Chapter 2: Traditional vs. Alternative Steps to Becoming a Lawyer

Chapter 2

Traditional vs. Alternative Steps to Becoming a Lawyer

steps to becoming a lawyer

    Many guidebooks and manuals have been written to assist candidates to enter the practice of law. These books tend to focus on the traditional pathways to a career in law. Although this book takes a focused look at alternative methods of becoming a member of the legal profession, we will briefly discuss the conventional methods in order to draw a comparison between the two approaches.

Traditional Steps to Becoming a Lawyer in the United States


Bachelor’s Degree

With rare practical exception, traditional law-school candidates in the United States must have earned a bachelor’s degree (in any field) from an accredited college or university. Some law schools may make exceptions, subject to certain regulations, and consider a candidate with less than a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent. However, this is not a realistic strategy and not one that I would recommend. By and large, you must have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university before your application will be considered by an ABA law school.

 High Grade Point Average

Not only must the traditional law-school hopefuls earn a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent, but they also must generally have done so with an acceptable Grade Point Average, more commonly known as GPA. The individual ABA-approved law schools establish the acceptable GPA minimum, which may be as low as 3.0 but is more likely to be 3.5 or higher. While it is true that there is a small degree of flexibility permitted by admissions’ committees when considering a candidate’s overall qualifications, do not expect too many exceptions. With so many applicants and so few seats, admissions’ committees do not need to make many exceptions, nor are they inclined to do so.

The problem with concentrating on a candidate’s GPA is that, quite frankly, many college students, due to immaturity, or career or family commitments, have failed to truly apply themselves properly while in college. This means that while the GPA is indicative of how the candidate has performed in the past, it may not necessarily provide an accurate idea of his present or future ability. Still, once your GPA has been set, it will be difficult to convince admissions’ committees from ABA law schools that you have matured and changed. Why should they believe you? Why should they give you a chance? I’m sorry to tell you that they probably will not.

Law School Admission Test

The cornerstone of the traditional law-school admissions process starts with the candidate’s earning an acceptable score on the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). The acceptable minimum LSAT scores varies which each individual law school and most law schools will, to some degree, allow for some consideration of a candidate’s overall ability and suitability. However, make no mistake about it, a substandard score on the LSAT will substantially reduce your chances of getting into a traditional ABA law school.

Let’s face it, space is limited and it is expensive to run a high ­quality law school, staffed by a qualified faculty with an extensive library and support staff. Law schools are obligated to try and weed out anyone who might not make it. Why? First of all, though unfair to the candidate, if the student failure rate is too high it reflects poorly on the school’s performance and ranking and ultimately the “bottom line” when it comes to attracting new qualified applicants. The bottom line is important to ABA law schools for many reasons, and they’re not all economic. For one thing, whatever few stones can be cast at the rigidity of the ABA law-school system, you have to admit that generally cannot fault on academic grounds. ABA law schools offer very high quality legal education, period. But to maintain such high standards they must weed out the weak candidates. The system tolerates few exceptions.

With so many applicants and so few seats,
admissions’ committees do not need to make many
exceptions, nor are they inclined to do so.”

        This weeding out of borderline or unqualified candidates is an absolute necessity for these schools. There is, for the most part, nothing personal about the weeding-out process, but the problem is that some high-quality people just don’t make the cut. Rest assured, the study of law is not for everyone, but if you are one of the qualified few who did not make the cut (or just could not afford to go the traditional road), take heart, there are some alternative approaches to becoming a lawyer. (Incidentally, If your are intent on taking the LSAT give yourself an edge – Read my article about preparing for the LSAT –available at:


Alternative Steps to Becoming a Lawyer
in the United States

The American Bar Association and Law School Accreditation

Before we move ahead, a few more things about the American Bar Association (ABA) require a bit of explaining. The ABA is a private professional association that engages in a wide range of functions on behalf of its members. One of these functions is to establish minimum standards by which American law schools are to be guided. If a partic­ular U.S. law school elects to be governed by the ABA standards, that school may voluntarily seek “approval” of the ABA. ABA approval is a much coveted and respected status indeed. Prospective lawyers wishing to attend an ABA law school must comply with the strict traditional requirements of becoming a lawyer.

