While being an attorney is a lot of work, it can be very rewarding in many senses.
That is what attorney Elizabeth Yang wants you to remember. But she also wants you to know about a little-known statewide program that allows people to sit for the bar without attending law school.
“Most prospective lawyers take a traditional approach to becoming a lawyer,” said Yang, a family law attorney and president of Yang Law Offices. “That is, they go and get a four-year university degree and head to law school for an additional three years. While this is the route most take, it is very expensive and time consuming. I know. I did it.”
So, what’s the other road one can take?
“But there’s another approach one can take in an effort to becoming a lawyer: Instead of going straight from college to law school, they could go through the legal apprenticeship program. This program allows someone to study under a judge or an attorney for four years. After they meet the study requirements they can basically bypass law school and go straight to take the bar exam,” Yang said.
After passing the bar exam, he or she can become licensed to be an attorney in California.
“Another good thing about this program is there are no specific prerequisites to take before entering,” Yang said. “And since it is a self-study, four-year program, you can be working or doing what you like or need to do while studying to become a lawyer.”
While this program prepares you to take the bar exam after four years, one extra requirement is that you sit for the California State Bar Exam, also known as the “Baby Bar” following your first year, which you have three attempts to pass.
“But remember, this program should sufficiently prepare you for that test, which is on three of the most basic topics: contracts, torts and criminal law,” Yang said
There are some real advantages to taking this program if you want to practice law, she said, noting some of them were “studying at your own pace, you take exams, both multiple choice and essay, during the program and report back to the state bar on your progress. The state bar, in turn, gives you credit for going to law school.”
Yang realizes some prospective lawyers will look at this and ask if they would be able to get a a job once they finished with the program and did not have a law degree.
Her answer is emphatically “Yes!”
“Since you have passed the bar exam, you have the rights and privileges as any other attorney and that would make you marketable,” she said.
Just remember, while in the program you have to be under the supervision of a judge or senior attorney. But also, Yang said, once you are an attorney, no one asks where you got your degree from or how you got your degree. They just want to know that you can help them.
The biggest drawback for the program, Yang said, is you have to be committed to staying in California for the duration of your law career. Since it is a California-specific program, it is not valid if a person chooses to practice law outside of the state.
She also warned if you are not able to study independently without the threat of professors, this program would not be for you.
“In order to be successful you need to be extremely self disciplined,” Yang said. “There is no professor yelling at you to get your papers turned in or study for the next test. You need to do that all on your own.”
And she added there is an entire law school culture and experience you would be missing out on that is invaluable in itself.
“Law school not only has professors and assignments, but also classmates keeping you going and keeping your morale up,” Yang said. “There is a ton of structure here, which there isn’t in the program. So, keep that in mind when deciding how to proceed in becoming a lawyer.”