The Washington State Law Clerk Program: Fact or Fiction?

A Law Clerk Program graduate and new attorney clears up misconceptions about the Program.

iStock_000022515394Small300As a graduate of the WSBA’s Law Clerk Program and a new admittee to the Bar Association, I am discovering that my fellow Bar members have often not had the opportunity to learn about this great program.  There also seem to be a few misconceptions, which I would like to help clear up.

Fiction: The Clerk Program allows people to become lawyers “without going to law school.”

Fact: The Clerk Program is a legal education program that is accepted by Washington state as an equivalent to law school, which means that graduates who complete the Clerk Program successfully can apply to sit for the bar exam and practice as attorneys in Washington. Every clerk must have a four-year college degree and meet other requirements in order to be accepted into the program.

Fiction: The Clerk Program is like reciprocity for paralegals.

Fact: While work-study as a clerk in a legal environment is one unique facet of the Law Clerk Program, so that every graduate ends up with at least four full years of “on-the-job training” in the work of an attorney by the time they complete the program, this is only one part of the Clerk Program. Clerks also contemporaneously engage in a curriculum of academic study of materials taken directly from Washington’s law schools. We read the same torts, civil procedure and contracts casebooks used at UW or Seattle U, and, for better or for worse, our tutors sometimes have us briefing cases and engaging in Socratic dialogue as well.

For me personally, my primary tutor, James E. Britain, is a former law school professor, so I am certain that he at least attempted to give me a taste of the “traditional law school experience,”classroom or no classroom.

Clerks are given exams on every subject they study on a monthly basis, much as in traditional law school. Exams must be passed in order to move on to the next subject.

Fiction: The Clerk Program is not as difficult as traditional law school.

Fact: Any law school student who worked during school can tell you how difficult it is to balance work responsibilities and the time crunch of studying the law. Every Law Clerk Program student works full-time in a law office environment, while studying the law full-time as well. In addition, the program includes not only the full three-year law school curriculum, but also a fourth year of electives in specific areas of practice, such as Indian law, employment law, land use, or bankruptcy. And the curriculum of the program is designed to be year-round, without a summer or winter break (though breaks may be taken with special permission of the program’s Board).

The Clerk Program is one of the many unique aspects of our bar association. Learn more by visiting the WSBA’s Law Clerk Program webpage or talking to a graduate of the program working in your local legal community.

8 thoughts on “The Washington State Law Clerk Program: Fact or Fiction?

  1. Jonathan D. Elliott-Smith

    Another tip for those who might be interested (such as myself) in pursuing becoming an attorney-at-law via Washington’s Law Clerk program: It might do you well to check out the rules for the possibility of “advanced standing” in the clerkship program. I haven’t been able to put this to the test as yet, but my consideration (in a philosophical sense of the use of this word) is that it might be possible to parlay common law credits from some of California’s distance education programs in order to shorten the length of time needed to study under the program, which might make it somewhat easier to find a law mentor given the overall time commitment on behalf of a mentor would likely be abbreviated. I recently finished a year with Concord Law School myself (the only distance program that is an academically regionally accredited program to my knowledge, even if it is not currently accredited by the American Bar Association) and received word I’m soon-to-be certified to take California’s first year law school exam (aka: The “Baby Bar”), but I’ve only recently started looking for a job that would prospectively qualify me to gain admittance to WA’s Law Clerk program, as well as find a law mentor in Washington, so I’m not in a position to share anything more along these lines than I have.

    But and moreover, provided the Baby Bar is passed, there seems to me to be grounds for an argument in favor of using Washington’s Law Clerk program as a means to qualify to sit for their State Bar Exam considering their admissions rules in Chapter 3; Rule 4.26 in particular, (link below) provided a person either has passed, or is exempted from the California Baby Bar. (You’re own your own with that one. I’ve got too may irons in the fire, including not only studying for the Baby Bar, but also studying for the Uniform Certified Public Accounting Exam.) Cheers! ~

    I can be reached for professional communication purposes at:

  2. Jonathan D. Elliott-Smith

    And,…with an apology for the typographical error in my follow-up comment. I type with the Dvorak layout which places the letters “n” and “t” next to one another on the same row!

