Can one become an attorney without a law degree in the United States, such as by passing the state bar exam? Which States in the U.S. allow this?

  • This depends on the state/country. There is no single answer.
    – MSalters
    Commented Feb 25, 2020 at 15:31
  • @MSalters Thanks. I narrowed the scope down.
    – Geremia
    Commented Feb 25, 2020 at 15:40
  • 1
    It is also worth noting that it is possible to be a judge without being a lawyer in many states where it is not possible to be a lawyer without passing the bar exam. For example, New York and Colorado, where I am admitted to practice, are among them.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Feb 26, 2020 at 1:37
  • For what it is worth, well under 1% of U.S. lawyers are admitted to practice in this manner.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Oct 25, 2022 at 21:26

3 Answers 3


California, Virginia, Vermont, and Washington allow a person to substitute a pattern of study in a judges or lawyer's office. In California, this is per rule 4.29 of the California Bar, and rule 6 of the Washington Supreme Court. These states require the candidate to be supervised and tutored by a practicing attorney or judge, which makes it challenging to actually satisfy the requirement. There are also provisions whereby one might substitute the fact of being a practicing lawyer in a common law jurisdiction (which opens the theoretical possibility that one might not have attended law school in that country).

  • My grandfather "read the law" in North Carolina (in the early 20th century, so it's likely that this is no longer possible in North Carolina) and served as a county judge in addition to his private law practice, so I presume that being supervised by a practicing judge or lawyer only applies before being admitted to the bar.
    – phoog
    Commented Feb 25, 2020 at 17:32
  • @phoog Many states allow someone who is not a lawyer to serve as a judge. Colorado has 3-4 of them, but New York State, for example, has a great many.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Dec 13, 2022 at 22:06
  • Are those the only states?
    – Geremia
    Commented May 6 at 20:59

New York allows a person to take the bar exam after "study in a law office" and not just after law school.

See Rule 520.4 (https://www.nycourts.gov/ctapps/520rules10.htm#2).

The current version of the rule (my recollection is that it didn't always require this) requires essentially that the 1L curriculum has been taken at a law school, successfully, followed by ~3 years of law office study.


Can one become an attorney without a law degree?

Yes, assuming "attorney" is synonymous with "solicitor" and not "lawyer" because...

Unlike terms such as solicitor or barrister, lawyer has no defined meaning in UK law. Anyone can call themselves a lawyer, regardless of whether they have any professional legal qualifications or not.

Source: SRA


It is a criminal offence for someone to call themselves a solicitor or act as a solicitor if they are not on the roll of solicitors.

Source: SRA

To qualify as a solicitor without a law degree, one needs to follow the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) route, and must:

  • have a degree in any subject or equivalent level 6 qualification

  • pass both stages of the SQE assessment

  • [have] two years' full-time (or equivalent) qualifying work experience

  • pass our [the SRA] character and suitability requirements.


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