Work + Growth

The Kardashian Kuestion: Should You Have to Go to Law School to be a Lawyer?

  • Kim Kardashian plans to take the bar exam in 2022 after apprenticing for a California law firm for four years
  • Currently, only four states (California, Virginia, Vermont, and Washington) allow aspiring lawyers to take the bar exam without going to law school
  • There are pros and cons to skipping law school—and no consensus on whether it’s a good option for aspiring lawyers

Kim Kardashian surprised lawyers and non-lawyers alike when she revealed in an interview her plans to become a lawyer.

The multimillionaire media personality and wife to rapper Kanye West won’t be attending law school, but says she plans to take the California bar exam in 2022.

The news has people asking: Exactly how does she plan to pull it off? And, perhaps more importantly, should skipping law school even be allowed?

Below, the pros and cons of the Kardashian approach and what lawyers think about the concept.

First, here’s how she’ll do it:

In California, anyone can take the bar exam as long as they complete an apprenticeship with a law firm or a judge, and that’s exactly what Kardashian is doing. Since July, she’s been working on completing a four-year apprenticeship with a law firm in San Francisco, working with a pair of lawyer/mentors who are helping prepare her to take the California First-Year Law Students’ Examination, AKA the “Baby Bar,” which is required of any legal apprentices skipping law school in the state. She’ll need to pass the Baby Bar in order to continue her apprenticeship.

Kardashian says she’s been spending 18 hours a week studying, also a requirement, and says she finds torts to be the most confusing of the first-year curriculum topics.

Are there benefits?

The biggest benefit to skipping law school obviously doesn’t matter much to Kardashian, but skipping law school will certainly save you a lot of money. As is well known, most law school graduates complete their degrees with significant student loan debt. Skipping law school will save that money, and some states even pay legal apprentices—which means that instead of racking up thousands in law school debt, you might actually take home a small income as you prepare for the bar exam. Graduating with significant debt can sometimes limit a young attorney’s career options; if you’re facing significant loan payments, you might have to choose where and what to practice based only on how much you can earn, rather than what you’re truly interested in.

In addition, those who go the apprenticeship route gain more on-the-job experience than typical law students. When most of your time is spent in class or studying, it can be hard to get hands-on experience during the school year—but you probably didn’t need us to tell you that.

OK, so there are pros. What about cons?

First of all, you have to choose where you want to live and practice law very carefully. Only four states (Virginia, Vermont, Washington, and California) allow those who haven’t gone to law school to take the bar exam, which means you most likely won’t be able to practice in any other state. And even in those states, it might be hard to find an organization willing to hire someone without a law degree. It might even be hard to find clients willing to work with you (at least early on in your career), even if you do find employment, although that’s probably not going to be an issue for Kardashian, either.

Finally, the odds simply aren’t in your favor when it comes to passing the bar. The pass rates for those who didn’t attend law school are extremely low.

Should it be allowed?

Well, what do you think? Should skipping law school in favor of apprenticing be allowed? How would you feel about working with this type of lawyer? Would you hire someone who never went to law school?

It’s important to note that becoming a lawyer without attending law school is nothing new. Abraham Lincoln, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson all became lawyers either through apprenticeships or studying on their own. That said, it’s not a very common way to become a lawyer these days.

The American Bar Association’s position is that obtaining a J.D. is the most appropriate way to become a lawyer. And some lawyers don’t support the idea of apprenticeships at all. For example, Robert E. Glenn, the former president of the Virginia Board of Bar Examiners, told The New York Times he believes apprenticeships are “a cruel hoax” and “a waste of time.” Beliefs like Glenn’s can contribute to the difficulty in finding an attorney willing to act as your supervising lawyer in the first place.

In addition, the degree-obsessed nature of the legal industry can stand between aspiring lawyers who didn’t attend law school and getting a job; most prestigious law firms won’t look past the top law schools for recruits. All that said, there are definitely lawyers in the U.S. who have had successful careers without going to law school—and considering Kardashian’s unique circumstances, she’s in a better position than most to make it work.