Abraham Lincoln didn’t go to law school

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.

3 thoughts on “Abraham Lincoln didn’t go to law school

  1. Yes. You’re quite right about the 5-year training system having been phased out – for solicitors, not necessarily for Notaries Public and Legal Executives. So, hopefully, have the snide and jealous remarks made by non-graduate solicitor-plodders to law graduates.

    Both sides of the solicitor and barrister prof. are all-graduate now. A first non-law degree has to be converted into a Dilpoma in Law/CPE – Common Professional Exam.

    Gone also has the read-it-alone Eng. Bar Exam. I can’t vouch for Scottish Advocates (Scots Barrister)training that seems to be part self-study, part integrated into Scottish Uni. law courses.

    Current level of debt facing an Eng. & Wales BVC student after a one-year Bar Vocational Course in London = GBP 12,500, less in the provinces. Stories abound about newly called Barristers threatened with bankruptcy by their bank managers.

  2. I must have been lucky, then, because the people who’d done 5 years at the firm I was with were very nice. Still, I’d only done a Part I course so I didn’t really have anything to be uppity about (I don’t think the Ph.D. means anything in the real world!). I was surprised to hear that ‘reading for the Bar’ still goes on in the USA. When I was reading LAWSIG on Compuserve from 1994 on, there was a retired medical doctor, Harvey Frey, who was doing a law course by correspondence course in California, and he did it that way. He just wanted to get involved in the law of HMOs and other medical matters, I think – I think he can be traced by Google, but I doubt he works as a lawyer full-time, I don’t even know if he passed the Bar exam.

    The Law Society says there are 4 non-graduate routes, but I don’t think they involve the 5 years’ traineeship any longer. They are ILEX, Justice’s Clerk’s assistants, degree equivalent qualifications and mature applicants. The Bar is above this kind of thing, of course.

  3. The Bar of England & Wales is above nothing! They also have a special law degree dispensation/ exemption scheme for mature non-graduate applicants with extensive experience in the ‘real world’ of business, banking, accountancy and insurance etc. Notable law academics, human rights campaigners and prison reformers are also sometimes given an ‘honorary’ call to the Bar.

    The Bar Council can also exceptionally condone a failed paper on Bar Finals though an appeal against a refusal has not got much prospects of success.

    I’ve also met ILEX/ FILEX (fellow)legal executives who have requalified for the Bar – perhaps not as easily as switching into the solicitors’ prof. – with a postgrad LLB law degree

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