The majority of law schools in the United States are ABA approved, however, some schools cannot meet the stringent stan­dards of the ABA. A small number of non-ABA law schools in the U.S. are excellent, but choose not to seek ABA approval. The general rule in the U.S. is that only graduates of ABA-approved law schools may sit for bar examinations and ultimately become lawyers. However, as with most general rules there are exceptions. There are in fact a number of U.S. states that permit law graduates from foreign or U.S. non-ABA law schools to sit for their bar examinations.

The general rule in the U.S. is that only graduates of
ABA-approved law schools may sit for bar examinations
and ultimately become lawyers. However, as with most
general rules there are exceptions.”

     The ABA serves merely in an advisory capacity and the individual states are free to establish their own requirements. That being said, you should also know that this “advisory” role has proven to be quite powerful and far reaching—every U.S. state permits graduates of ABA law schools to sit for their bar examination. But some states will also permit graduates of non-ABA approved law schools to sit for the exam as well. Normally these schools have sought and obtained “state approval” or have met other requirements of the state bar, for example, being “registered” with the State Bar Association.

Foreign Law School Accreditation

The accreditation process outside of the United States is generally administered by governmental bodies. In this respect ABA approval is not relevant to the accreditation status of foreign law schools.

Law in America evolved directly from the common law of England and from our common heritage. For this reason, quite a number of U.S. states will permit foreign law graduates to sit for their bar exam if their education was based upon English common law and is substantially equivalent to American ABA-law school education. Note that the standard is “substantially equivalent” and not the exact equivalent. By and large the legal education obtained from accredited foreign law schools in countries following the common law of England, will be the substantial equivalent of an ABA-law school education.

 Alternative Strategies to Becoming a Lawyer

These features of the American legal education system have created a number of alternative strategies for becoming a lawyer in the United States. Essentially these strategies will involve your doing one of the following:

Attending and earning a degree from a foreign accredited law school, or

Enrolling in and earning a degree from a foreign accredited distance-learning law school, or

Attending and earning a degree from a U.S. non-ABA approved law school, or

 Enrolling in and earning a degree from a U.S. distance-learn­ing law school

“…if you are one of the qualified few who did not
make the cut (or just could not afford to go the tradi-

tional road), take heart, there are some alternative
approaches to becoming a lawyer.”


What are the Prerequisites to Attending a Foreign or Nontraditional Law School?

    The admission requirements for the alternative law-degree programs will vary from program to program but most will require one of the following academic prerequisites:

60 credits from an accredited college or university, or equivalent

60 credits from college level examination (e.g., CLEP),

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bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university, or

completion of “A”&“O” level examinations

meeting the requirements for mature student status


As discussed above, most American law schools will require that candidates for admission have completed an accredited bachelor’s degree or its equivalent. Although some ABA law schools indicate that they will accept students with two or three years of college study, very few, if any, students will be accepted without first earning a bachelor’s degree. The same is true of most Canadian law schools in that they may state that a bachelor’s degree is not required for admission, but rarely is a student admitted without one.

Furthermore, many of the English, Irish, and Australian law schools listed in this book do not require a prior college degree. They, instead, will require that the student either successfully complete their “A” and “O” level examinations. (These are examinations that are taken in the UK and some other Commonwealth nations and are not required for U.S. and other “foreign” students.) Alternatively, these schools will admit students if that student is a “mature” candidate, that is, that he or she be over 21 years of age and be able to demonstrate their academic promise through work or life experience.


Although there are no hard and fast rules as to how liberal foreign law schools will be in accepting a “mature” student, gaining admission will generally be much easier for students with some work experience (not necessarily in law) and/or some education above the high-school level. Furthermore, it is generally, but not always, easier to gain entry into a distance-learning law school. Therefore, if you’re set on physically attending a foreign law school, and you’re having problems qualifying for admission, you may want to consider doing your first year by distance learning and later reapplying for actual attendance study.


