Monday, April 5, 2010

You Don't Have to Go to Law School to Be a Lawyer

Washington state residents considering law school should look into this law clerk program instead. Participants of this unique four-year program get on the job training as a paralegal or an apprentice with a firm or prosecutor's office and are allowed to sit for the bar exam.

About 230 people have graduated from the program since the 1930s, about 150 of them since 1984. The Washington State Bar Association formally established standards in 1934.

The law clerk program formalized the longstanding practice of serving as an apprentice under an attorney in order to become a practicing lawyer.

In order to qualify for the program, candidates must have a bachelor’s degree and a full-time job with their sponsoring attorney. Monthly tests are given by the tutor.

Unlike full-time law school, which takes three years, the law clerk program takes four years.

Accepted students pay $1,500 every year to the state bar. The expense is far less than that of part-time or full-time law school — anywhere from $20,000 to $42,000 a year.

The state bar says the goal is to have students study and learn the same things law students receive in the classroom — such as constitutional law, torts and criminal procedure.

Many of the law school scam bloggers including myself and L4L at Big Debt, Small Law have advocated for apprenticeship programs that would give students on the job training for little to no cost, saving students thousands of dollars and allowing them to make connections with employers that could lead to full time job offers after passing the bar exam. Indeed, it seems that this is the one of the few legal programs in existence that could currently boast a large percentage of their participants finding full-time jobs in the legal field upon graduation and sitting for the bar.

Alumbaugh, who earned a bachelor’s degree in law and justice from Central Washington University, started with the prosecutor’s office in 2002 and was promoted in February to become a deputy prosecutor under a legal rule that allows law students waiting for the bar exam to practice under supervision.

She previously worked as a secretary, attended Yakima Valley Community College and ran a day-care center from her home. She had considered law school, but it wasn’t realistic since she wanted to stay in Ellensburg, where family members have helped with her children. So she pursued the alternate route — formally known as the law clerk program — and got Zempel to be her sponsor.

“It’s been a really great experience, and I’m glad I did it. It’s definitely an option for people who are looking to become an attorney,” Alumbaugh said.

She expects to stay with the Kittitas County Prosecutor’s Office for the near future and then see where her new legal career takes her.

So tell me again why the majority of law students are paying up to $200k for an education that doesn't prepare them to become lawyers, doesn't guarantee them a job, and holds students in disdain for expecting good paying jobs after a three year, $200k investment? Why is the system set up so that most students studying the law aren't allowed a low cost education while getting real world experience in a legal apprenticeship? Oh, right. Because the law schools and the shills (like Crittenden at the National Jurist) who feed off them need the money. Otherwise how could Cooley Law School afford their million dollar baseball stadium or pay Dean Karen H. Rothenberg's $371,000 a year base salary?


  1. Excellent find HK. The destruction of an effective and logical apprentice system came about thanks to the rise of the Education Industrial Complex.

    The system is not geared towards providing clients with better legal services. Nor is it geared towards preparing students to practice law through "education".

    The current system is always finding ways to bring more profits into the Education Industry whether it's through restrictions created by their ABA accomplices and bubble-inducing students loans.

  2. because of lot of people are desperate for status and kudos and are keen to become an attorney asap, nothing else will do, they dont want to be a law clerk

  3. Now this is a great idea - I wish I had known about it, good find Hardknocks!

  4. You do not have to have a JD to sit for the NYS Bar either. NYS has a long standing apprenticeship exclusion. I once worked with a senior partner at one of the white shoe firms who never went to law school. Willkie, maybe. cannot recall.

  5. LOL Yakima Herald. I completely agree that we need to change the legal education in America but, as a WA resident, I can tell you that no one respects this program. The only places where lawyers would consider mentoring you for 4 years is places like Yakima and Kittitas because those poor, rural, desert areas can't attract law school grads even in this economy. The prevailing assumption made about people in that program is that they couldn't even get into the Thomas L. Cooley School of Law.

    I suppose that if you can actually find a mentor (likely a parent) and are able/willing to work at that person's office for the rest of your career it is a pretty good deal (you would not be considered by other employers w/o a degree). But I have never heard of any attorney practicing in the more metropolitan areas of the state who went through this program (it is telling that the chair of the program is no longer practicing). This is likely because very few lawyers successfully practicing in Seattle or Bellevue are willing to be saddled with a newbie, and onerous WSBA oversight, for 4 years when they could just hire an experienced lawyer for a pittance.