  3. Jonathan D. Elliott-Smith

    Addendum, correction, and clarification to follow: With apologies, there is an least one omission in my prior comment. In the final paragraph, the word “have” should have been incorporated between “may” and “made.”

    In respect to my aforementioned hope to prospectively clarify and addend: My preceding comment was not intended to imply that I’m of the opine that the analysis of subjective opinion(s) of the prospective value of a person’s capacity to effectively represent people in regard to their legal matters by experienced attorneys of well repute, may not at some point continue to be prudent; nor that the educational milieu in Washington State or elsewhere, cannot be navigated successfully pertaining to one’s perception of the emplacement of their dignity and or curiosity surrounding their environment by the time they have had a degree conferred upon them. (I can at least, but only speak to having a regionally accredited masters degree at this time in my life in terms of fairness and prospective credibility in relation to my argument.)

    However, it does seem to me that if a predominant goal of the Washington State Bar Association is to facilitate the public having access to as diverse a body of attorneys-at-law as possible, and or a body fitting what I’ve been informed is a very politically diverse public in Washington State, then it might not be entirely benefited, or possibly even diminished, by omitting the capacity for members of the public without conferred upon academic credentials to attempt to pass the State’s Bar exam without further acquiring the requisite usual and customary credential(s), even if it means having to devise additional, and or supplementary testing to account for the suppositions that might not otherwise be reasonably accurately presumable of an applicant who may not have those credential(s). And especially so, if one contends that a person’s ethical virtuosity is not altogether accurately predictably testable, and thus reliance on third-party witnesses more beneficial than not to assess whether an applicant could prove to become a respected practicing attorney, and provided the Washington State Bar Association can fairly be construed as having a duty to facilitate the putting into practice a body of attorneys-at-law that can effectively serve Washington State’s diversified populace.

  4. Jonathan D. Elliott-Smith

    It seems to me it would, or prospectively arguably should depend on what the supposition(s) is, or are, respective to this or any fiction when it comes to a claim of non verity. In this instance the prospective underlying context was not disclosed, thus leaving Esquire Mowrey with a great deal of flexibility respective to the interpretation of her expressed fact in terms of both categorization, and truthfulness. By way of example: If the context had been in considering that Washington State’s Law Clerk program allowed the public to officially sit for an administration of Washington State’s Bar examination without so such as having been schooled in a formal manner of some ilk, (i.e., law school in a generalized, but perhaps uneducated sense) then I’d be willing to argue this fiction was reasonably introduced. Furthermore as this writing is publicly available, it seems unreasonable to me to assume it might be read only by people who have been educated, or as yet have had the opportunity to pursue formal education, schooling, and or otherwise.

    Finally, nothing in this argument has been meant to imply that I’m of the belief a Washingtonian should not necessarily be afforded the opportunity to officially sit for the State Bar exam sans academic credentials respective to the prospect of effectively, and or virtuously practicing law, by the sheer fact of a decision they may made to do their utmost to not hold themselves out to others’ subjective interpretation of what consists of their interindividual knowledge for whichever or whatever reasons they may hold near or dear.

  5. Pingback: Character Opportunity: a lawyer who didn’t attend law school | Law and Fiction

  6. Emily Rose Mowrey

    Yes, Vitaliy, what I was trying to convey is that the Clerk Program is similar in academic rigor to law school as far as curriculum, etc., right down to using the same casebooks. Thank you for clarifying!

  7. Vitaliy Kertchen

    Nice article, but I can’t figure out how fiction #1 is fiction. I understand you’re trying to relay that the clerk program is similar to law school regarding its academic rigor, but the phrase “The Clerk Program allows people to become lawyers without going to law school” is a verity, not a fiction.

  8. Kim Hammit

    Emily, thank you for this post! I am a fellow Clerk Program Graduate and recently admitted attorney. I can honestly say that without the program, I would not have been able to fulfill my dream of practicing law. It is definitely not for everyone but for those that have the motivation, drive and desire, it is an exceptional program.

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