reasons for this include: Arkansas: Arkansas also has a grueling two-day test. It requires you to know several state and local laws, in addition to federal ones.

What is the easiest law school to get into in Georgia? ›

What is the Easiest Law School to Get into in Georgia? Based on the high acceptance rate of 43.1% and low GPA and LSAT score requirements of 3.31 and 151, respectively, Atlanta's John Marshall Law School is the easiest to get into.

Can anyone take the bar exam in Georgia? ›

Bar Exam Information

The Bar Examination Application is available only to applicants who hold a valid Certification of Fitness to Practice Law in Georgia.

Can you just study for the bar exam? ›

It is typically recommended that you study for about 400 to 600 hours for the bar exam. That is a staggering amount, but there's a lot to do!. If you are studying full-time, again, you should study 40-60 hours per week for nine or ten weeks.

Can anyone take the bar exam? ›

No applicant shall be admitted to the bar examinations unless he has satisfactorily completed the following courses in a law school or university duly recognized by the government: civil law, commercial law, remedial law, criminal law, public and private international law, political law, labor and social legislation, ...

What can I do instead of law school? ›

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.

Which state has the hardest law? ›

California. The California Bar Exam has one of the lowest pass rates in the country. The exam takes full days, including a performance test to evaluate your ability to handle several legal challenges involving a client.

What is the easiest lawyer to become? ›

Estate Planning

Although being a legal clerk is the easiest career path, it is only suited for beginners. Estate planning wins the most stress-free legal practice area when practicing law for lawyers. Many lawyers avoid estate planning as it is a field of law associated with death.

Has Kim Kardashian passed the bar? ›

In 2021, Kim cleared her bar when the results got announced in December. She shared with her friends that passing the baby bar exam was a nearly impossible journey and that it was sheer hard work and determination. By passing the test, Kim can continue with her legal apprenticeship and try the state bar exam.

Is attorney higher than lawyer? ›

It is helpful to remember that all attorneys are lawyers, but not all lawyers are attorneys. The major difference is that attorneys can represent clients in court and other legal proceedings, while lawyers cannot.

What is the difference between a JD and an attorney? ›

both refer to someone who has completed law school. J.D. stands for Juris Doctor, and signifies that someone has completed law school and earned their J.D. degree. Esq. stands for Esquire and this title typically signifies that someone has both completed law school and passed the bar exam.

Are you a lawyer if you pass the baby bar? ›

According to the State Bar of California, the baby bar is required for those who study at a State Bar-unaccredited registered law school, those without two years of college work, or through a law office study program with lawyers or judges. Passing the baby bar does not mean you are a lawyer.

What was Kim Kardashian LSAT score? ›

In a clip from the show, Kim revealed to sisters Khloé and Kourtney that she failed the important test. In order to pass, Kim needed a score of 560. She scored 474.

What is the difference between the baby bar and the bar exam? ›

The baby bar is similar to the actual bar exam in that it includes both essay and multiple-choice questions. However, instead of testing all areas of law, it tests three areas of law: Contracts, Criminal Law, and Torts. The test focuses on general principles of law (rather than California law).

Why do people quit law school? ›

An unfortunate but common reason that many students drop out of law school is experiencing an unanticipated life event or hardship. This could be something like the birth of a child, a death in the family, or financial obligations that make it impossible for the student to continue studying for their law degree.

What year of law school is the hardest? ›

Since law school is only three years, your first-year grades have a big impact on your overall GPA. Further, the first-year GPA often means the most because your first year is graded on a strict curve. So, it's usually harder to do well in your first year than it is to do well in your second and third years.

Is law school declining? ›

Today, overall JD enrollment has roughly stabilized at a level not seen in over 40 years. Compared to the peak in JD enrollment in 2010 (147,525 students), overall JD enrollment was down 20.9% in 2022. To say the least, law schools are facing incredible financial pressure—especially as the average price paid declines.

What age is too late for law school? ›

It's never too late in life to apply to law school. Although most applicants are under 25, roughly 20% are 30 or older, according to the Law School Admission Council. Many older law school graduates build fulfilling second careers that draw upon preexisting skills and experiences.

Can I do a masters in law without a law degree? ›

7. Can I apply if I do not have a law degree? Students without a law background may apply to the LLM programme, but they need to demonstrate a high level of professional or academic experience in areas closely related to the subjects they wish to study.

What works with law but not a lawyer? ›

Some relevant careers similar to lawyer positions include litigation support, paralegals, legal assistants, electronic discovery specialists, legal IT professionals, and others who work in support roles with lawyers.

How many times can you fail the bar in Georgia? ›

No Set Limit: Most of the states in the country have no limit on the number of attempts a student can give to pass the bar exam. There is no set number defined, and it does not affect the candidate's eligibility in any way.

How many times can you take the bar Georgia? ›

There is no limit to the number of times you can take the California bar exam other than the fact that there are only two administrations per year, one in February and one in July.