    Why do this:

    When you can just do this?

  6. Law needs more regulation. Law is clearly up there with ENRON and the financial scandals.

  7. anon @ 1:20pm - I doubt the program is perfect nor did I believe it to be prestigious, but I'd rather graduate from the law clerk program with no debt than from Cooley with $100k+ in debt and no job prospects. I still think this is a good example of what could be available to more students as an alternative to attending a third tier law school. I knew plenty of people in law school who worked as paralegals for white shoe firms before attending law school. It would've saved them a lot of money if they were able to take the bar after working five years at a law firm rather than spend another 3 years and $200k in law school. The point is, there are T14 students graduating without job offers while the participants of this program at the very least have jobs. Regardless of the lack of prestige, it's still a paycheck. I'm sure a lot of unemployed attorney would be willing to move to Yakima for a while to make $40k a year in this economy.

  8. Anyway, why laugh at the lawyers in Yakima when you have students from Seton Hall and New York Law School taking paralegal jobs for $12/hour in Manhattan?

  9. @1:20,

    Nobody goes through these apprenticeship programs for the prestige. People go through this process for the following reasons: (a) it is MUCH cheaper to become an attorney this way; (b) you learn practical skills from actual lawyers; (c) you can get a hands-on education - without giving up three years of income to do so; (d) you avoid three years of boring-ass, over-priced lectures from people who collectively practiced law for 8 minutes and 12 seconds; and (e) some of these clerks realize that there are T14 law grads who are HEAVILY in debt with no jobs lined up.

    At worst, you are out $6K after 4 years - and, presumably, you still have a job as a clerk.

    We need to return to the apprenticeship program. Does anyone honestly think Abraham Lincoln would have been better served by going to law school?

  10. There are several states that have such programs. Anyone who actually did research on how to become a lawyer before attending law school should be familiar with these programs.

  11. I think the fact that only 130 people have done this in the past 25 years is a big red flag. 5 people a year?

    (1) it's practically impossible to arrange for this situation;
    (2) it's a useless program to go into.

    Probably both.

    I agree that law school is way too expensive, but this type of substitute for law school doesn't seem rigorous enough.

    No offense to bloggers who frequently bring up Abraham Lincoln, but how did doctors become doctors back in the mid-1800s? Would such a system be acceptable today?

    Yes, the field of medicine has become much more complicated with new technologies and discoveries. On a relative basis, law would seem to have stood still. Would you say that the law has, at least to some degree, become more complicated since the 1800s? Patent law? Mergers? Tax?

    Is there no middle ground between wasting three years of your life, or no school at all? One year of school and then one year of apprenticing? Is that fair? LLM after bachelors maybe.

  12. On a relative basis, law would seem to have stood still.

    --This comment is uniformed. If you actually took a minute and studied the practice of law in the 1800's you would find it is vastly different.

  13. One year of school and apprenticing sounds like a potentially good idea. Again, the legal clerk program isn't perfect but it could be a blueprint for reforming the system and creating an alternative to third tier schools. One can go to a T14 and graduate still as incompetent and clueless about the law as the day s/he entered law school. Law schools do not prepare students how to be lawyers. Maybe they help a bit in teaching one how to think and analyze like a lawyer but being a good lawyer is mostly dependent on the person and what s/he does with their degree after graduation.

  14. @ 7:02 p.m.

    I agree that the practice of law has changed. I meant to say that the medical field has been changed much more. If you look at the practice of medicine from the 1800s to today, there is a much greater difference than the lawyers from the 1800s to today. i agree there are differences, it's just more drastic on the medical side.

  15. Many people probably don't graduate from it because they are making enough money as it is without the aggravation of actually being an attorney.

  16. I am an experienced lawyer, I graduated from law school 30 years ago. Two of the best lawyers I know are products of New York's apprenticeship program. As far as I know, NY doesn't allow apprenticeship anymore, Anon 12:48, but I will look it up to be sure. Yes, some people who did this program were children of lawyers, who apprenticed at the parent's firm. Now that my DH has his own office, that sounds pretty good for our son! (though he isn't planning on law school, thank goodness.)



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