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Is Law School Required for the Bar Exam?

If you’re planning on practicing law in the United States, then the answer is most likely yes. But is law school required for the bar exam in every state? Not quite.

There are 4 states in the US that allow you to take the bar exam without attending at least some law school. Those states are California, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington. If you plan to practice exclusively in one or more of those states, then you just might be able to skip law school altogether.

However, skipping law school doesn’t mean you can just sign up for the next bar exam and go for it. Instead, you’ll have to take the exam as a law reader, which typically entails completing an apprenticeship, paying fees, and meeting a series of other requirements before taking the bar.

A great resource for reading up on state-by-state law apprenticeships is LikeLincoln.org. Just keep in mind that the linked article covers more than just the four states with law reader programs.

Below are summaries of the requirements for taking the bar as a law reader in each of the states where it’s allowed.
 

California

  • Pay $158 and submit a designated form stating your intent to study in a law office or judge’s chamber within 30 days of the date on which you begin your studies.
  • Complete at least 4 years of study in a registered law school, law office, or judge’s chambers (or any combination of the three).
  • Pay $105 and submit a report on your progress every 6 months for the duration of your studies.
  • Pass or establish exemption from the First-Year Law Students’ Examination (the fees for this exam are $594 for registration and $146 for a required laptop fee).

Approximate fees (pre-bar exam): $1,718
Approximate time commitment (pre-bar exam): 4 years

For more details on these requirements, visit The State Bar of California’s website.
 

Vermont

  • Pay $200 and submit a designated form stating your intent to study in a law office within 30 days of the date on which you begin your studies.
  • Complete at least 3 years of study in a law office, under the supervision of an attorney who has been licensed and practicing in Vermont for at least 3 years.
  • Submit reports on your progress every 6 month for the duration of your studies.

Approximate fees (pre-bar exam): $200
Approximate time commitment (pre-bar exam): 4 years

For more details on these requirements, read section 6(g)(1) and section 9 of the Rules for Admission to the Bar of the Vermont Supreme Court.
 

Virginia

  • Pay $500 and submit an application to the law reader program, a statement by the Supervising Attorney, and a recent LSAT score (if requested) by the stated deadlines.
  • Appear in front of the Board of Bar Examiners for an interview, if requested.
  • Complete a 3-year curriculum under a Supervising Attorney who has practiced full time in Virginia for at least 10 of the preceding 12 years (among other requirements).
  • Pass written examinations at the end of each course in the curriculum, and pass annual oral examinations in front of the Board of Bar Examiners.

Approximate cost (pre-bar exam): $500
Approximate time commitment (pre-bar exam): 3 years

For more details on these requirements, visit the Virginia Board of Bar Examiners’ website.
 

Washington

  • Obtain regular, paid employment with a lawyer or judge in Washington who has at least 10 years of active experience and will serve as your tutor.
  • Pay $100 and submit an application to the Law Clerk Program by the appropriate deadline.
  • Complete a 4-year course of study within 6 years of beginning the program.
  • Take monthly exams and submit 3 book reports.
  • Pay a $1500 fee each calendar year.

Approximate cost (pre-bar exam): $6,100
Approximate time commitment (pre-bar exam): 4 years

More details on these requirements can be found on the Washington State Bar Association’s website and in the Rules and Regulations Governing the Washington State Law Clerk Program.
 
 

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