How long is law school in GA? ›

A J.D. can be earned in 4 years with summer enrollment, although many students complete the program in 5 years. All programs and resources are available to both part-time and full-time J.D. students, including moot court, Law Review and trial litigation programs.

Is the bar harder than the CPA? ›

The CPA Exam. You've heard the horror stories: It's derailed the careers of promising professionals. It's definitely harder than the BAR exam and maybe even some medical board exams. And it's nearly impossible to pass once you're a working professional.

What state has lowest bar pass rate? ›

Unsurprisingly, California has the lowest passage rate (44.42%) by a wide margin. Take even a great in-state school like UCLA and only 86% percent of students are passing on their first try. That gives you an idea of how hard the CA bar is.

What is the top 1% bar exam? ›

A 300 is in about the 90th percentile, and 330 is in the top 1% of all scores.

Is law school harder than med school? ›

So which degree is tougher? One student may say that medical school is tougher while another says that law school is tougher. In reality, it really depends on you, how you learn, and your natural abilities and aptitude of being a student.

Can I get into law school with a 2.7 GPA? ›

So generally, if you're trying to get into the top schools, a GPA below 3.6 will be considered low. But to answer the question what GPA do you need to get into law school, any law school, then the answer is at least a 2.5. That is realistically the lowest GPA you can have to get into law school.

What is the hardest law school semester? ›

First semester is tough, but most law schools put the more substantively challenging classes in the spring. There is a lot of pressure to perform well again. I know, what a sob story. But really, it can be even harder waiting for your grades just to know you weren't a one hit wonder.

What are the requirements to take bar exam in USA? ›

Generally, admission to a bar requires that the candidate do the following: Earn a Juris Doctor degree or read law. Pass a professional responsibility examination or equivalent requirement. Pass a bar examination (except in cases where diploma privilege is allowed)

Is it possible to take the bar exam without graduating from law school in Florida? ›

Applicants must complete the requirements for law school graduation prior to submitting to the General Bar Examination (Parts A or B). Scores achieved by applicants on the MBE administered by any other admitting jurisdiction are accepted if the score meets the criteria required under rule 4-26.2 and rule 4-18.1.

Can you go to law school without a degree in USA? ›

Non-Degreed Regular - Applicants to law school without a Bachelor's Degree can satisfy pre-legal education requirements if they have earned: an academic AA or AS Degree, OR 60 semester/90 quarter units of bachelor degree-applicable coursework, at a regionally accredited college.

Can I take the bar exam in Florida without a law degree? ›

There are only four states that allow you to take the bar exam and practice law without a formal law education. These states include Washington, Virginia, California, and Vermont.

How many times can you fail the bar exam in the USA? ›

No Set Limit: Most of the states in the country have no limit on the number of attempts a student can give to pass the bar exam. There is no set number defined, and it does not affect the candidate's eligibility in any way.

Who are qualified to take the bar exam? ›

A bar candidate must meet the following academic qualifications:
  • Holder of a professional degree in law from a recognized law school in the Philippines.
  • Holder of a bachelor's degree with academic credits in certain required subjects from a recognized college or university in the Philippines or abroad.

Can you go to law school with any degree? ›

Students who wish to pursue a Bachelor of Laws should have a pre-law undergraduate degree like Political Science, Philosophy, English, Economics, or History. However, students who do not hold an undergraduate program in those fields but still wish to pursue the program may still apply for the program.

Can you be lawyer and not pass bar exam? ›

Attorneys, lawyers, and counsels have all been educated and trained in law. As explained above, attorneys must pass the bar exam, and practice law in court. Lawyers may or may not have taken the bar exam, and may or may not practice law. Counsels provide legal advice, and often work for an organization or corporation.

Is it legal to be lawyer without a law degree? ›

You can qualify as a solicitor and a barrister with a non-law degree. However, you may need to complete postgraduate qualifications to get up-to-speed before you can become a lawyer. These conversion courses condense the knowledge you need to complete the assessments to qualify as a lawyer into a single year.

Can you take the LSAT without a law degree? ›

That's right, the LSAT has no prerequisites, and because it is not a content-forward exam (unlike the MCAT or even the GRE), there are no classes that you “need to” have taken in order to perform well on the LSAT test. In fact, you don't even need to be committed to going to law school and getting a law degree!

Can I become a lawyer at 40? ›

It's never too late in life to apply to law school. Although most applicants are under 25, roughly 20% are 30 or older, according to the Law School Admission Council. Many older law school graduates build fulfilling second careers that draw upon preexisting skills and experiences.

Is a degree in law worth it? ›

Attending law school can be an excellent decision to further your education. A law degree can lead to a high earning potential, increased job opportunities and a broad professional network. This degree can also grow your critical thinking and communication skills.

How hard is the bar exam? ›

Is The Bar Exam Hard? The short answer: yes. Administered nationwide across all states and U.S. territories, the bar exam is widely known to be a test with an extremely high degree of difficulty. For first time test takers, the nationwide pass rate for the bar exam recently climbed to 79.64%.


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