Kim K., Esq., and the Merits of an Unconventional Legal Education
Kim Kardashian West wants to be a lawyer and is traveling on a very nontraditional path to achieve her goal. The first half of that sentence sounds like a joke; Kim Kardashian, fashion maven with the internet-breaking derriere and one of a gaggle of ditzy, image obsessed famous-for-being-famous brunettes whom everyone loves to hate, joining the learned ranks of the legally educated? It’s not as crazy as it seems.
Last year, Kim and her husband (you may have heard of him, name’s Kanye) lobbied the Trump administration to secure clemency for Alice Marie Johnson, a 63 year old woman imprisoned since 1996 on non-violent drug charges. She has since adopted criminal justice reform as her cause. And she was smart enough to know what she didn’t know. Not content to fund-raise or appear for photo-ops in the Oval Office, Kardashian West decided that becoming a lawyer was key in being able to speak intelligently about her mission.
But Kardashian West is not going to law school; in fact, she never attended college. In California, it’s not necessary for one to do so in order to become a lawyer. California is one of only a handful of states which allow a person to sit for the bar after completing an apprenticeship of some sort. In California, it’s called “reading the law”, and it requires four years of study alongside fully licensed lawyers, and the passage of what they call “the baby bar” after the first year to ensure the person is progressing and showing the potential to succeed. Kardashian West studies 18 hours a week with two attorneys who work in criminal justice reform and plans to take the “baby bar” this summer.
Four years working along side practicing attorneys seems a much more immersive and useful way to train lawyers. It’s how Lincoln learned. But Kim K. still has to pass the bar before she can call herself an attorney, lest anyone worry she might skate, ill-prepared, into licensure. And passing the California Bar is no easy feat; the fall 2018 passage rate was less than 50 percent.
As for Kim, her mentors say she is very smart and doing well in her apprenticeship. It’s not surprising that, despite her reputation as a shallow, pampered celebrity, she is actually quite intelligent. It is particularly unsurprising that she may have a talent for the law, given that she is the daughter of one of the country’s most prominent lawyers, the late Robert Kardashian of OJ trial fame. Perhaps the apple did not fall far from the tree. She could simply content herself with using her fame and influence to further the cause of criminal justice reform. She is choosing instead to augment that power with education. She doesn’t need to be a lawyer; she doesn’t need the money or the prestige from a career. She is doing it because she found a passion outside of herself, and she is to be commended.
Good luck to her.
It’s good that California does that.
More states should do that.Report
California does, or at least did, do this with engineering. I have a good friend who had his PE long before getting his degree.Report
And I should have read all the way to the bottom. Oscar explains it nicely.
Oh, and you can also do this with Architecture in some states.Report
Best of luck to Ms. Kardashian West, of course. I am moderately pro-reading; a juris doctorate is a good thing, of course, but not a practical one for everyone and the baby bar is no mean feat for someone who does not have access to a lot of the formal education available to law students.
To my sister and brother lawyers: consider the intellectual difficulties inherent in learning proximate causation, UCC Article 2 transactions, and the inchoate crime of criminal conspiracy without the guidance of a law professor. If Ms. Kardashian can demonstrate she’s learned those sorts of things, then yeah, she deserves the opportunity to proceed and earn admission. (To non-lawyers for whom that seems like gobbledegook, rest assured that it feels that way to law students, too.)Report
The California Bar passage rate is so low because California allows people who attend non-accredited law schools and people whom don’t attend law school at all to take the bar. The number of people who pass the bar doing the “reading the law” ways is very low. IIRC the number of people that pass the Baby Bar is very low.
The quality of these unaccredited lawschools seems to vary wildly. Some seem pretty good but dedicated to teaching non-traditional students at night. Others have names like the “People’s college of Law” and seem to go into righteous fury when their students don’t pass the bar.
