The Washington State Law Clerk Program: Fact or Fiction?
As 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.