What role does “reading law” play in legal education today?

What role does this path to the legal profession play these days? Is it considered an anachronism that should be done away with? How well respected are these “self-made” lawyers by their peers and their clients? What are their chances of being hired by big law firms? Could they become judges or district attorneys?

Wow, no-one has responded yet.

I am not an American lawyer, but since no one wants to play, here are my semi-educated, sorta thumbsuck guesses:

Very small, I imagine.

My guess is that there so few people who do so that it that it hardly seems the trouble. Following the wikilinks, the number of notable persons who have “read law” (is that the right phrasing) were born ages ago; Strom Thurmond is the most recent person listed - and he was born a while before the outbreak of WWIII.

Clients tend to respect lawyers who are professional and who, above all else, resolve their legal problems. IAAL (not American) and I’ve never had a client ask about my legal education. Just experience. I doubt it plays a major role. I can’t speak as to their peers, but given that it seems to be associated with lawyers practicing in rural areas there may be “bumpkin lawyer” stereotypes.

The major firms here won’t even consider hiring you after graduation unless you are in the top 10% of your class and graduated from one of the “right” universities. I doubt major American firms are any different - if anything, the higher lawyer to population ratio should mean that it is even more competitive. I doubt the “self-made lawyer” would even get an interview.

I strongly suspect that there are minimum qualifications and a requisite degree would be one of them.

Are you asking about the US only? Because, in commonwealth jurisdictions, to become a lawyer, you still have to undertake a period of training under a recognised practitioner, called alternatively a “pupilage” , “articles”, “apprenticeship” etc. typically between 6 months to 2 years.

Although in most cases you need a law or a legal qualification before you can apply for a place.

Yes but so can anyone else without a law degree in many cases. Judges are often either elected or appointed positions. There isn’t usually a strict requirement that they have a law background at all but the vast majority do in practice. There is no legal background required to be a U.S. Supreme Court Justice for that matter.

There aren’t very many people that ‘read’ for the bar these days. It is only allowed in a few states like California. However, there are times when it may be a useful path for certain individuals in specific circumstances. One would be a talented paralegal with many years of experience and already does much of the work of a lawyer but doesn’t get treated like one. Passing the bar and becoming a lawyer might make sense professionally for someone like that.

That’s true of most lawyers. :smiley:

Here is a more recent case:

According to a linked article at the wiki page (Reading eagle newspaper 10 Oct 2005)


there are fewer than 150 people reading law in the USA at the time, whilst more than 140 000(!) are at accredited law schools.

This answers OP’s first question - an insignificantly small role.

There is also an example of how despite being an admitted attorney, you can still be denied jobs due to a lack of a degree. (although in example presented a waiver was granted.)

Reading law is still legal in Vermont - I know a number of attorneys (and, as cited above, one judge) who obtained their law licenses through this route.

It’s allowed here in Washington State. Probably only one or two a year, maybe less. Personally, I would have great respect for such a lawyer. The could certainly be a judge or prosecutor. Some bigger firms might have a look at you, especially If you studied under one of their lawyers.

In my primary jurisdiction (Queensland, Australia) until relatively recently it was certainly possible to become admitted as a solicitor by doing a 5 year articles of clerkship rather than a two year articles following a law degree.

There was also the “Canberra shuffle” which allowed some to take the bar practice course, become admitted to the bar in Queensland, receive mutual recognition as a solicitor in the ACT, and then receive mutual recognition as a solicitor in Queensland.

These days there is a more uniform traineeship requirement which generally imposes a postgraduate practice course and supervised traineeship for admission as a legal practitioner.

The bar practice course must be taken by admitted legal practitioners who wish to practice at the bar, followed by a one year pupillage.

With regard to most lawyers I have associated with, their knowledge of “reading law” is limited to the knowledge that one may sit for the California bar exam without having a degree from an accredited law school. There is a presumption (rebuttable, of course) that a person who has obtained a license to practice in this way is likely to be an oddball or outsider, like Orly Taitz (who actually did go to law school).

So being admitted to the bar in Queensland itself doesn’t get you recognition as a licensed solicitor in Queensland? So what is it good for on its own?

Queensland, like many common law jurisdictions, has a divided profession. Practising lawyers are either barristers (who specialise in advocacy and advisory work) or solicitors (who do all kinds of legal work, including transactional work, conveyancing, etc) and the two professions have their own training systems and admission requirements.

