No JD? No Problem, Say 5 States (That You Might Not Know About)

By Betty Wang, JD on July 11, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

No JD required? Apparently, there are some states that have adopted this rule when it comes to admission to the bar. We all are well aware of the general requirements, that it usually takes if we want to be lawyers at this point (let’s hope). That most often entails the traditional route of attending law school, graduating with a JD, passing the MPRE, being of sound moral character, and, of course, let’s not forget (because how could it ever let us, really): passing the bar.

As if the grueling, up to 3-day long exam isn’t bad enough, most of us have to endure 3 to 4 years of law school to acquire our law degree, otherwise known as our juris doctorate.

But, this is actually not the case for some states, who have instilled other alternative requirements (usually practical experience under a judge or a qualified supervising attorney) in lieu of a traditional law degree from a law school. Which states are these?

  1. California. That's right. The state with the notoriously hardest bar exam in the country has actually decided to participate in offering alternatives to law school before one has the privilege (yes, privilege) to sit for the bar. Instead of law school, California also accepts 4 years of study under a judge or lawyer as part of a qualification program.
  2. Vermont. Vermont has an alternative option similar to California's, in which they will also accept four years of study under an admitted attorney. The attorney must also have been practicing for at least 3 years, as well.
  3. Virginia. Virginia allows the alternative study program in lieu of traditional law school, too. Their state has actually even listed more specific requirements about that study, including the fact that it not only has to be for 3 calendar years, but during regular office hours between 8:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. on weekdays, and requiring the supervising attorney to give personal supervision (one-on-one time) for at least 3 hours each week.
  4. Washington. Washington offers a 4-year law clerk program, with a lawyer or judge, that offers a combination of work and study, in lieu of law school.
  5. New York. Under New York's requirements, applicants who choose to opt out of law school can only do so for part of the time. New York allows for law students to enroll in a study program similar to the states above, but also requires that the applicant still enroll in at least one year of traditional law school studies.

Sound good to you? Keep in mind, that there may be trade-offs to consider, in exchange for the crippling debt that you probably would avoid by taking the less traditional route to Esq-hood. For one thing, prospective employers may raise an eyebrow at your lack of traditional legal education, and you may have less opportunities to network while enrolled in these alternatives. While these are things to keep in mind, how you pursue your path to being a lawyer is ultimately your choice -- this is just to let you know all the options.

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