There is a little known program in the state of Washington whereby anybody with good moral character and a Bachelor’s degree can earn the right to legally practice law without going to law school. It’s called Admission to Practice Rule 6 or APR (6).
It’s an apprenticeship program. Apprentices must apply to the program and be accepted by the Washington State Bar Association. The apprentice applicant must find their own tutor and be under his/her regular employment for at least 30 hours per week. The mentor must be in good standing with the State Bar and have been a practicing judge or attorney for at least 10 years in the state of Washington. Apprenticeships last four years, as opposed to the standard three years for law school. Upon completion of all required coursework, apprentices will be qualified to take the Bar Exam. If the applicant can pass the Bar, they can practice law.
However, there are limitations. This program does not give you a Juris Doctor (J.D.) and only admits apprentices to practice in the state of Washington. So if you plan on leaving the state anytime soon, you won’t be able to take your practice with you. In fact, there are only four states whereby this type of program is available: California, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington. Each state has different criteria for admission to the Bar and admission to one state’s Bar does not grant admission to another state’s Bar, as would a J.D.
On the other hand, supporters point out that apprenticeships offer students an education at the fraction of the cost of law school. They are able to obtain work experience and, most importantly, earn a paycheck while being educated. Although, apprentices must pay for all of their study materials, such as books, in addition to the annual $1,500 fee imposed by the Bar association. However, this is minimal compared to the cost of attending law school. According to US News, the average cost of attending a public law school in 2015 was “more than $23,214 annually.” In contrast, the $1,500 annual fee, multiplied by four years, is only $6,000—and Lord forbid you spend $17,214 on books! An apprenticeship may very well cost less than one year of law school.
There are plenty of sources that denounce the attendance of law school altogether, mostly on the basis of a steep entry price. Apprenticeship programs are a proven and effective way for recent college graduates to gain experience while becoming educated in their desired field without hurting your pocketbook. And not just in the legal field, I expect programs such as APR (6) to rise in popularity in other academic fields as well, parallel to the increasing costs of attending graduate school and college in general.
Students are also well aware that a Bachelor’s degree in 2016 is like having a high school diploma in 1916; it’s just enough to keep you out of the coal mines. Students are cognizant of the simple economic laws of supply and demand. As the supply of people with B.A. degrees increases, the demand goes down, and as the demand goes down, salaries go down while inflation keeps going up along with the cost of living. Currently, the solution is to get more education so we can continue to climb the pay ladder. But adding decades of debt onto our tabs completely defeats the purpose. We need ways to avoid that and programs like APR (6) is one of them.