Law Office Study Apprenticeship Programs: How Kim Kardashian Hopes to Become An Attorney

Photo Credit: Dave McNary, Alice Marie Johnson, Former Inmate Kim Kardashian Helped Pardon, Sets Movie, TV Deal, Variety (Feb. 6, 2019, 10:59 AM), https://variety.com/2019/film/news/alice-marie-johnson-kim-kardashian-movie-deal-1203130201/.
Kim Kardashian West with Alice Johnson, Former Inmate

By: Jean Talbott

Senior Associate Editor, American Journal of Trial Advocacy

Introduction

          Kim Kardashian has made media headlines yet again announcing her plans to become a lawyer.[1] Kardashian plans on accomplishing this goal through “reading the law,” which prior to 1870 was the only option for aspiring lawyers.[2] Kardashian attended Pierce College, where she completed 75 credit hours but did not finish college.[3] “Reading the law” is an alternative in some states for people who want to be lawyers but do not want to attend law school. This alternative involves a four-year apprenticeship that enables students to learn the law with the help of a licensed attorney.[4] Following this apprenticeship, students can take the bar exam.[5] Last year, Kardashian registered with the California State Bar and is participating in the state’s “reading the law” exception.[6] Kardashian’s curriculum includes the following: sitting in at a practicing attorney’s office for 18 hours per week for 4 consecutive years; passing the first-year law students’ examination; a positive, moral character determination; passing the Multi-State Professional Responsibility Examination; and passing the California Bar exam.[7] The first-year law students’ examination covers only three areas of the law: criminal law, contracts law, and tort law.[8] As she completes her first year of studies, Kardashian is preparing for a “baby bar,” which she refers to as a miniature version of the bar that is required for “reading the law.”[9] Prior to the growth of law schools around the United States, it was commonplace for aspiring attorneys to obtain their licenses through “reading the law.”[10] The American Bar Association, formed in 1878, began urging states to require completion of post-graduate studies prior to admitting students to the Bar.[11] Today, only a handful of states allow students this alternative, while other states have limited “reading the law” by coupling the apprenticeship with some classes.

History of Reading the Law

          Today, law school is the most common way for aspiring attorneys to obtain their law licenses. However, this has not always been the case. The history of “reading the law” in the United States started in the Colonial Era.[12] Most legal professionals during that time obtained their training in England, where they studied in an apprenticeship system referred to as the “Inns of Court.”[13] Similar systems developed in the United States.[14] A number of influential and widely known individuals became attorneys through apprenticeship programs.[15] The most prominent of them being Abraham Lincoln, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court Justice John Marshall.[16] Abraham Lincoln is often cited as being an avid supporter of the apprenticeship program, stating in a letter “[i]f you wish to be a lawyer, attach no consequence to the place you are in, or the person you are with; but get books, sit down anywhere, and go to reading for yourself.”[17]

Reading the Law Today

          Today the only states that offer this apprenticeship program are California, Virginia, Vermont, and Washington.[18] These programs are appealing to students who are discouraged by the rising tuition and student loan debt that comes with attending a three-year law school. A recent article did a side-by-side comparison of the costs of attending Berkeley Law in California and the apprenticeship program.[19] The results amounted to a staggering difference of $144,858, with the apprenticeship program being the cheaper of the two.[20]

          There are notable difficulties associated with the alternative program—the most obvious being the low bar passage rate.[21] From 2007-2013, the California State Bar reported that 54 students chose the law office or apprenticeship program and only 28% of those students made a passing score.[22] This is in stark contrast with the 64% of students who attended ABA accredited law schools and received a passing score.[23] In addition to the law office or apprenticeship program alternative, California allows students the option to take online or correspondence schools that are less regulated compared to ABA-accredited law schools.[24] However, the results at these schools are similar to the apprenticeship program.[25] Correspondence school students had a 22% bar passage rate out of the 463 exam takers.[26]

          Virginia’s Law Reader Program has more requirements than that of California.[27] The Virginia program requires that students have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited school and may be required to present the Board of Admissions with a LSAT score earned within one year of applying.[28] The Virginia Board of Bar Examiners states that the program is for people who would be qualified for admission to law school but are unable to complete a law school course of study.[29] In addition, the regulations state that “[t]he program is not intended for persons who are unable, by reason of academic, aptitude, or other deficiencies, to obtain admission to an approved law school.”[30]

          New York, Maine, and Wyoming offer students admission to the bar with a combination of apprenticeship and school.[31] In New York, students have the option of completing one year of law school followed by three years of law office study.[32] Maine requires two years of law school followed by one year of law office study.[33] Wyoming’s curriculum gives students the option of one to two years of law school followed by one to two years of law office study.[34]

          Another major drawback of the alternatives to law school is the inability to practice law outside of the state because most states require a law degree to be eligible for admission.[35] Despite these shortcomings, apprenticeship programs have many perks. In some states, apprentices can be paid while obtaining their legal education.[36] In addition, apprentices are trained in law offices, so they are able to see firsthand the issues that arise in the legal field. President Obama has urged law schools to consider reducing the time spent in classrooms to two years and use the third year for students to learn in a law office or clerkship in order to give them an invaluable hands-on experience in the legal field.[37]


[1] Debra Cassens Weiss, Kim Kardashian West Wants to Skip Law School and Become a Lawyer This Way, ABA J. (Apr. 15, 2019), http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/kim-kardashian-wants-to-skip-law-school-and-become-a-lawyer-this-way.

