In It was good enough for Abraham Lincoln, excited utterances mentions the system whereby Americans in seven states can still become lawyers without attending law school. It’s usually called ‘reading the law’.
bq. Today, there are seven states (Vermont, New York, Washington, Virginia, California, Maine, and Wyoming) that still allow you to earn a law degree the ‘old fashioned way’through law office study followed by passing the bar exam.
It reminds me of the system in England and Wales (now gone, I think) where you could go straight from school at the age of 18, spend five years as a trainee and then do the final exams. excited utterances also refers to the medieval system whereby barristers were ‘apprentices’ at the Inns of Court.
There is a link to an article by G. Jeffrey MacDonald in the Christian Science Monitor. The system has special interest in view of the huge cost of law school:
bq. Pressures notwithstanding, states that have preserved the “self-made lawyer” path made famous by Abraham Lincoln are standing firm in their determination to make the profession an accessible option for those daunted by the price tag for law school, which often exceeds $100,000 for three years. What’s more, the old-fashioned approach seems to open doors to low-paying but rewarding career paths that tend to end, even for idealistic graduates, as soon as the law-school loans come due.
There is interesting information on why these states in particular have kept the old system, and a list of famous American lawyers who did not go to law school.