Can You Pass the Bar Exam Without Going to Law School? (2023)

Can You Pass the Bar Exam Without Going to Law School? (1)

If you’re reading this article, you may be thinking about becoming a lawyer. And if that is your goal, you may also be questioning how you will fund your education. After all, the average total cost to attend law school is $205,744. Just tuition alone is $137,533! With that kind of money, you could purchase your first home! However, as you research law schools, one other possibility may come to mind. Can a person pass the bar exam without even attending law school? Let’s find out.

Yes, in some states, it is possible to take and pass the bar without going to law school. However, taking that road to becoming a licensed practicing lawyer is a long and arduous journey. Currently, the states that will allow you to take the bar exam without attending law school are California, Virginia, Vermont, and Washington. Maine and New York also have an apprenticeship program, but you still would have to attend some law school and then complete an apprenticeship before being allowed to take the bar.

Related: Do You Have to Go to Law School to Take the Bar Exam?

What Steps Does One Need to Take in Order to Pass the Bar in California, Virginia, Vermont, or Washington?

Before there were ever law schools, people became lawyers by becoming apprentices. Prospective students would find a lawyer who would be willing to take them on by going to the Inns of Court. Located in London, the Inns of Court was set up by literate laymen who created and dominated the legal system at the time. They did this as a way to educate those who wanted to practice law.

Some famous people who became lawyers this way are John Adams, Abraham Lincoln, and Thomas Jefferson.

In the colonial United States, nearly all the lawyers that existed during the early years arrived from England and had earned their legal status through this apprenticeship system called the Inns of Court. They were connected with a barrister (a lawyer) who trained them. This apprenticeship was the extent of their legal education.

(Video) How to Become an Attorney: Without Law School aka the Non-traditional Route

The process to take the bar without law school will vary. Each state will have different requirements. As an example, we will look at California.

California uses the Law Office Study Program (LOSP), which has several stipulations.

  • They have to work in an attorney’s office for 18 hours per week continuously for four years.
  • They have to have five hours of direct supervision.
  • The supervising attorney must have a minimum of five years of experience.
  • They have to pass the First-Year Law Students’ Examination, the “Baby Bar.”
  • They have to receive a positive moral character determination.
  • They have to pass the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination.
  • And they have to pass the California Bar Examination.

A significant challenge to taking this path to become a lawyer is finding an attorney willing to engage in an apprenticeship. As of 2021, none of the states with an apprenticeship program offer assistance in finding a willing attorney, so seekers have to rely on themselves to find someone who will commit to four consecutive years as a mentor.

Another requirement to the apprenticeship program is not just finding an attorney willing to take you on but also finding the right attorney who meets specific requirements. For Virginia and Washington, the lawyer has to have a minimum of 10 years of experience. In Vermont, the attorney only has to have three years of experience, and in California, it’s five.

Another famous, yet modern-day person who has passed the “Baby Bar,” the First Year Law Student’s Examination that is required in California, is Kim Kardashian. Though it took her four tries, she finally passed and is closer to fulfilling her dream to become a lawyer in California. In an Instagram post dated December 13, 2021, she said that this path is not easy for her and was not handed to her. Top lawyers told her that the journey she is taking is close to impossible. But she refuses to give up.

What is Involved in Passing the Bar in Maine and New York?

In order for a person to be allowed to sit for the bar exam in Maine, they must first attend two years of law school and apprentice for an attorney for at least one full year. The supervising attorney must then provide the bar with a certificate stating the practicing student completed the requirements to take the bar, including verification of the dates.

For New York, the requirements are slightly different. An applicant only needs to complete one year of law school and three years under the supervision of a mentoring attorney. Upon completion of the full four years, the applicant can take the bar.

(Video) How To Become a Lawyer With No Law School Or College

What Percentage of People Who Take the Bar Without Going to Law School Pass?

The percentage of people who pass the bar without attending law school is considerably less than those who attend law school. From 1996 to 2014, 1,142 apprentices took the bar exam. Out of that amount, only 305 passed.