Finally, there are the American non-ABA approved law schools. The norm is to require the student to have 60 college credits or their equivalent. This is particularly true where the student intends to become a practicing lawyer. For example, in California, where most non-accredited law schools are located, law students intending to seek admission to the Bar must have at least 60 college credits or its equivalent by testing out, that is, earning credit by examination, for example by taking CLEP examinations. This is true whether you physically attend an unaccredited law school or enroll in an American distance-learning law school. In short, if you intend to practice law you must have 60 college credits or equivalent.

For more information about CLEP and other credit by examination programs please go to


A Brief Word About Testing Out
    By a procedure known as testing out, many students earn their entire 60 credits or more. In fact, you can actually earn an accredited Associate, Bachelor, or Master’s degree without ever setting foot in a college or university—you can even earn a PhD—and, of course, a law degree.

Incidentally, I “tested out” and personally took over a dozen CLEP and similar examinations about 20 years ago. I was fortunate to learn and develop some great study skills, but I must confess that I did waste valuable time studying areas that CLEP didn’t even test. I would have paid almost anything to have some good test prep material like those available from Finish College Fast With CLEP — I like their program because it uses a question-based learning process, something I’ve promoted for years— because it works. I also like and endorse this program because you get to try it for 30 days risk free.

Testing out is a wonderful way to earn college credits quickly— and cheaply. Essentially a typical testing out student will purchase books and/or other study materials designed to prepare students for examinations in a host of subjects. The examinations are given on a monthly basis in nearly every major city in the United States and throughout the world. The study materials have been developed over the past 30 years or so and are prepared to save the student a lot of wasted time by focusing on exactly what is necessary to prepare for the exams. Nearly all colleges and universities accept the results of these examinations for college credit at their institutions. Additionally you can save thousands of dollars over the cost of a traditional college education by using the testing out system.


Why should your pre-law studies or college degree
be accredited?

     In a word, accreditation equals “acceptance.” Ironically, while not all the alternative law-degree programs are themselves accredited in the traditional sense, you must demonstrate that you are academically qualified to enter the programs. This is because graduating from one of the alternative law-degree programs will ultimately qualify you and permit you to sit for the licensing examination and join the Bar Association.

In the United States there are literally hundreds of independent and often competitive accrediting bodies that purport to have the authority to grant accreditation to colleges. This is not always the case and you must therefore be careful that your college degree is truly “accredited’ by a “recognized body.” Fortunately, a central nonprofit organization has come to the forefront to establish a standard of excellence. This organization, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), was created in 1996 by national referendum and serves as the principal organization to maintain public accountability and assurance of high academic quality and integrity.

It is therefore essential that your pre-law school education or degree be accredited by one of the eight regional accreditation organizations that are represented to CHEA as meeting its eligibility standard. There are, of course, some exceptions and overlapping with certain professional bodies which also have a role in approving or accrediting schools and programs. Where such exceptions are relevant, they will be discussed in further detail.


    The following are the eight regional accrediting organizations which are represented by CHEA as meeting its eligibility standard:

Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools (MSA) Commission on Higher Education

3624 Market Street Philadelphia, PA 19104
Tel: 215-662-5606, Fax: 215-662-5501

New England Association of Schools and Colleges Commission on Institutions of Higher Education

209 Burlington Road
Bedford, MA 07130-1433
Tel: 781-271-0022, Fax: 781-271-0950


 North Central Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Institutions of Higher Education
30 North LaSalle, Suite 2400
Chicago, IL 60602-2504

Tel: 312-263-0456, Fax: 312-263-7462

Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges Commission on Colleges
11130 NE 33rd Place, Suite 120 Bellevue, WA 98004
Tel: 425-827-2005, Fax: 425-827-3395



Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
1866 Southern Lane
Decatur, GA 30033-4097
Tel: 404-679-4500, Fax: 404-679-4558


