A state-by-state look

Law students in eight states have the opportunity to read law rather than go the traditional route of attending law school. In addition to California, states which offer a law office or apprentice program are: New York, Washington, Virginia, Vermont, Alaska, Maine and Wyoming.

In Washington, about 50 students are enrolled in the state's law clerk program, according to Mary Barnes, director of admissions. Barnes says the program is similar to a work-study plan and students need to have a bachelor's degree and one year of law school before they are accepted.

Michael Watkins, a former California resident and chairman of the law clerk committee of the Washington bar, says the rules were overhauled in the early 1980s to provide more structure and oversight, and that the current $500 fee will probably be increased in the future to cover administrative costs. Watkins, a personal injury lawyer, attended law school in California and spent less than a year with the law clerk program when he moved to Washington.

He used to think it was great that anyone could have access to "this great profession," but he sees the lack of opportunity for peer comment as a major weakness. "It's a one-dimensional system," he says.

In New York, Nancy Carpenter, executive director of the board of law examiners, says that less than 20 people are enrolled in that state's program, which was "tightened up" in the early 1970s. It became apparent that many supervisors were not teaching, she says, and often used the students for cheap help.

For some students, the attraction of the program is financial, says Carpenter, "but quite a few prefer the practical experience." New York allows law office study after the successful completion of one year at an ABA-approved law school. In Alaska, the clerkship program is provided for by statute but has not been implemented by the University of Alaska in recent years.

According to Deborah O'Regan, executive director of the committee of law examiners for the Alaska Bar Association, a few calls inquiring about such a program come into her office every year. However, no budget has been provided by the legislature for the clerkship and there doesn't seem to be any indication that any funds are forthcoming, she said.