BY CHRISTELL CASEY AND BENJAMIN PHILLABAUM, LAW CLERK BOARD MEMBERS
The Law Clerk Program is Washington’s affordable alternative to a traditional law school education, in which the classroom is replaced by on-the-job legal education and training. This four-year program is available anywhere in the state and allows tutors—lawyers or judicial officers with at least 10 years of experience—to open career pathways to aspiring lawyers and potentially train a future law firm successor.
Under Washington Supreme Court Admission and Practice Rule (APR) 6, those who successfully complete the program are eligible to sit for Washington’s bar exam. To qualify for the program, applicants must have a bachelor’s degree and regular, paid, full-time (at least 32 hours per week) employment with a primary tutor who regularly practices within the state of Washington.11 Please see APR 6 and Regulations for more information.
With the help of their tutor, law clerks follow a course of study comparable to any Washington law school curriculum, in combination with employment. Each year, law clerks are required to study six subjects, pass 12 exams, and submit three reports on books related to any of the following topics: legal history, philosophy and theory, biography, policy, and procedure. The tutor develops, administers, and grades the exams; provides at least three hours each week of personal supervision, which includes the recitation and discussion of pertinent cases and critical analysis of the law clerk’s written assignments; and evaluates the law clerk’s progress.
In recent years, much attention has been paid to equal access to the legal profession, the rising costs of law school education, and how to address the attorney shortage in rural and underserved counties of Washington state. The APR 6 Law Clerk program is uniquely situated to address these issues.
The Law Clerk Program costs a fraction of a traditional law school education. In addition, because it requires paid employment, it is accessible to populations who do not have the privilege to stop working to attend law school. Single parents who need an income to support their family can still train as an attorney and work at the same time. People from lower socio-economic situations or marginalized communities who think that the price tag of a legal education is out of reach for them may more easily be able to afford the cost of the APR 6 Law Clerk Program: $2,000 a year, plus materials that they can source from a variety of different places, including other law clerks.
Completing the Law Clerk Program with little to no debt also allows those attorneys who feel called to public service or pro bono work the freedom to follow their passion and permits them to accept an offer from a nonprofit, because they are not faced with paying off law school debt.
Law clerks do not have to leave their community to participate in the program. Because a law clerk does not study in a brick-and-mortar university law school, the law clerk can reside anywhere in the state, from Othello to Omak. Law clerks who study under experienced attorneys in these rural areas know their communities, work with the people who reside there, and are positioned to continue to serve these areas when they become practicing attorneys. We won’t need to lure attorneys to these areas; they already live and work there with their families.
It has been reported several times in this publication that we have an aging attorney population and a significant lack of mentorship. The law clerk has a built-in mentor in their employer/tutor. Law clerks are trained in the traditional subjects of the law, but also the practice of law. Law clerks routinely are ready to handle their own cases immediately upon receiving their license, because they have already been working in a supervised position for four years. In addition, many law clerks are trained to take over the solo practices their tutor/employers have built, and our retiring attorneys feel confident transitioning their practice to an attorney they trained themselves.
The Law Clerk Program is rigorous and demanding. It takes self-discipline and sacrifice, but it is highly rewarding. If you, or someone you know, is interested in accessing this alternative pathway as a law clerk, want to serve as a tutor guiding someone through the program, or just want more information, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. Please see APR 6 and Regulations for more information.