So, if you’re admitted to the bar in Queensland, you’re a barrister. You do advisory work (i.e. give legal opinions) and advocacy (preparing pleadings, and appearing at trials on behalf of clients) and on most or all of those matters you are instructed by solicitors. You have relatively little direct contact with the client.

Since the introduction of the Legal Profession Act 2007 we (theoretically) have ‘legal practitioners’ - who are lawyers (being people admitted to the legal profession in Australia) who hold a local or interstate practising certificate.

There is a move towards uniform national profession laws, but it will take a while yet. There is still a substantial division between the bar and solicitors in Queensland, although there is an increasing number of solicitors who specialise in advocacy. They are often referred to as “special counsel”, and in an effort to protect their turf the Qld bar reintroduced the “Queen’s Counsel” commission last year. Very few Senior Counsel failed to nominate to be commissioned as Queen’s Counsel.

In most jurisdictions being called or admitted is not on its own sufficient to practice (in. England for instance). You need to have completed pupilage/apprenticeship/articles.

The US is different that anyone who clears the Bar exam is entitled to practice.

Oh, wait, I think I am catching on. Passing the bar is a step towards becoming a barrister, but not necessarily a solicitor. Is that it?

Since we don’t have that distinction in the United States, we might need you folks to be explicit when it comes to that.

Also, I think that we assume that a barrister is of higher rank than a solicitor, so a license to practice barrister-y is inclusive of solicitor-ing, but obviously that seems not to be true.

No, they’re two separate functions. Both have the same academic training, but barristers just go to court. Solicitors handle things like wills, estates, commercial transactions. They also act for the client who needs to go to court - it’s the solicitor who retains the barrister, on behalf of the client.

AK84 can no doubt explain it better, as I believe he has been called to the bar in England.

“Being called” is the colloquial expression for having met all the requirements to be admitted to practise before the courts. It occurs after articles/pupillage. The expression dates back to the medieval English courts, where there literally was a wooden bar that divided the audience area of the court from the well of the court, where the judge and clerks sat. A barrister was called to come forward to the bar to plead his client’s case to the judges.

Not all the Commonwealth jurisdictions have maintained the divided profession on the English model. For instance, in Canada, lawyers in the common law provinces are barristers and solicitors.

American bar exams cover very little if any courtroom advocacy, so from a Commonwealth perspective, what we call a “bar exam” is more like a solicitoring exam, I should think.

Not really. There isn’t a bar exam per se in Qld. If you want to be a solicitor, you will generally:

  1. Complete a law degree (undergraduate, usually 4 years if not a dual degree)
  2. Complete a supervised traineeship (1 year) or a legal practice course (which will include some supervised practice) at a uni.
  3. Apply for admission to the roll.
  4. Apply for a practicing certificate.

To become a barrister, you will generally:

  1. Do the above.
  2. Complete the bar practice course (6 weeks)
  3. Complete a pupillage (1 year)
  4. Be called to the bar.

Most new barristers will practice as a solicitor for at least a couple of years before moving to the bar - as they rely on referrals from solicitors for the vast majority of their briefs they really need to build up some contacts before hanging out their shingle. Barristers can’t operate in partnership. Many will also act as a judges associate for 1 or 2 years, although I don’t think this counts towards admission any more.

Not really a higher rank, just a different set (albeit increasingly overlapping) of general skills, and a completely different mindset and focus from a client service perspective. Barristers maintain a level of separation from the client which can assist in the specialist tasks that they are briefed to provide.

In England after your QLD (qualifying law degree)) you can choose to either do the Bar Course (for Barristers) or the Legal Practice Course (for solicitors) whoch lasts one year. On successful completion of the course you are called to the Bar (if a Barrister). You cannot practice until you complete a 1 year pupilage (divided into 2 six month parts) for Barristers or a 2 year Article ship (called a Training Contract) these days for solicitors.

In Canada, IIRC you are not called until after you have completed your Articles, am I correct.

That’s right (with some variation in details from province to province). Three year law degree, followed by a year of articles to a lawyer with at least 5 years at the bar. Bar course classes and assignments throughout the year of articles. If you successfully complete the bar course work, you get called at the end of the three years. Same process whether one wants to do exclusively court work, solicitor work, or a mixture.