The percentage who pass will also vary depending upon which state bar they are taking. For instance, Washington state provides apprentices with a lot of support, including volunteers who monitor the apprentice’s progress and set up study standards for them to follow. Because of this support, 67% of Washington’s apprentices passed the bar in 2014.

Comparatively, California is considered to have one of the country’s more difficult bar exams and therefore, there was a much lower percentage of apprentices who passed. Overall, the general ratio of apprentices who pass compared to those who attended an American Bar Association (ABA)-approved law school is about 27 percent.

This low percentage could also have to do with the fact that apprentices are studying under one attorney who usually specializes in one particular area. When this happens, the apprentice is missing out on learning a wider variety of topics that would be covered had they attended law school.

Which is Better, Attending Law School and Taking the Bar or Doing an Apprenticeship?

Which is better depends upon what type of person you are. If you are disciplined and structured and know how to apply yourself 100% to your studies, then there are certainly advantages to skipping law school and entering the workforce. There certainly is the financial gain just by the fact that you eliminate education debt. Plus, you have the possibility of earning money while you apprentice.

The rigorous demands that law school requires often leave students with little time for anything else, let alone work. Thus, they are studying around the clock with zero free time, and the end result is substantial debt. Most students who graduate law school end up owing hundreds of thousands of dollars and, upon passing the bar, have to resort to taking low-end corporate jobs just to climb out of debt. On the other hand, apprentices not only enter the workforce as licensed attorneys but also have several years of experience under their belt.

On the downside, apprentices may be debt-free once they pass the bar, but they struggle to get hired by prestigious law firms that like to peruse top-rated law schools looking to hire new associates.

(Video) How to Become a Lawyer without Going to Law School (Webinar)

Another downfall is how clients will view you as an attorney who did not go to law school. Ivan Fehrenbrach told the New York Times that clients would look at his empty wall in his office and, upon not seeing a degree, ask where he went to law school. When he told them he did not go to law school, they were not too happy.

It seems that the ABA and other overseeing law authorities don’t put much credence in apprenticeships and will do everything they can to persuade students to pursue a law degree.

However, there is one practicing attorney who sees things differently. He is former U.S. Marine Michael Ehline, who has a law firm with numerous locations all over California. He also is an award-winning attorney who has won over $150 million for his clients.

Ehline became a lawyer without obtaining a law degree but was also invited to attend law school. He says that before placing one foot onto the law school graduation stage, he was already a licensed practicing attorney.

Ehline lists many benefits of having direct attorney supervision instead of attending law school, such as:

  • 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 under, such as criminal prosecution, civil law, civil rights law, appeals, personal injury, and many others.
  • Apprentice students have more control of their schedules.
  • You will get to attend court (trials, hearings, arguments, cross-examinations, etc.).
  • You will get to attend depositions.
  • You will visit jails and prisons for prisoner interviews.

He says another essential gain is that you will have more opportunities to build strong relationships with court personnel, such as deputies, marshalls, clerks, CHP officers, and witnesses.The good news is that Ehline wants to share his knowledge with other persons wishing to become an attorney without going to law school, and he has a website geared toward teaching you how to accomplish this. For those interested he can be found online at Ehline Law Firm.

Can You Pass the Bar Exam Without Going to Law School? (2)

Alexandra Christensen

Alexandra Christensen is a freelance writer and editor. When she is not working on an assignment, she can be found hanging around with other writers she writes mostly about raising foster and adopted kids and those with invisible disabilities.

(Video) LAW SCHOOL (take the bar exam without going to law school- USA)


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.

Can you pass the bar without studying? ›

Is taking and passing the bar exam something that you could study for on your own? The short answer is yes. You do not need to take a bar exam prep course in order to take and pass the bar exam.

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.

What state is the easiest to pass the 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

How do I become a lawyer in the US without law school? ›

How to take the bar exam without going to law school
  1. 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. ...
  2. Find a legal apprenticeship. ...
  3. Pass the First-Year Law Students' Examination. ...
  4. Prepare for 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.

Did Kim Kardashian pass 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.

How hard is the bar exam actually? ›

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%.

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.

