Contrary to what the general public knows (including me until recently! And certainly long after I incurred $132,000.00 in student loans to get my law degree from Pepperdine University School of Law in Malibu, California, which are still painful to pay to this day!), a person can study under an attorney who has been practicing law continuously for at least 5 years (or a judge, which I believe would be much harder to find since there are commitment that must be made by both the student, and the lawyer or judge he or she studies under). The California State Bar Website outlines the rules and requirements for this program, but it is a legitimate way to become a lawyer and pass the Bar exam without a law degree, or even a college degree! (See further details if no college or at least two year "AA" degree.)
PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS INFORMATION IS BEING OFFERED AS SOMETHING THAT FOR MOST PEOPLE, IS A NEW CONCEPT, AND A CONCEPT WORTH EXPLORING FOR THEMSELVES TO ENSURE THEY COMPLY. This is NOT legal advice or coaching with regard to whether or not the State Bar Law Office Program is right for any particular person. It mere expresses my understanding of the rules, and highlights some of my opinions as to the benefits and negative aspects of proceeding through the program versus going to a law school prior to taking the same bar exam that anyone has to take to practice law as a licensed attorney in California. For the sake of time and simplicity, I am going to bullet point and comment on the negatives first, and then the benefits that I see in doing this amazing program assuming you find a good attorney or judge willing to train you and essentially mentor you for four years.
- If you don't go to law school, you don't get a law degree. Bottom line, who cares? Unless you want to graduate top of your class from an ivy league school and work for a big firm pushing paper and working so many hours a day/week that you are likely to burn out on being a lawyer in 3-5 years, what law school you went to, whether you graduated at the top of your class, what classes you got "A"s in, etc. are completely irrelevant in my opinion if you want to work for a firm, ideally the one that invest 4 years training, teaching, coaching and mentoring you, you wouldn't want to work for some big firm where you might wind up in a corner responding to discovery the first couple years trying to keep up with the insurmountable billable hour requirement most firms like that have.
- You won't get the training that you would otherwise get at law school. To be honest, unless you want to learn about legal theory and various other types of skills that are highly unlikely to be of any use in the real world, you aren't missing much at all (except huge student loans of course).
The Positives: 1. The program takes four years if done right. After the first year, you must take the "Baby Bar". This is actually a great way to test the waters and get a feel (on a smaller level) of what the real 3 day bar exam is going to be like. 2. NO STUDENT LOANS. In fact, depending on the arrangement with the attorney you work under, you should be making money the whole time WHILE LEARNING. So after getting your license, you have 4 years of experience in a firm you like where you will have learned so much more about practicing law than you would in law school it is silly to even compare the two, AND you have no debt and instead, a high chance of actually having earned an amount that could be quite substantial. 3. Job security. After a firm and a lawyer invest 4 years in training you to be a litigation machine and ensuring you pass the baby bar and the real bar exam, once you are licensed, it is HIGHLY unlikely that they are going to not want to keep you at the firm (now as a licensed attorney) as you will have spent 4 years being trained and gradually becoming more and more productive to the firm. It's like having a built-in job waiting for you after you take the bar exam. 4. Since the bar and baby bar are so difficult, and because you are not spending a small fortune on law school, you can afford private tutors, BARBI courses and any other course to prepare for the bar exam. This is especially true if you have been making money while you have been learning. 5. In today's market, litigation firms want someone with experience. Law school does not provide you with real experience in practicing law. This program, however, gives you 4 years of on the job training, learning and practicing the very skills you need as a litigator. By the time you pass the bar, you are a valuable asset to any firm you want to work at. I will add to this when I have more time. But to me, the answer is obvious. Take advantage of the fact that California is one of the few states left that allow this program and explore it carefully. It is hard to believe at first, but you will see, it is real. I am always available for questions and will continue to add to this as time permits. I wish you all the best and hope to hear from you soon. Sincerely, MPK