FAQ: Can You Become a Lawyer Without Going to Law School?

Updated February 3, 2023

Law school provides specialized education to students interested in becoming a lawyer. Some students aim to become a lawyer without attempting to go to law school. Knowing the process of becoming a lawyer helps you decide if you want to go to law school or if you want to pursue a different career path.

In this article, we answer frequently asked questions related to becoming a lawyer without going to law school.

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Can you become a lawyer without going to law school?

Only four states allow you to become a lawyer without going to law school. These four states include:

  • California

  • Vermont

  • Virginia

  • Washington

Three states require you to go to law school, but you can substitute one or two years of your law school education by working in an apprenticeship program, formally known as a law office study program. These three states include:

  • New York

  • Maine

  • Wyoming

Read more: Should I Go to Law School? (With FAQ)

How do you become a lawyer without going to law school?

There are a distinct set of requirements you have to follow to become a lawyer. However, requirements to become a lawyer vary by the state regardless if you go to law school or not. Here are steps to help you become a lawyer without attending law school:

1. Earn your high school diploma or GED

Earn your high school diploma to make yourself eligible to enroll in an undergraduate law program. While earning your high school diploma, focus on getting a high GPA and participate in extracurricular activities that you can add to your college application and increase your eligibility toward getting accepted into a nationally recognized program. Take law classes in high school to get a basic understanding of law concepts before you take college courses.

2. Obtain your bachelor's degree

Get a Bachelor's Degree in Pre-Law from an accredited college or university to expand your knowledge of the law and cultivate skills to help you as a lawyer. Expanding your knowledge in law can expose you to concepts that show up on the BAR exam and introduce to professionals who have had a career in law. Network with professors through your university's pre-law program to see if they can connect you with law professionals who might want you to intern at their office.

3. Enroll in a law office study

Enroll in a law office study program after you graduate from college to get firsthand work experience with law professionals. Working with law professionals through a law office study program allows you to grow your professional network. For example, you may ask your supervisor or another colleague to mentor you and give direction on how to pass the BAR exam. Check your state's website and speak with your professional network to get resources and guidance on how to find the right law office study program for you and additional instructions to become a lawyer.

4. Study and pass the BAR exam

Study for and pass the BAR exam once you complete the state's requirements to become a lawyer. Some states require you to apply to take the BAR exam, so be sure to look at your state's requirements to ensure you're completing each step. Sign up for a BAR review course so you can review previous exams and understand the exam's structure and potential questions. Knowing the structure of the exam may help you analyze questions in a way that assists you with giving the right answers.

Some subjects you need to study before taking the BAR exam include:

  • Constitutional law

  • Family law

  • Evidence

  • Criminal law and procedure

  • Business associations

  • Torts

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What are the advantages of not going to law school?

Despite the value of going to law school, there are many advantages of not going to law school to become a lawyer. Some of these advantages include:

It saves money

Going to law school costs you more than if you decide not to attend. Saving the money from not going to law school allows you to reexamine your career options to find out what is financially feasible. Applying to law office study programs is a cost-effective option if you're still looking to take the BAR exam and become a lawyer.

It provides you with more practical experience

Choosing to not go to law school grants you the chance to search for employment within your community. Some communities may face a shortage of lawyers or legal staff, so local clerks' offices may welcome your experience if you meet their requirements for certain openings. Contact law offices in your area to see if they have internships or summer programs that you can apply for.

It broadens your career path

Not going to law school can lead to you applying for open roles within legal offices nationwide. Paralegal, legal secretary and mediator positions are only a few jobs you can apply and interview for with a bachelor's degree. If you're unsure about your career path, reach out to professionals working in these positions to gain more insight into their careers to find out if it's the right fit for you.

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What are the disadvantages of not going to law school?

Not going to law school can still help you advance your career in law, but there are disadvantages to not attending. If you're not going to law school, you need to move to a state that permits you to become a lawyer without going to law school.

Even if you move to a different state and take part in a law office study program, going to law school gives you the advantage of being more prepared to answer questions listed on the BAR exam.

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