Phi Beta Cons

Learning Law Without First Getting the JD

The July 30 New York Times had an interesting article by Sean Farrell entitled “The Lawyer’s Apprentice.” It’s about the small (maybe microscopic is better) movement in the few states that allow people to “read law” rather than getting a JD from an ABA-accredited law school as the path into the legal profession. Earlier in our history, “reading law” — that is to say, learning it as an apprentice in a firm — was the norm. Only after the ABA got involved and decided to build a barrier to entry did things change. But as most lawyers will tell you, they still have to learn as apprentices, only they must first get their JD.

The article makes it plain that it’s hard to do it this way, in large measure because there aren’t many lawyers who will take a person in for the training. Some apprentices fail to pass the bar exam, but then it’s also true that some who have earned their law degrees also fail. Truth is, memorizing material for that exam is an experience unto itself.

Apprenticeship doesn’t work out for everyone, but it does for some, such as the guy who recently made partner in a major Seattle firm, despite his lack of a JD. It can be done. The takeaway from the piece is that the few liberal states should liberalize further (they make it needlessly difficult for people to try to get into the legal profession by the “reading” route) and the illiberal states should start to liberalize.


George Leef is the the director of editorial content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.

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