 Western Association of Schools and CollegesAccrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges
3402 Mendocino Avenue
Santa Rosa, CA 95403-2244
Tel: 707-569-9177, Fax: 707-569-9179


Western Association of Schools and Colleges
Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities
985 Atlantic Avenue, Suite 100
Alameda, CA 94501
Tel: 510-748-9001, Fax: 510-748-9797


 Legal Accrediting Bodies in the United States

American Bar Association (ABA)
750 N. Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, IL 60611
Tel: 312-988-500E-mail: Not available

 Association of American Law Schools (AALS)
1201 Connecticut Ave, N.W., Suite 800
D.C. 20036-2605
Tel: 202-296-8851, Fax: 202-296-8869
E-mail: Not available


Accrediting Bodies Outside the United States

In almost all other countries accrediting bodies are a part of or controlled by governmental agencies. For example, in the United Kingdom, university accreditation is by an Act of Parliament. Some strategies described in this book are based on using foreign accredited distance learning and attendance programs. Where this is the case you will normally need to have your “foreign” academic credentials evaluated by academic and professional bodies in the United States. Should you choose one of these strategies, in whole or in part, your credentials may be evaluated by one of the following evaluation services for a cost of approximately $150.00 to $600.00.


Note that the organizations that perform these services are not regulated in the United States. It is strongly suggested that you determine ahead of time whether or not the schools you are interested in will accept the evaluation of these services. Many U.S. schools have the service available for their students—again, check first. Most evaluation services can complete the evaluation report in three to four weeks, however, several firms offer 24-hour service.

Below is a list of companies offering academic evaluation services for foreign college credits and degrees:

Center for Applied Research and Education
P.O. Box 20348
Long Beach, CA 90801
Tel: 562-430-1105, Fax: 562-430-8215
E-Mail: Not Available
Web: Not Available

Educational Credential Evaluators
P.O. Box 92970
Milwaukee, WI 53202
Tel: 414-289-3400, Fax: 414-289-3411


Educational Evaluators International
P.O. Box 5397
Los Alamitos, CA 90720
Tel: 562-431-2187, Fax: 562-943-5021
E-mail: Not Available
Web: Not Available

Educational International
29 Denton Road
Wellesley, MA 02181
Tel: 781-235-7425, Fax: Not Available
E-mail: Not Available
Web: Not Available

Educational Records Evaluation Services
777 Campus Commons Road, Suite 200
Sacramento, CA 95825
Tel: 916-565-7475, Fax: 916-565-7476


Evaluation Service
P.O. Box 1455
Albany, NY 12201
Tel: 518-672-4522, Fax: Not Available

Web: Not Available

International Consultants of Delaware
109 Barksdale Professional Center
Newark, DE 19711
Tel: 302-737-8715, Fax: 302-737-8756


International Credentialing Associates
1 Progress Plaza, Ste. 810
St. Petersburg, FL 33701
Tel: 813-821-8852, Fax: Not Available
E-mail: Not Available
Web: Not Available

International Education Research Foundation
P.O. Box 66940
Los Angeles, CA 90066
Tel: 310-390-6276, Fax: 310-342-7086


Joseph Silny & Associates International Education Consultants
P.O. Box 248233
Coral Gables, FL 33124
Tel: 305-666-0233, Fax: 305-666-4133


The Knowledge Company
10301 Democracy Lane, Suite 403
Fairfax, VA 22030-2521
Tel: 703-359-3520, Fax: 703-359-3523

Spantran Educational Services, Inc.
7211 Regency Square Blvd., Suite 205
Houston, TX 77036-3197
Tel: 713-266-8805, Fax: 713-89-6022


Word Communication International
4501 N. 12th St.
Phoenix, AZ 85014
Tel: 602-265-0678, Fax: 602-265-2335
Web: Not Available

World Education Services
P.O. Box 745
New York, NY 10113
Tel: 212-966-6311, Fax: 212-739-6100



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