The alternative path I am referring to bypasses the typical law school route and allows individuals to privately study for the bar through apprenticeship positions and then take the bar to become attorneys. This is most commonly referred to as "reading the law," and people who choose this nontraditional path are known as "law readers."
Currently, the seven states that offer this option are California, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, New York, Maine, and Wyoming. In California, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington, individuals are admitted to take the bar exam if they have performed three or four years of apprentice work that has been registered with the state. In New York, Maine, and Wyoming, one is allowed to take the bar if he or she has spent some time in law school and some time working in an office-study situation.
While reading the law may seem strange to most, back in the early days of legal practice, apprenticeships were pretty much how it was done. At that time, learning to become a lawyer through apprenticeships was referred to as "Inns of Court."
Well-known attorneys such as Abraham Lincoln and Clarence Darrow achieved extraordinary success as lawyers without obtaining J.D. degrees. Other famous lawyers who never received J.D. degrees include John Marshall, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court; Benjamin N. Cardozo, Justice of the Supreme Court; Patrick Henry, Governor of Virginia; Daniel Webster, Secretary of State; and Strom Thurmond, U.S. Senator and South Carolina Governor. It wasn't until 1878 that the American Bar Association (ABA) began to establish itself as a force in the legal field and law schools began to become mainstream.
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