How To Become a Lawyer Without Going to Law School: The Law Office Study Program

What do Abraham Lincoln, Kim Kardashian and Jessica Rodriguez have in common?  They all have followed the “non-traditional” path to becoming an attorney through participation in the “study of the law.” California is one of four states which permit aspiring lawyers to take the bar exam without attending law school and obtain their license to practice law. This option is called the “Law Office Study Program” and is codified in Business & Professions Code Section 6060 (e)(2)(B) and State Bar Rule 4.29. It permits an individual to study under the mentorship of an attorney or judge and complete thousands of hours of self-led work. The most obvious benefit is that it saves the prospective lawyer hundreds of thousands of dollars in traditional law school expense.

History of Law School Apprenticeship in the United States

Today, attending law school and securing a JD degree is a legal requirement to practice law in most states. However, this requirement is relatively new when American history is examined. In the colonial United States, nearly all legal professionals came over from England where they were trained in the apprenticeship system called the “Inns of Court.” In this system, those who wished to practice law had to work under a Barrister who would provide them with the training. In the 1800s colleges began offering law degrees and the English “apprenticeship” programs continued in several states. Abraham Lincoln is one of the most well-known individuals of that era to independently study the law and passed the Illinois bar exam under this self-led study. In reflecting on his study program he wrote “if you are absolutely determined to make a lawyer of yourself, the thing is more than half done already.”  In 1878, the American Bar Association was formed and they began lobbying for a national, uniform code of ethics. They were successful in convincing most states to only allow traditional law school attendance as a path to taking a bar exam and obtaining a license to practice law.

The Law Study Program in California

California did not follow the majority of states which only allowed the traditional law school path to obtaining a license to practice law.  Instead, the State Bar devised a program which permits self study under the mentorship of a licensed attorney or judge. The legal requirements for the law study program are found in Business & Professions Code Section 6060 (e)(2)(B) and State Bar Rule 4.29. The core elements of the program include: (1) study law in a law office or judge’s chambers during regular business hours for at least 18 hours each week for a period of four consecutive years (2) passage of the first year (“baby”) bar examination (3) passage of the Multi-state Professional Responsibility examination and (4) passage of the California Bar Examination.  The attorney or judge with whom the applicant is studying must also meet several requirements including: (1) be admitted to the active practice of law in California and be in good standing for a minimum of five years (2) provide the State Bar within 30 days of the applicant’s start of study an outline of the course of study that he/she will supervise (3) personally supervise the applicant for at least 5 hours per week (4) test the applicant at least once a month on study completed during the previous month (5) provide reports to the State Bar every six months regarding the applicant’s study and (6) not supervise more than two applicants during the same period of time.

As a result, it takes a serious time commitment for both the applicant and supervising attorney/judge to successfully complete the law study requirements. Recently, reality television “star” Kim Kardashian, has made headlines for her enrollment in the law study program and currently studies under the mentorship of attorneys Jessica Jackson and Erin Haney who founded an Oakland-based prison reform organization.

Contra Costa County Paralegal Jessica Rodriguez Experience

In Contra Costa County, Christina Weed of Mendes Weed, is the supervising attorney for her paralegal Jessica Rodriguez who is enrolled in the State Bar law study program. Jessica has always had a passion for the law but due to family and life circumstances she was never able to attend law school. After joining the Mendes Weed team, Christina Weed and Lisa Mendes both saw her passion along with her ability to use logical reasoning and critical thinking skills when completing assigned case matter tasks. At that point, they began to research the legal apprentice program and Jessica was officially approved by the California State Bar in June 2019.  She has completed her readings in Tort Law and has just started Contract Law. Jessica has found that reading and studying while having a full-time job is not an easy task. She has spent most of her free time reading textbooks while also trying to get ahead on preparation for the first year Law Student Exam “Baby Bar.” She looks forward to one day becoming a licensed attorney in the State of California, but until then she will continue to read, study, and spend sleepless nights to prepare to successfully pass the California Bar Exam. If Kim Kardashian can do it, then Jessica can most definitely do it!