To be absolutely fair, a lot of accredited law schools have seen their bar passage rates plummet over the last few years because they lowered admissions standards to keep doors and enrollment at pre-crash levels. My alma mater went from having 75 percent pass on their first time around my time studying to way under 40 percent passing most recently. It’s embarrassing.Report
To me, that’s an argument for allowing people to read the law as an alternative track. Presumably, the bar exams weeds out the unqualified persons.
Of course, it’s also an argument to try to do something about the very low-quality schools you mention. And maybe we need to reconsider how the bar functions.Report
So I found myself wondering “huh… how much does it cost to take the bar?”
According to Google, about $5,800.Report
No. If Google told you that, Google lied.
In California, the baby bar costs $624 (if you register timely) and the actual bar costs $677 for a law student applicant.
That’s in California. As I’ve learned to my irritation, your mileage may vary in other states. I am going to have to take the bar exam in Oregon, as my license from California does not give me reciprocity in order to be able to practice here. That set me back $1,175 and nearly two entire days of paperwork.Report
I suspect Google is assuming that the applicant would pay for Barbri or some other prep course, which will set you back about $3k at the low end.Report
When I google “how much does it cost to take the bar in California”, it shows me this:
If that assumes a lot of expenses that aren’t part of taking the actual test and the real answer is “$1300”?
Dude, that’s *AWESOME*.
Not that $1300 is a trifle or anything but that’s something that a determined person might be able to scrape together for themselves a lot easier than six grand.
More states should do that.Report
I can’t remember how much my bar exam cost but I was thinking maybe $3-400. I checked, and it’s currently $500, so I am probably not too far off in my memory (from 15 years ago.) Then there’s another fee for the MPRE (ethics exam) but it’s much less, currently $125.
The bar prep course I took was a lot more. They set tables up at 1L orientation and advise you to sign up and start making payments then. I think it was around $2000 for me back then. I also ended up taking out a $10K “Board and Bar” loan, which is for law and med students, intended to be money to live on while studying for the bar/medical boards so you can focus your time and attention. It was a SallieMae.Report
Ethics is the one qualm I have about West. No doubt she’s smart, but a legal career and a shameless self-promotion career have different requirements, as Mr. Avenatti has recently learned.Report
On the other hand it’s not like going to law school did him any good in that respect.Report
You missed the smartest angle to this approach. No student loans.Report
I definitely thought about that! But I didn’t want to get into the whole thing, when those are obviously not an issue for Mrs. West. Definitely a plus though. I really like this model. I think maybe a bachelor’s degree should be the minimum, but I can’t really justify my thinking on that. Probably just my bias.Report
This is similar in a lot of ways to the Professional Engineer exam. If you don’t have the degree, you can take the Fundamentals of Engineering/Engineer-in-Training exam (FE/EIT), which will allow an engineering firm/department to hire you on as an apprentice. After 4 years of work for the firm, you can sit for the PE exam. Once you have the PE, you can work as an engineer, no degree needed.
PS Good on Ms. West for not settling on just being an empty figurehead.Report
One of the differences between the bar and the PE exam is that there are an enormous number of engineering jobs that don’t require the PE. Certainly the vast majority of engineers I’ve known in my life never sat for the PE, they worked as employees of companies like Bell Labs or Motorola. I’d be willing to bet a sizeable sum that when the next Falcon Heavy puts a communications satellite into geosynchronous orbit, very little of the rocket or satellite design was done or overseen by PEs.
Software has managed to avoid the PE thing. You can get a PE in software engineering today, but no state has been willing to require it for people to put out a shingle.Report
True, you only have to sit for a PE for certain Civil and Mechanical Engineering positions (e.g. people who sign off on public works engineering drawings).
But sitting for the PE is the one way to become an engineer without going to an accredited university. That path to professional qualification still exists.Report
Why doesn’t Kim just contact the folks involved in the college applications scandal? They’re bound to have some sneaky way for a practicing lawyer take the bar exam for her, or to at least correct some of her answers.
She’s rich and famous. She shouldn’t have to compete on a level playing field.Report
Your generosity to her is appealing and inspires me to take the high road with this one.Report