[2]Debra Cassens Weiss, Students Try to Avoid Law School Costs With ‘Reading Law’ Path to Law License, ABA J. (July 30, 2019), http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/want_to_avoid_the_costs_of_law_school_these_students_try_reading_law_path_t.

[3] Alyssa Bailey, Kim Kardashian Explained How She’s Becoming a Lawyer Despite Never Finishing College, Elle (Apr. 15, 2019), https://www.elle.com/culture/celebrities/a27153360/kim-kardashian-lawyer-criticism-response/.

[4] Debra Cassens Weiss, Students Try to Avoid Law School Costs With ‘Reading Law’ Path to Law License, ABA J. (July 30, 2019), http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/want_to_avoid_the_costs_of_law_school_these_students_try_reading_law_path_t.

[5] Id.

[6] Alyssa Bailey, Kim Kardashian Explained How She’s Becoming a Lawyer Despite Never Finishing College, Elle (Apr. 15, 2019), https://www.elle.com/culture/celebrities/a27153360/kim-kardashian-lawyer-criticism-response/.

[7] Law Office or Judge’s Chamber, The State Bar of Cal., http://www.calbar.ca.gov/Admissions/Requirements/Education/Legal-Education/Law-Office-or-Judges-Chamber (last visited Apr. 17, 2019).

[8] FAQ, LikeLincoln, http://likelincoln.org/faqs/ (last visited Apr 17, 2019).

[9] Alyssa Bailey, Kim Kardashian Explained How She’s Becoming a Lawyer Despite Never Finishing College, Elle (Apr. 15, 2019), https://www.elle.com/culture/celebrities/a27153360/kim-kardashian-lawyer-criticism-response/.

[10] Albert J. Harno, Legal Education in the United States 19 (The Lawbook Exchange, Ltd. 2004) (1953).

[11] Id.

[12] Zachary Crockett, How to Be a Lawyer Without Going to Law School, Priceonomics (Jan. 6, 2017), https://priceonomics.com/how-to-be-a-lawyer-without-going-to-law-school/.

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] Id.

[17] Lincoln’s Advice to Lawyers, Abraham Lincoln Online,  http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/law.htm (last visited Apr 17, 2019) (emphasis omitted).

[18] Corey Adwar, There’s a Way to Become an Attorney Without Setting Foot in Law School, Bus. Insider (Jul. 30, 2014, 6:21 PM), https://www.businessinsider.com/how-to-become-an-attorney-without-law-school-2014-7.

[19] Zachary Crockett, How to Be a Lawyer Without Going to Law School, Priceonomics (Jan. 6, 2017), https://priceonomics.com/how-to-be-a-lawyer-without-going-to-law-school/.

[20] Id.

[21] Michael Simkovic, Apprenticeships and Online Education Are Not Viable Alternatives to ABA-Approved Law Schools, L. Professor Blogs Network: Brian Leiter’s L. Sch. Reports (June 8, 2018), https://leiterlawschool.typepad.com/leiter/2018/06/apprenticeships-and-online-education-are-not-viable-alternatives-to-aba-approved-law-schools-michael.html.

[22] Id.

[23] Id.

[24] Id.

[25] Id.

[26] Id.

[27] See Law Reader Rules & Regulations, Va. Bd. of Bar Exam’rs,  http://barexam.virginia.gov/reader/readerrules.html (last visited Apr 17, 2019).

[28] Id.

[29] Id.

[30] Id.

[31] Corey Adwar, There’s a Way to Become an Attorney Without Setting Foot in Law School, Bus. Insider (Jul. 30, 2014, 6:21 PM), https://www.businessinsider.com/how-to-become-an-attorney-without-law-school-2014-7.

[32] Id.

[33] Id.

[34] Id.

[35] FAQ, LikeLincoln, http://likelincoln.org/faqs/ (last visited Apr 17, 2019).

[36] Eli Wolfe, Doing it Like Lincoln: These Aspiring Lawyers Kick it Old School—By Skipping Law School, Cal. Alumni Ass’n: Cal. Mag. (Oct. 7, 2015, 3:12 PM), https://alumni.berkeley.edu/california-magazine/just-in/2015-10-07/doing-it-lincoln-these-aspiring-lawyers-kick-it-old-school.

[37] Id.

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