Can you call yourself a lawyer without a law degree? ›

Anyone can call themselves a lawyer, regardless of whether they have any professional legal qualifications or not.

What percentage of law school graduates never practice? ›

“These are the golden age graduates,” said American Bar Foundation faculty fellow Ronit Dinovitzer after the presentation, “and even among the golden age graduates, 24 percent are not practicing law.”

What is the hardest part of the bar exam? ›

Most people regard the MBE as the hardest portion of the bar exam. The questions are rarely easy or straightforward. They can be tricky and sometimes worded in a way that guides you to the wrong answer.

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.

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.

What's the difference between a paralegal and a lawyer? ›

What is the difference between a lawyer and a paralegal? Lawyers are licensed to practice law and represent clients, whereas paralegals are not. This means that lawyers are typically more highly trained and better compensated than paralegals.

Can you go straight to law school in America? ›

Some law students enter law school directly from their undergraduate studies without having had any post-baccalaureate work experience. Others begin their legal education significantly later in life, and they bring to their law school education the insights and perspectives gained from those life experiences.

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 a lawyer and an attorney? ›

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.

How long after baby do you get the bar? ›

The Bar candidate must study under a judge or lawyer for four years and must also pass the Baby Bar within three administrations after first becoming eligible to take the examination.

Why aren't lawyers called doctors? ›

Why don't lawyers call themselves doctor since they have doctorate degrees? When the JD — juris doctor degree — become the default degree for lawyers, the profession decided against using the title “doctor” for members of the profession. That said, I recall one college instructor with a JD calling himself “Dr.

How many times did Kim fail her baby bar? ›

Kim Kardashian announced at the end of 2021 that she passed California's baby bar examination. However, before that, she failed California's baby bar exam three times. What is not often discussed, however, is that it is very common to fail the baby bar exam on the first (or second!) try.

What happens if you fail the baby bar 3 times? ›

An applicant cannot get any credit for law study until they pass the baby bar. If you do not pass in the first three administrations, then you will only receive credit for the first year of your law school study. Passing the baby bar is something that all law students need to take seriously.

Who has the easiest bar exam? ›

Easiest Bar Exam to Pass in the U.S.
RankState Bar ExaminationOverall Passage Rate
44 more rows

How many times do people fail the bar exam? ›

The vast majority of law school graduates, 85 percent, take the bar exam once, according to a study by the National Conference of Bar Examiners that looked at data over five years. About 9 percent took the test twice. Less than 1 percent took the exam more than five times. A few refused to give up.

Does the bar exam have math? ›

While there is some writing involved in the exam, much of the test is based on an understanding of mathematical concepts.

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 hardest bar exam in the US? ›

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 a lawyer salary? ›

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).

How many times did Kim Kardashian fail law school? ›

Kim Kardashian took the legal exam four times before passing on her last attempt. Kim Kardashian received some very good news about her law school journey on The Kardashians. During Thursday's episode, the SKIMS founder was dining at Red Lobster when her make-or-break baby bar test results came in.

What is the law baby bar exam? ›

The First-Year Law Students' Examination (also known as the “baby bar”) is a one-day test given twice a year. It consists of four one-hour essay questions and 100 multiple-choice questions. The exam covers three subjects: Contracts, Criminal Law, and Torts. More than 700 applicants take the exam each year.

Can you be a lawyer with just the degree? ›

You don't need a law degree to become a lawyer – in fact, the modern legal profession is full of non-law graduates. The skills and experiences you gain from studying and working in other fields are assets that can make you a stronger candidate.

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 you do instead of being a lawyer? ›

Keep in mind your career goals, and that this list is not exhaustive, as you read on.
  • Arbitrator. ...
  • Paralegal/Legal Assistant. ...
  • E-Discovery. ...
  • Law Professor. ...
  • Compliance Specialist. ...
  • Human Resources. ...
  • Legal Marketer. ...
  • Jury Consultant.
Jun 27, 2018

Is failing in law school normal? ›

All these questions lead to one that eventually sums your life as a law student—do you quit now? The answer is no. Failing in law school is a necessary hazard for all law students trying their ways to become a lawyer. Failing in law school is a part of the process.

