Reading law, also referred to as reading the law, is a training method in common law countries that allows a person to become a lawyer without attending formal law school. It represents an old practice that existed before law schools became available, and is still permitted in some regions. Reading law sanctions working with a licensed attorney or judge to gain practical knowledge before passing a bar examination.
Requirements vary widely by jurisdiction. In some areas, a bachelor’s degree is the only prerequisite to studying with an attorney, while other regions require just an associate’s degree and minimum scores on college equivalency tests. In select areas, a person must complete four years in a recognized study program before he or she becomes eligible to take the bar exam. Prospective lawyers in another region must attend one year at an approved law school before pursuing reading law.
Students who are reading law may have to pass annual exams to assess their progress. Judges and attorneys participating in the study program typically administer the test and decide if the student has earned credit. After three years of passing scores, the candidate is eligible to register for the bar examination, and credit is recorded.
Reading law is based on theories of diversity and economics. It makes a law career accessible to people who lack the money to pay for law school. The practice also addresses the plight of people who live in rural areas and do not enjoy access to a nearby law school.
Up until the 19th century, lawyers entered the field by studying recognized law books and learning from practicing attorneys through an apprenticeship. In England, this process was called the inns of court. After the American Bar Association was formed in the United States in 1878, the organization began exerting pressure on states to require formal study for lawyers.
Correspondence schools and online study programs might exist in areas where reading law is still allowed. These programs may ask students to turn in periodic reports and complete mandated tests during their studies. After all courses are completed, students may take the bar examination and begin practicing as lawyers.
Potential attorneys who participate in this study method should be self-disciplined and able to use time wisely, especially if they are working part time while reading law. In order to pass the bar exam, students should be knowledgeable in constitutional law, criminal law, and civil law. They are usually restricted to working in a state or country that recognizes reading law.