Students try to avoid law school costs with 'reading law' path to law license

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Chris Tittle doesn’t want to rack up a $100,000 debt to attend law school, so he is trying an alternative: He is “reading the law” as part of a four-year apprenticeship, a route to a law license that is allowed in his home state of California.

Only a few states allow students to skip law school and learn the law with the help of a lawyer, the New York Times reports. Besides California, the states that allow aspiring lawyers to take the bar exam after reading the law, without law school, are Virginia, Vermont and Washington. In three other states—New York, Maine and Wyoming—aspiring lawyers can study in a law office, combined with some period of time in law school.

Several famous lawyers of years past, including Abraham Lincoln, didn’t go to law school. Reading the law was the only way to become a lawyer before law schools emerged in the 1870s, the story says.

The Times notes more recent success stories. Lawyer Jeffrey Smoot got a law license through apprenticeship and study, and recently became a partner at the Seattle law firm Oles Morrison Rinker & Baker. Mary Mecartney, the managing attorney for the legal department at the United Farm Workers, also passed the bar after reading the law, and she is now helping two children of farm workers pursuing a reading law program.

But the path to a law license is difficult, the Times warns. Last year only 17 of 60 readers who took the bar exam passed, a 28 percent pass rate compared to a 73 percent pass rate for students who approved ABA-approved law schools.

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