Is law a struggling career? ›

The job of a lawyer is very demanding and requires extreme concentration as you have to work on several cases simultaneously. Working hours are too long and you cannot afford to become lethargic as it is a highly competitive field. Remember, it is a lengthy process and it is hard to stick to it.

Who is the oldest law school graduate? ›

Ask Alex #3: Finances. John VanBuskirk was the oldest law school graduate in 2018, completing his degree at the University of North Texas Dallas College of Law at the age of 71.

Why do most people fail the bar? ›

Perhaps the most common reason for failing the bar exam is not studying enough. Preparing for the bar exam is a full-time job and you should set aside about 60 hours a week to study for the 8-10 weeks prior to taking the exam again.

How many times can you take the bar in the states? ›

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.

Do most people fail the bar? ›

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.

Who failed the bar exam the first time? ›

Governor Jerry Brown

Another influential California Governor, Brown failed the California bar exam on his first attempt. Despite this failure, he went on to have an influential career as a public servant, serving as the 34th and 39th Governor of California, the California Attorney General, and the mayor of Oakland.

Is the bar exam more difficult than the CPA exam? ›

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.

Is it okay to fail the bar exam? ›

Yes, you can try again!

A very common myth those who fail the bar exam start believing is that they failed because they just aren't smart enough. Nothing could be further from the truth. After making it through three years of law school, the odds that you failed because you “just didn't know the law” are low.

What's the lowest paying lawyer? ›

How Much Does a Lawyer Make? Lawyers made a median salary of $127,990 in 2021. The best-paid 25% made $194,580 that year, while the lowest-paid 25% made $81,620.

What is the least stressful law job? ›

Real estate law, estate planning law, and intellectual property law are commonly cited as the least stressful types of law to practice.

Which law field pays the most? ›

5 Highest Paying Law Jobs
  • Trial Lawyer.
  • Corporate Lawyer.
  • Tax Lawyer.
  • Patent Lawyer.
  • Real Estate Lawyer.

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? ›

All applicants seeking admission to The Florida Bar must be enrolled in an ABA-accredited law school that will ultimately result in the awarding of a Doctor of Jurisprudence degree, or must have already been awarded the JD degree from an ABA-accredited law school at a time when the law school was accredited or within ...

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 exam is required for law in USA? ›

The LSAT is the entrance exam to law school, just like the ACT or SAT is the entrance exam for undergraduate students. By studying for the LSAT, taking practice tests and practice courses, students will increase their chances of a high score, making them much more marketable to law schools in America.

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

A Master of Laws, known as a LLM, is a postgraduate law degree that allows students to gain a deeper insight into specific areas of law. Whilst it is possible for non-law students to complete a LLM at some providers, there are others who require a law degree or vast levels of relevant experience.

What GPA is required for law school? ›

Among the 191 ranked law schools that submitted grade data to U.S. News in an annual survey, the average median GPA of entering law school students in 2021 was 3.55. But at the 20 highest-ranked law schools, the average median GPA is much higher – 3.86.

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!

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.

What is the easiest career in law? ›

Real estate law, estate planning law, and intellectual property law are commonly cited as the least stressful types of law to practice.

What is the easiest major for law school? ›

These are all attributes you need to do well on the LSAT and in law school. Popular pre-law majors that are great preparation for law school include philosophy/classics, economics, political science, history, English, and engineering.

Is it better to go straight to law school? ›

Law schools do not categorically prefer applicants who take time versus those who go straight to law school. However, law schools do prefer for each applicant to carefully evaluate whether it would be in his or her best interest to wait to apply to law school.

What is the cheapest law school in the US? ›

Cheapest Law Schools Online 2023
  • University of Nebraska.
  • Liberty University.
  • University of Arkansas.
  • The University of Alabama.
  • Grand Canyon University.
  • Florida State University.
  • Arizona State University.
  • University of Arizona.

Is law in demand in USA? ›

Job Outlook

Employment of lawyers is projected to grow 10 percent from 2021 to 2031, faster than the average for all occupations.


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