Taking the Bar Exam Without Law School

Can you and should you?
Tags: Bar Prep, Bar Studying
Apr 2, 2023

If you're reading this, you might be thinking about taking the bar exam and becoming a lawyer. Many people believe that you have to go to law school to take the bar exam, but that's not always true. Although it's more common to finish law school first, a few states let you take the bar exam without going to law school.

Historically, meaning before law schools existed, people who wanted to be lawyers learned through apprenticeships. They would work in a law office to gain experience. The Inns of Court system helped people find lawyers to train with. Later, colleges began offering law degrees as another option to become a lawyer, and the American Bar Association (ABA) was created to maintain the profession of the law.Scroll downto learn more about the history of the ABA.

Can you become a lawyer without passing the bar?

Bar Admission is controlled at the state level so rules vary by state. You can only take the bar exam without going to law school in a few states, and each state has its own rules about the exact requirements to take the bar. 

States that let you take the bar exam without going to law school include:


  1. California
  2. Vermont
  3. Virginia
  4. Washington State

Each state has specific rules about how much studying and/or work experience is needed. To take the Bar. Some states require at least some law school, but they also allow for apprenticeships. These states include: 

  1. New York
  2. Maine
  3. West Virginia

Is it okay to take the bar without going to law school?

Of course. If it is allowed by your state, then it is okay to do. However, taking the bar exam without going to law school does have pros and cons. On one hand, it can save you money (spoiler: law school is expensive) and give you hands-on experience before taking the Bar. 

On the other hand, gaining the experience necessary to become lawyer without getting a JD can be time-consuming and will limit when and where you can practice law.

Before deciding to take the bar exam without going to law school, think about the pros and cons. Also, check out some frequently asked questions about taking the bar exam without going to law school in different states. State Bars that allow for taking the bar without law school will often have a dedicated web page to the idea. For example, check out Vermont’s.

In conclusion, if you want to become a lawyer without going to law school, you might have a chance if you live in one of the few states that allow it. This path can provide valuable hands-on experience, but it's important to weigh the benefits and drawbacks before making a decision.

What is the History of the ABA

The American Bar Association (ABA) is a professional organization for lawyers in the United States. Established in 1878, the ABA has played a significant role in the development of the legal profession, setting ethical standards, and advocating for improvements in the justice system.

The history of the American Bar Association began in the late 19th century when a group of lawyers recognized the need for a national organization to address the challenges faced by the legal profession. At that time, the legal profession was growing rapidly, and many lawyers felt that there was a lack of consistency in the standards and practices across different states.

On August 21, 1878, about 100 lawyers from 21 states and the District of Columbia gathered in Saratoga Springs, New York, to establish the ABA. The founding members aimed to create an organization that would promote legal education, maintain high standards for the profession, and facilitate cooperation among lawyers.

Throughout its history, the ABA has made significant contributions to the legal profession and the wider society. 

Some notable historical milestones of the ABA include

Developing the Model Rules of Professional Conduct: The ABA has been instrumental in creating guidelines for ethical behavior among lawyers. The Model Rules of Professional Conduct, first adopted in 1983, serve as a foundation for many state bar associations' ethical rules.

Advocating for Legal Education: The ABA has been an advocate for improving legal education in the United States. The ABA's Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar was created in 1893 and is responsible for accrediting law schools and ensuring that they meet educational standards.

Supporting Diversity and Inclusion: The ABA has been active in promoting diversity and inclusion in the legal profession. The association has established various sections and committees to address the needs of minority lawyers and other underrepresented groups.

Influencing Public Policy: The ABA has played a significant role in shaping public policy on legal matters. It has provided input on legislation, court decisions, and other legal developments. The ABA also contributes to the judicial nomination process by evaluating the qualifications of potential federal judges.

Providing Resources and Services: The ABA offers numerous resources and services to its members and the public, including legal publications, continuing education programs, and networking opportunities.

Today, the American Bar Association remains an influential organization that represents the interests of its members and seeks to improve the legal profession and the justice system in the United States. With over 400,000 members, the ABA continues to advocate for ethical standards, provide resources for legal professionals, and work towards ensuring equal access to justice for all.

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Windsor MIT '22, Harvard College Advisor

I am the half of LSD that didn't take the LSAT, or go to law school (Sorry about that). But I did go to MIT business school while surrounded by law students and lawyers, so I am somewhat qualified to talk about the intricacies of law school apps and finances.

Windsor (the dog) didn't write this but he WAS a Resident Tutor and career advisor at Harvard College with me, so deserves some credit.


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