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How To Become A Lawyer Without Going To Law School

As surprising as it might sound there are several states in our Union that allow a person to become a lawyer without having to go the law school.  Seven states are currently known to allow this situation to occur: Vermont, New York, Washington, Virginia, California, Maine, and Wyoming.  The American Bar Association (ABA) frowns extremely heavily upon this but it is not illegal.  Most states still prohibit out-of-state licenses to practice in their courts so that the ramification of a person who obtains a license to practice law without formal schooling stays essentially within that state.

Although one can obtain said license getting that licenses still requires great determination and effort on the part of the lawyer-in-training (LIT).  The phrase is apt as the “no school required” states do require four years of daily, hourly study under the tutelage on a practicing lawyer and learning on the job!  Also, the LIT must pass the state’s bar exam(s).  As expected each state has its own rules and regulations around the LIT situation to insure that the person involved does know the state’s law sufficiently to provide the proper service to his or her clients.

One of the striking benefits of the no-school approach falls out of the starkest benefits of this approach.  With no school involved the LIT does not incur the breathe-taking expense that typically results from going through law school.  Numbers like $132,000 and up are spared the no-school or “law office study” (LOS) LIT (LOSLIT).  The striking benefit that comes out of this is the ability to take a lower paying position rather than having to get top dollar to pay off the surreal debt.  Also, the LOSLIT has a number of years of actual experience in a law office (at least four), with a practicing lawyer, having done “lawyer things” day in and day out.  Still, LOS is a tough row to hoe.  Metrics on bar exams shows that over 73% of schooled lawyers pass while LOS LITs only pass 43% of the time.  In most of the LOS states there is no provision for those who did not pass to retake the bar exam again.

It is important to note that the ABA was not incorporated until 1878.  There was very little formal schooling for lawyers before that.  There is, however, a litany of great Americans who were lawyers before the ABA came to be and many of them had no opportunity to attend law school; some of them had no formal schooling at all.  Yet, they became lawyers (not sure if they had to be licensed) and practiced law successfully.

Another benefit of the no-school approach is that those who could not afford to attend law school can become lawyers in the allowing states.  Not having to face the previously mentioned costs opens the field to those who are very able lawyers yet very financially challenged.  Some people noted that even in this modern age, a number of LOSLIT lawyers have achieved height in their profession, some even to their respective state supreme courts.  That is rather impressive for not being schooled.


This article contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. The Law Dictionary is not a law firm, and this page does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.