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In the American drama, Suits, is it necessary for Mike to get a law degree to practise law? Isn't passing the Bar exam enough?

If he has to get a law degree to practise law, could he actually apply for (and even pass) the Bar exam without a degree?

Are American law schools graduate schools? What do people have to study for their bachelor degrees in universities in order to apply for law schools in the future?

  • This is really more of a law question than a film/TV question. The rules for practicing law in a state is different from state to state, so this would be specific to the state the show takes place in (I've never seen it, so I don't know). – Catija Feb 21 '16 at 4:41
  • Because lying to the Bar is a disbarment-worthy offence; nybarexam.org/Eligible/Eligibility.htm – user7812 Feb 21 '16 at 8:41
  • @Richard There's a difference between asking whether someone can practice law and why they don't get a degree so that they can do it legally. – Catija Feb 21 '16 at 20:32
  • @Catija - True, but having lied to the bar for several years, merely gaining a degree wouldn't be sufficient to wipe the slate clean – user7812 Feb 21 '16 at 20:33
  • I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it's asking about real-world law degrees, not really a question about Suits. – Meat Trademark Feb 22 '16 at 0:12
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So... first off, as I said in a comment, the requirements for practicing law varies from state to state. Suits takes place in New York, so we'll look at the laws there...

The requirements to take the bar in New York are a bit complicated but, assume, in general, one must have successfully completed at least one year (28 credit hours) of law school at an approved university in the US plus working as a clerk in a law office to total four years or completed a law degree outside the US or at an unapproved university in the US (plus 5 years of practice).

  1. ABA Approved Law School Study (JD graduates) - Applicant attended and was graduated with a first degree in law from a law school or law schools in the United States which at all times during the period of applicant's attendance was or were approved by the American Bar Association (ABA). (Section 520.3 of the Rules of the Court of Appeals) List of ABA Approved Law Schools

  2. Law Office Study/Clerkship - A combination of law school study at an ABA approved law school and law office study (520.4 of the Rules of the Court of Appeals).

  3. Unapproved Law School Study - Graduation from an unapproved law school in the United States with a Juris Doctor degree and practice in a jurisdiction where the applicant has been admitted for 5 of the 7 years immediately preceding application to sit for the New York bar examination. (Section 520.5 of the Rules of the Court of Appeals)

  4. Foreign Law School Study – Successful completion of a program of study at a law school outside of the United States that is both durationally and substantively equivalent to a program of study at an approved law school in the United States, and if required, successful completion of an additional program of study at an approved law school in the United States. (Section 520.6 of the Rules of the Court of Appeals) (See also, "Foreign Legal Education" section of this website)

So, based on option 2 above (further explained farther down the page) no you don't need a law degree to practice law in the state of New York. Yes, you do need to pass the bar exam but you can't take the bar exam without meeting the minimum requirements, which, in three out of four cases, means having a law degree. You can't walk in off the street and take the bar after studying for it on your own.

Mike, unfortunately, doesn't seem to have ever entered law school in the first place. While he's probably met the requirements for working in a law firm for four years, he does not meet the minimum requirement of having 28 credit hours from an approved law school.

Mike has an encyclopedic knowledge of law thanks to his eidetic memory, but never attended law school or passed the bar exam, at least not under his own name.

He would not qualify to take the bar, and, thus, could never pass it and therefore, could never legally practice law in New York state.

Your other questions have nothing to do with M&TV...

Generally, an American law degree is a "JD" or "Doctor of Jurisprudence". It is technically a doctoral-level degree - though you can get a Master's degree in law, most do not*.

There is no set bachelor's track for a JD. You can major in anything you like. Many opt for Government or Political Science majors but it's not like medical school. You don't need any specific knowledge to succeed in law school.


*From what I understand, most people who get a Masters of Law degree are foreigners wishing to practice law in the US.

An LL.M. degree from an ABA-approved law school qualifies a foreign legal graduate to take the bar exam in Alabama, California, New Hampshire, New York, Texas, as well as in the independent republic of Palau.

  • Nice and quick well-documented answer. I wouldn't be surprised if someone says Mike was inspired on some SE people like yourself. Awesome. – Giuseppe Feb 21 '16 at 5:53
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You basically need a law degree to take the bar exam, which is needed to practice law. Although Mike has taken the bar exam several times, he was being paid to take it with a fake id for others. Also, with the firm he works for, it is already believed that he graduated from Harvard ( the only law school the firm hires from ) so he is kind of stuck.

Law schools have graduate programs, but are considered by some as professional schools (specializing in specific disciplines such as medicine, law, business, engineering), differing from graduate schools.

Also, you don't have to major in any particular degree for law school. In fact, degrees are beneficial for specializations, such as business and medicine. But many law students do major in pre-law, criminal justice, etc.

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