Surprising as it may sound, yes, you can sit for the bar exam without going to law school. To get a license to practice law in the United States, you must apply for admission to the state bar exam and pass the examination. For example, if you are in Alabama, you must apply for the alabama bar exam, and by passing this test, you demonstrate your knowledge in crucial areas of the law.
Sitting for the bar exam without attending law school is only possible in some states in the US. California, Washington, Virginia, and Vermont are the only states that allow you to take the bar exam without going to law school. If you are from Maine or New York, you can substitute one or two years in law school with an apprenticeship but in other states, a degree from any law school, including online law schools, will be necessary.
You may have your reasons for not willing to go to law school, whether it’s the cost of law school or your preference. This guide will help you learn more about the bar exam, how to sit for the bar without going to law school, and the pros and cons of not going to law school.
What is the bar exam?
The bar exam, known as the Uniform Bar Examination (UBE), is a standardized test created by the National Conference of Bar Exams (NCBE). It aims to test the knowledge and skills required to become a lawyer in the United States.
The bar exam is uniformly administered and scored. The scores are portable, meaning they can apply in multiple jurisdictions that have adopted the UBE. Different jurisdictions have their passing scores, and some that accept the UBE may also require applicants to complete additional exams or components.
The UBE exam consists of three main components;
- Multistate Bar Examination (MBE)
- Multistate Essay Examination (MEE)
- Multistate Performance Test (MPT)
Only 27 states in the US accept the UBE as the standardized test for becoming a lawyer. The remaining 23 states have their bar exams though they are similar in content as the UBE. The UBE is given twice per year and only takes two days to complete. Some of the key areas covered by the bar exam include;
- Family law
- Real property
- Conflict of laws
- Criminal law and procedure
- Business associations
- Trusts and estates
- Uniform Commercial Code Article 9 (secured transactions)
Steps you need to take to sit for the bar exam without going to law school
1. Select your location
There are only four states in the US where you can sit for a bar exam without completing law school. They are California, Washington, Virginia, and Vermont. If you are in Maine or New York, you need a legal apprenticeship to practice law. A legal apprenticeship will help you substitute for one or two years of law school. If you are in any other state, you have to finish law school and take the bar exam to be a licensed lawyer.
2. Pass your first-year law students examination
The requirement to sit for the bar exam is to pass the first-year law students examination as part of your legal apprenticeship. This applies to people who wish to practice in California. If you also attend unaccredited law school, the same applies to you. The exam is called the baby bar.
3. Enroll for a legal apprenticeship
You must work as a legal apprentice to help get practical experience in the field. You must work under a lawyer, and you must account for the number of hours every week. This is because they require you to have worked for a certain amount of hours in a week for a certain period. Your study hours are also monitored through your supervising lawyer. For a lawyer to qualify to be your mentor or supervisor, they must have been practicing for more than three years or more. This depends on the requirements of the state you are in.
4. Prepare for the bar exam
After you finish your legal apprenticeship, it’s time to get ready to take the bar exam. The exam will vary with the state you are in so does the minimum pass score. The pass rate for legal apprentices is a third of the rate of those who have completed law school, so it’s essential to be prepared. You can study using online resources, including study materials and practice tests you can find online or in the library.
The pros and cons of taking the bar exam without going to law school
The main advantage of sitting for the bar exam without going to law school is saving on costs. Law school is expensive and is often financed through student loans. If you choose law school, it may cost you a lot, not counting the cost of accommodation and books. But if you opt to do the bar exam, you only pay for registration fees, studying materials, and the state bar fees. In total, these costs seem low compared to the fees paid for law school.
Another benefit of taking the bar exam without attending law school is that you get hands-on experience when you go for a legal apprenticeship. You will be working alongside experienced lawyers.
One of the cons of taking the bar exam without going to law school is the risk of not passing. Working as an apprentice may give you some experience, but it’s different when professors are in class teaching you. They provide the students with coursework and exams, similar to what is covered on the bar exam giving law students an advantage.
Some law firms or clients may also be hesitant to hire a lawyer who did not attend law school, making it a challenge to find a job. Moreover, since only a few states allow lawyers to practice without going to law school, those who consider this will only be able to work in the said states, which makes it a limited area for working.