BECOMING A LAWYER WITHOUT NEEDING TO ATTEND LAW SCHOOL
The background of this letter is that there are seven states which permit apprenticeship (working for a lawyer and studying the law) as a road to becoming a lawyer there. The states are Vermont, New York, Washington, Virginia, California, Maine and Wyoming. A few years ago as Massachusetts considered buying an existing law school and making it a public law school, I wrote to a state legislator I have known for years with my suggestion, attaching an excerpt of a 1996 article about apprenticeship in the Boston Globe and my response to it.
The apprenticeship program has two potentially great advantages over the traditional law school. The first is its pragmatic emphasis on learning how to practice law. That benefit, of course, is dependent on how qualified and how willing the mentor is to guide and teach the apprentice. It is also limited to the skills of the particular context within which one finds an apprenticeship. The second is the cost of obtaining the degree. Even if the apprentice must volunteer his or her time, there is no need to pay tuition. Apprenticeships run into some problems, however, when it comes to learning fundamental values of the profession, and to learning about the range and diversity of practice options. Again, the particularity of the setting can be enlarging or limiting. One’s access to a wide legal community, if only through vicarious knowledge, may be limited compared to what, ideally, is available in a law school. “Alternatives to Law School for Those who Want to be a Lawyers”
LETTER TO MASSACHUSETTS STATE LEGISLATOR
I have not forgotten our conversation about a new public law school. I thought my proposal might be more timely if, as may be the case, the University of Massachusetts does not take over the Southern New England School of Law.
I strongly believe that law school legal education in most of today’s law schools simply fails to adequately prepare law students to be lawyers. Law students are not taught either the skills or the values they need in order to be competent lawyers. Support for this can be found: in my book, “Lawful Pursuit: Careers in Public Interest Law” and the MacCrate Report, both published by the American Bar Association; “The Deeply Unsatisfactory Nature of Legal Education Today” published by the Massachusetts School of Law; and my article on the internet column of which I am a co-author entitled Overcoming Law School Defects (formerly titled “Looking For Law in All the Wrong Places? Choosing the Best Law School”
Worse yet, the law schools divert (either intentionally or through gross negligence) law students away from representing 95% of the public.
My proposal is simple. The state should adopt a law which would allow residents to take the bar examination after a prescribed apprenticeship without having to attend law school. The Univeristy of Massachusetts would establish a law department which would provide support, guidance and assistance to those wishing to undertake an apprenticeship in Massachusetts, Maine, Vermont and any other states where apprenticeships are authorized.
I have attached excerpts from a 1996 Boston Globe article and my letter to the reporter giving some reasons for my suggestion. More appears in another of my articles entitled “Alternatives to Law School for Those Who Want to Be Lawyers”
Please contact me if you would like to meet to discuss this further. In the meantime feel free to forward this to anyone who you think might be interested. Should you have a need for it, I have also attached my bio at the end of this message.
EXCERPT FROM ARTICLE IN THE OCTOBER 20, 1996, BOSTON GLOBE “VT BARRISTERS BYPASS SCHOOL – RELIC OF DAYS PAST ALLOWS SELF-TAUGHT LAWYERS TO BE SWORN IN” BY KATHLEEN BURGE
Three of Vermont’s state judges never graduated from law school. Neither did the defender general, Robert Appell, a former auto mechanic. Nor did dozens of lawyers like Randall Gilmour, one of the newest batch of attorneys who will be sworn in by the state next week. Instead of being grilled by law school professors on torts and rules of evidence, these lawyers and judges studied on their own while working as paid clerks in law firms.
Vermont and seven other states have an unusual rule, a relic of the days when most layers were self-taught: People who have not attended law school can take the bar exam. Two who passed will be sworn in as lawyers on Thursday.
Vermont, which had no law school until 1972, has few requirements for those who learn the law outside a classroom. They must study four years under a sponsoring attorney, and file progress reports with the Board of Bar Examiners twice a year.
EXCERPT FROM OCTOBER 23, 1996 LETTER FROM RONALD FOX TO MS. KATHLEEN BURGE
You wrote an excellent article in the Sunday Globe, October 30, 1996, on lawyers bypassing law school but their approach, rather than being a “relic of days past”, may be the wave of the future.
The crisis in the legal system today is that while we graduate 35,000 lawyers a year, only an incredibly small percentage of individuals have access to lawyers, Many law schools report that upwards of 40% of their students would like careers serving law and middle income people but very few graduates take such positions, a predictable result of the traditional law school experience which incredibly allows them to graduate without knowing how to practice law. For 100 years law schools have limited their role to the first stage of legal education – learning to think like a lawyer.
As a result few students leave law school with the confidence to undertake individual representation. In addition, law schools offer little awareness of the range of options for practice leaving graduates who want to help women suffering in abusive marital situations unaware that small firms exist that limit themselves to family and domestic relations work. Finally, law schools charge an exorbitant amount for the services they provide and bring intense pressure on their students to consider only high paying positions contrary to many of their personal values and professional goals to increase the law school’s prestige and to pay off the high debt they incurred to pay law school salaries and expenses.
“Reading the law” has much to be said in its favor. Those following this path are likely to learn how to practice law, learn about a wide range of settings and fields in which lawyers use their training, and learn how to look for position. The lessening and, for many, the elimination of the profound and devastating effect that debt has on career choice will significantly increase the number of lawyers that will take positions serving the legal needs of the public.
States should be encouraged to consider adopting this approach as one way to live up to our oft-stated societal promise of equal access to the justice system.