The legal profession in the State of California has some very interesting facts. One of those facts being that as of May 1, 2019 at 11:00 p.m., there are currently 270,318 licensed attorneys in the State. Not all are currently practicing, as a whopping 14,674 members are not eligible to practice in California, for various reasons, while another 63,751 are currently inactive. Based on the data provided by the CA Bar, it appears that the average age of inactive attorneys is 64 years old. Who knew?
Personally having aspirations to become a licensed attorney myself, I did some research about the criteria that makes one eligible to practice law in my state. Well, I actually want to become a judge. My life's mission would be complete, if I were to be able to one day make it to the bench, and preside over my own courtroom. It has always just seemed so unattainable for people like me, an African American woman, from a less than desirable, socioeconomic background. The cost of law school alone is astronomical, where the average cost per semester can range from, on the low end $33,000, while the higher end is up to $69,000!
I was discouraged for a very long time, as I am already up to my eyeballs in student loan debt. Based on these numbers, my dream of reaching the bench is nearly impossible. That was until I did a bit more digging. I was determined to find a way to make it happen, as I just knew that there had to be a way around this oppressive undertaking of debt! I put my paralegal skills to work, and began researching alternative educational requirements to take the bar exam. My research paid off because I discovered a few more interesting facts:
FACT #1: You don't need a law degree to qualify to sit for the bar exam.
Yup, it's true. You can even qualify if you have less than 2 years of college under your belt! Interesting right? You might be wondering how this is possible. I know that my mind was blown! Each time I communicated with various law schools in my state, they all told me that a prospective student must have earned a Bachelor's Degree, in any discipline, from an accredited institution of higher learning, in order to qualify for admission to their law school. Well, I am here to tell you now, that in the State of California, a Bachelor's Degree is not a requirement of the State Bar Association and the lack of Bachelor's Degree, will not prevent you from qualifying to take the bar exam. Of course the schools have the right to implement their own criteria and qualifications to enter their school, however, it is their requirement, not the state's requirement.
What's the Catch?
It's not really a catch, but, there are a few steps before you can take the bar exam. The first step entails meeting the educational prerequisite. A 2 year degree is suitable, however, the bar will make an exception if you didn't complete your 2 year degree. Life happens, and sometimes students are forced to take a break from school, and end up forfeiting their educational goals. If you are short on your college credits, you must take and pass a college level equivalency exam, administered by the college board. A passing score is at least 50 points or higher. To learn more about the process, click here.
FACT #2: You can study law under a licensed California lawyer or judge.
This is the fun part; in the field, hands-on training from active, experienced legal professionals. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of qualified law professors that are former or practicing legal professionals. However, there is nothing like being in the mix, applying real-world scenarios to your learning. The judge or lawyer must be active and in good standing with the California Bar. There is an official program, where you must submit a form, provided by the bar association, regarding your intent to study law under a judge of lawyer. That form also requires a $158 fee, along with the completed application. You will also be required to submit a semi-annual report the office of admissions, along with a $105 fee, until the program is completed in 4 years. You just saved a ton of money, and received on the job training, in the filed. You can't beat that right? To learn more, click here.
FACT #3: This non-traditional legal training requires you take the 1st year bar exam.
Skipping law school, or having less than 2 years of college work under your belt, requires that you take what is known as the 1st year bar exam or the "baby bar". Students within their first year of non-traditional legal study, are required to take this exam. Sure, it's an extra step that you must take before being allowed to sit for the bar exam, but, anything worth having, is going to take a bit of work to obtain. This step, however, would not be required, if you attended an accredited law school, or completed 60 semester units or 90 quarter units of study. To learn more, click here.
Overall, law school offers a structured learning environment and resources that are invaluable to many up-and-coming lawyers. Some however, have a difficult time keeping up, because either school is just not the best learning environment for them, or, they simply cannot afford the price tag. Interestingly, famous and wealthy socialite, Kim Kardashian, recently expressed an interest in becoming a lawyer. Many wondered which law school she would be attending, as she has not obtained a college education. She explained that she would not be taking the traditional route of law school to obtain her legal education, and would instead take the Law Office Study apprenticeship route.
Does this make her any less qualified to practice law? I think not, as long as she is able to grasp the material and successfully demonstrate what she has learned, I say go for it Kim! One of my Instagram buddies @dominion_boss_lady, made a very insightful point:
"I Believe this is a great stride to give people the opportunity to live a dream, become a licensed professional, have an opportunity to provide for your family without going into MAJOR Debt, to live your dream. If you study your craft and make it your priority to become the BEST lawyer, You can obtain clients and have a successful career. College doesn't determine your success YOU DO!!!"
I have to strongly agree, as I myself expressed an interest in taking this route, for those very same reasons! My path, however, was redirected to a small law school located in Indio, California, called the California Desert Trial Academy. I was impressed with their classrooms, modeled after courtrooms, and their teaching method of having dual instructors for each class! Their tuition is very reasonable, and I will certainly be attending this fall. It is my hope to join the ranks of the many honorable criminal attorneys within my state, and to ultimately reach my life's dream, and become a judge.
This blog post was written by Pamala Brooks, paralegal, notary, aspiring attorney. She has been a legal professional for the past 11 years, and will soon enter law school to become a licensed attorney. Connect with Pamala on social media, instagram and facebook.