A Great Way to Promote Access to Justice and Give Back to the Profession
BY DANIEL D. CLARK
I’m dedicating my column this month to providing awareness, information, and encouragement about the WSBA’s invaluable Law Clerk Program under Admission and Practice Rule (APR) 6. “Reading the law” is a very old tradition in our country11 Some well-known attorneys who did not attend or finish law school include Abraham Lincoln, John Jay, John Marshall, and Benjamin Cardozo. and in our state that actually predates both law schools and bar exams.
For close to 100 years, the WSBA has administered this unique path for participants to learn the law from a tutor. There are currently 185 former law clerks licensed to practice law in Washington. I am very excited that my successor as the District 4 governor, Mary M. Rathbone, is an APR 6 Law Clerk Program graduate—the first, I believe, to serve on the Board of Governors. I am in my fourth and final year of serving as a law clerk tutor and previously have served as a Board of Governors liaison to the Law Clerk Board for the past five years. I’d like to share some of what I’ve learned from these experiences.
Established by the Washington Supreme Court under APR 6, the Law Clerk Program is an alternative to traditional law school. The four-year program is designed to provide practical experience and education to the participant through a combination of working in a law firm (or for an approved law-related employer) and studying under the direct supervision of an experienced lawyer or judicial officer who is an active member in good standing with the WSBA. Those who complete the program are eligible to sit for the Washington lawyer bar exam side-by-side with those who have graduated from an ABA-accredited law school.
The Law Clerk Program is overseen by a board of volunteers (the Law Clerk Board) appointed by the Board of Governors. These dedicated volunteers, along with the individual WSBA members who serve as tutors to the participants, work collaboratively with WSBA staff to make this program successful. The Law Clerk Board assigns a board liaison to each participant; this liaison reviews monthly submissions of tests and book reports to ensure that the tutor is administering monthly testing to the law clerk that demonstrates the participant has an understanding of the subject matter and adequately prepares the participant for taking the bar exam.
Although designed to be completed in four years, the Law Clerk Program offers flexibility: Participants may take up to six years to complete it, which allows for absences due to health issues or family circumstances.
To qualify to participate in the Law Clerk Program, candidates must first demonstrate good moral character and fitness, as defined in APR 20, something that most law students are not required to do until they apply to sit for the bar exam. The Law Clerk Program applicant must have a bachelor’s degree, be of good moral character, and show that they currently have at least 32 hours per week of paid employment in Washington state with a lawyer or judge who has at least 10 years of active legal experience and is in good standing with an active license status. This WSBA member employer must agree to serve as the applicant’s primary tutor. The program also allows someone who meets these qualifications but is not the employer of the law clerk applicant to serve as the primary tutor, if the employer consents and agrees that this can be done without a conflict of interest.
As noted, employment is a requirement to apply for the program, and applicants must have already secured qualifying employment with a tutor before applying; employment that is contingent upon acceptance into the Law Clerk Program is not acceptable. At this time, neither the WSBA nor the Law Clerk Board assists with finding employers/tutors.
The APR 6 Law Clerk Program offers a unique and very affordable way to become an attorney without incurring the massive student loan debt that plagues the majority of traditional law school graduates. While attending a traditional three-year law school can cost approximately $200,000, an APR 6 student pays $100 for an application fee to the WSBA; upon enrollment in the Law Clerk Program, the fee is $2,000 per year. These tuition payments go directly toward defraying the costs the WSBA incurs in administering the program. The end result—at least during the six-plus years I’ve served on the Board of Governors—has been that the program has been cost-neutral every year and has even produced a small amount of revenue. In a nutshell, the Law Clerk Program costs members zero and produces qualified and competent attorneys.
There is another benefit to the public at large from the low cost and lack of student loan debt associated with the Law Clerk Program. In speaking with former law clerks over the years, I believe it is fair to say that most are in a much better position to be able to immediately do pro bono legal work and/or volunteer for the Moderate Means Program to help serve the public.
Equally important, given that participants work full time while going through the program, is that it opens up an important pathway for those who, for whatever reason, simply could not go to a traditional law school because of parenting obligations or other commitments. This program helps participants achieve their dream of becoming an attorney. We should be proud that our Bar administers this program, which really should be seen as the fourth “law school” in our state.
Impact on Underserved Rural Parts of the State
As you may know, the WSBA has created the STAR (Small Town and Rural) Committee to tackle the real and significant problem that many rural regions of our state simply do not have enough, or in some instances any, active members living and practicing in them. It is my strong opinion that the APR 6 Law Clerk Program can greatly assist in addressing this issue. As just one example of how it can do this, the program allows a solo practitioner in a rural area who is thinking of retiring in a few years to take on a law clerk under APR 6, teach them the law, and then ultimately transition the law practice to them when they become licensed to practice law.
I personally believe that expansion of this program into rural regions and small towns in Washington is a fantastic way to increase access to justice in these regions, as community members who already live in these regions and are working in the legal field as non-attorneys ultimately become active members of the Bar who can help meet the needs of residents there.
The Program Isn’t for Everyone
The Law Clerk Program requires participants to be extremely self-disciplined and self-motivated in order to learn the law individually as opposed to in a classroom. Some say it is harder than law school, with success versus failure often coming down to the quality of the tutor who helps teach the law and administers the tests.
For some, law school is a better pathway to learn the law. For others, however, the APR 6 Law Clerk Program provides a way to achieve the goal and dream of becoming an attorney that would not be possible any other way.
I have been and continue to be very supportive and proud of the APR 6 Law Clerk Program. This is a program that has produced and continues to produce many outstanding and competent attorneys in our state. In a concrete show of support for the program, I encourage you to consider serving as a law clerk tutor and/or an associate tutor.
It continues to be a tremendous honor to serve as your FY 23 WSBA president.
1. Some well-known attorneys who did not attend or finish law school include Abraham Lincoln, John Jay, John Marshall, and Benjamin Cardozo.