I am an attorney who passed the bar without attending law school. Ask me anything!
In the United States, there are four states that allow a person to qualify to take the bar exam without attending any law school: California, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington. Instead, the student studies between three and four years in a law office. Each state has their own rules regarding reading the law, but all require that the student study the black letter law in multiple subjects. A fifth state, New York, allows students to enter into a law office study program after completing one year of law school.
The most famous modern day reader of the law is Kim Kardashian. She is currently enrolled in the Law Office Study Program in California and recently passed the First Year Law Office Student Examination ("baby bar.")
I am fortunate to live in Virginia where I was able to enroll in and complete the law reader program. I passed the bar exam on my first attempt and am now a practicing attorney. I am including my acceptance letter into the law office program and my letter confirming that I passed the bar exam.
I have been asked many questions about the law reader program and becoming an attorney through this unconventional route, so I am offering an AMA today.
Copy of the letters: https://ibb.co/D7NMMjw
- Can I transfer my law license to another state?
No. Each start has their own requirements for admission into their bar and the vast majority require a Juris Doctorate degree. I think that there are a couple of jurisdictions (like DC and Vermont) that allow for reciprocity for an attorney without a JD, but I would have to double check. Overall though, law readers are somewhat confined to their state. A law reader from one state can't even transfer to another law reader state. Each state's bar at the end of the day has the final call on who they admit into their bar.
- Can I practice federal law in another state?
It is my understanding that tax courts and immigration courts have their own licensure requirements, so it may be possible for me to practice in those courts. However, I have no experience in those areas and so I have not looked more into those possibilities. Generally though, federal courts that are not specialized (like immigration and tax) require the attorney to be admitted into that state's bar.
- What resources did I use to study the law and for the bar exam?
From the start, I used Barbri and Quimbee. Those two resources helped me the most in learning the basics of the law. I watched all of their videos. I read all of Barbri's outlines. Whenever an outline referenced a case, I used Quimbee to review the case brief. I also purchased other legal study resources (books and lectures) for each topic. YouTube was a great source for lectures depending on the topic. There is a lot you can learn on YouTube!
Later, I started to use Emanuel's Bootcamp for the MBE (which I highly recommend), Critical Pass Cards, and BarMax's MBE question bank. The question bank in particular was very helpful starting my second year. I purchased the Studicata Attack Outline my third year, which helped me in the last areas that I was studying as well as during bar prep.
A full year before the bar exam, I started answering/ reviewing 10 MBE questions five days a week. By the time bar prep rolled around, I had completed the entire 1,400+ mixed question bank. I consistently received passing scores on the MBE practice tests.
The bar prep course I went with was Barbri, though I didn't follow their schedule. By that point, I knew what worked best for me and studying. I made my own schedule using their resources and that ultimately worked out well for me. What I found to be the most useful studying tactics were practicing essay questions by quickly outlining what I would answer (this exposed me to several essay questions), practicing MBEs, and outlining the black letter law from model essay questions.
- How did I remember all of the information?
One thing I learned pretty quickly is that I am not as good at memorizing things as I used to be when I was in college. I used mnemonics on the absolute must need to know stuff, like the elements required for a prima facie case. Everything else, I would retain the information by tying it back to something that I already knew. Instead of trying to learn clumps of new information then, I expanded on what I already knew.
Still, there were subjects that I had very little exposure to. For those topics, I focused more on learning and understanding the concepts rather than straight up memorization. I would read the outlines that Barbri wrote and then look up the case brief every time a case was referenced with a law. The case briefs provided stories as to why the law became the law. People remember stories better than memorization and that helped me too.
For the bar exam itself, I didn't worry about having exact definitions memorized. I instead focused on understanding all of the concepts so that if I needed to define something, I could in my own words. It was not as condensed as the study guide's definition, but I got the point across that I knew what the term meant.
- How did I remain motivated to study for three years?
I am very goal oriented. Each week I set goals for myself and always aimed to meet them. The study resources I used also provided lots of practice tests and exams. I practiced those often. When ever I would miss questions, it spurred me on to do better next time. I kept working on tests in a subject until I had a firm grasp of the area and could pass bar-exam level questions. I hate making mistakes, so missing questions motivated me to review that issue so I wouldn't miss it again. Seeing improvement was also motivating.
- Do I recommend the law reader program?
I would love to see more states have a law reader program option. However, I don't think that it is for everyone. There are cons to the program, like not having a JD at the end of the program. Many law offices require a JD.
Also, the law reader program is a very lonely path. Most of the time, the supervising attorney is working on his/her cases while the student studies in a separate office. Virginia only requires 3 hours of direct one on one time with the student. The rest of the time the student is studying on his/ her own. If there are questions, maybe the supervising attorney will know the answer and maybe not. In law school, there is a professor for each course that can answer questions. There are other students you can bounce ideas off with. But, law readers are mostly on their own. There is no one to commiserate with, and when you don't know an answer, you have to do the legal research to find it.
Of course there are pros, like not having the debt. This is very freeing because I don't have to take a high stress job or case load. I am also able to accept lower paid court appointed cases that help out my community.
Overall, I recommend the program to those people who have worked in the legal community, know what it is like to work in a law office and have the experience of working in an office. That experience is so incredibly helpful when studying for the bar. It also gives the person a real picture of what it is to be a lawyer, so he or she knows if that is the right career path to take.
Each person will have to balance the pros and cons for him or herself. Virginia's bar examiners wrote a memo on this issue here: https://barexam.virginia.gov/reader/readermemo.html
- What area of law do I practice?
Primarily family law. I was a family law paralegal for 14 years prior to taking the exam and it is what I know. Sometimes I do other small civil matters, like a minor real property issue or a breach of contract.
As a note, in the answers you will see I reference both 11 years of paralegal experience and 14 years. I had 11 years experience when I applied to the law reader program. During the three years I was in the program, I continued to work in my spare time as a freelance paralegal. By the time then I finished the program, I had three additional years of experience, for a total of 14 years.
- Can I help you with your Virginia legal problem?
I don't accept any cases through Reddit. However, there are some great resources out there to help people. The Virginia Lawyer Referral Service website is https://vlrs.community.lawyer/. For those with low income, resources include your local legal aid office and https://virginia.freelegalanswers.org/.
- What is the pass rate for law readers?
According to the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE), between the years 2014 -2020, the national pass rate for law readers was an average 33%. (As a note, California's statistics for law readers are not included if there were less than 11 law readers taking the bar for that year. New York law readers were included.) Between 2014 - 2020, the average pass rate for law readers in Virginia was 22%.
In comparison, in that same time the overall national pass rate was about 59%. The overall average pass rate in Virginia was about 69%.
You can see more statistics here: https://thebarexaminer.ncbex.org/2020-statistics/
- Are you Mike Ross?
Based on these comments, I'm beginning to think I need to watch Suits..