Issues to Watch

Keeping up with the Kalifornia Bar


Victoria Devore*

In the midst of rising tuition rates and student debt, an unlikely individual is shedding light on an alternative method to become an attorney—one that seems to not require the woes or monetary sacrifices of law school.  See, e.g., Jonathan Van Meter, The Awakening of Kim Kardashian West, Vogue (Apr. 10, 2019), https://www.vogue.com/article/kim-kardashian-west-cover-may-2019.  It appears Kardashian was at least in part motivated to become an attorney because of her advocacy for criminal justice reform.  See Ryan Bort, Exclusive: Kim Kardashian, Alyssa Milano, Van Jones Among 50+ Celebrities Lobbying for Prison Reform Legislation, Rolling Stone (Nov. 14, 2018, 12:38 PM), https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-news/kardashian-prison-reform-755934/.  Kim Kardashian West (Kardashian) is endeavoring to become a lawyer through a four-year apprenticeship and independent study.  Id.  Law students across the country began to rethink their choices after seeing law school was not the only option for becoming an attorney.  However, it is uncertain whether Kardashian’s route is actually the easy way out.  See Staci Zaretsky, Kim Kardashian Realizes That Being a Law Student Kind of Sucks, Above L. (May 6, 2019, 1:13 PM), https://abovethelaw.com/2019/05/kim-kardashian-realizes-that-being-a-law-student-kind-of-sucks/.

I.  Kardashian’s Method

Kardashian has her sights set on taking California’s bar exam in 2022.  Staci Zaretsky, Yes, Kim Kardashian Plans to Become Lawyer, Will Take Bar Exam in 2022, Above L. (Apr. 10, 2019, 1:46 PM), https://abovethelaw.com/2019/04/kim-kardashian-plans-to-become-lawyer-will-take-bar-exam-in-2022/?rf=1.  Without a law degree, or even an undergraduate degree, as in Kardashian’s case, it is possible to become an attorney in Califonia, Vermont, Washington, and Virginia through a process called “reading the law.”  Kyle Munzenrieder, Yes, Kim Kardashian Can Become a Lawyer Without a College Degree, W Mag. (Apr. 10, 2019, 12:57 PM), https://www.wmagazine.com/story/kim-kardashian-lawyer.  Kardashian’s journey began similarly to that of law students across the nation—by studying torts, criminal law, and contracts.  Caitlin O’Kane, Kim Kardashian-West Says She’s Going to Take the Bar Exam in 2022, CBS News (Apr. 10, 2019, 6:45 PM), https://www.cbsnews.com/news/kim-kardashian-preparing-to-take-the-bar-exam-in-2022/.  Each week, Kardashian must clock eighteen hours of study while concurrently maintaining a four-year apprenticeship with a law firm.  Id.

Additionally, Kardashian must pass what California refers to as the “baby bar.”  Staci Zaretsky, Is Kim Kardashian Taking the Baby Bar Today?, Above L. (June 25, 2019, 12:14 PM), https://abovethelaw.com/2019/06/is-kim-kardashian-taking-the-baby-bar-exam-today/?rf=1.  The baby bar is similar to final exams for first-year law students.  Id.  Kardashian must pass the baby bar within three administrations from the time she started her studies.  Id.  However, it appears that skipping law school may only make passing the California bar even harder.  See id.

II.  The Difficulties with This Technique

California, New York, and Delaware are widely considered to be the states that have the hardest bar exams.  Jackie Gardina, Open Forum: The California State Bar Is One of the Toughest in the Nation. That Comes with Hidden Costs, S.F. Chron. (July 23, 2019), https://www.sfchronicle.com/opinion/openforum/article/Open-Forum-The-California-State-Bar-is-one-of-14115030.php.  Of these states with the most difficult bar exams, only California offers an alternative to attending law school.  Id.  However, statistics from 2018 show that the passing rate for baby bar applicants remained stagnant at around 30%, which signifies the difficulty of becoming an attorney through the process of reading the law.  See, e.g., California First-Year Law Students’ Examination June 2018 General Statistics, St. B.  Cal. (June 2018), http://www.calbar.ca.gov/Portals/0/documents/admissions/statistics/Jun2018fylxstats.pdf; see also California First-Year Law Students’ Examination: October 2018 General Statistics Report, St. B. Cal. (Oct. 2018), http://www.calbar.ca.gov/Portals/0/documents/admissions/Statistics/Oct2018fylxstats.pdf.

III.  Kardashian’s Advocacy

Although Kardashian may be the first reality star to become an attorney through the process of reading the law, she has followed her father, Robert Kardashian of O.J. Simpson’s famous defense team, into the legal dominion.  Debra Cassens Weiss, Kim Kardashian West Wants to Skip Law School and Become a Lawyer This Way, ABA J. (Apr. 15, 2019, 7:45 AM), http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/kim-kardashian-wants-to-skip-law-school-and-become-a-lawyer-this-way.  Kardashian’s previous “legal” work entailed advocating for criminal justice reform, specifically advocating for clemency for those who do not pose a societal threat.  Bridget Read, Donald Trump Commutes Alice Johnson’s Sentence After Kim Kardashian West Asks for Her Release, Vogue (June 6, 2018), https://www.vogue.com/article/alice-johnson-pardon-donald-trump-kim-kardashian-west.  Kardashian teamed up with President Donald Trump to grant clemency to Alice Johnson (Johnson), who was sentenced to life plus twenty-five years without the possibility of the parole in 1996 after being convicted of a first-time, nonviolent drug offense.  Id.  After Johnson, Kardashian urged the release of Cyntoia Brown, whose ill-fated conviction for killing her abuser resulted in a sentence of fifteen years.  Cyntoia Brown, Alleged Sex-Trafficking Victim Who Killed Man as Teen, Freed After 15 Years, CBS News (Aug. 7, 2019, 8:50 PM), https://www.cbsnews.com/news/cyntoia-brown-prison-release-sex-trafficking-victim-convicted-killing-johnny-allen-freed-today-2019-08-07/.

IV.  Hip Hop Icons Advocating for Change

Yet, Kardashian is not the only celebrity utilizing fame to bring attention to criminal justice reform.  Bort, supra.  Long before Kardashian announced her aspirations to become an attorney, hip hop artist Meek Mill commented on racial discrimination in the criminal justice system after he served time in state prison for violating his parole.  Carly Tennes & Eric Weisbrod, Meek Mill on Prison Reform: ‘We are Trapped Inside of a System’, CNN https://www.cnn.com/2018/12/01/us/meek-mill-smerconish-cnntv/index.html (last updated Dec. 1, 2018).  Following his release from prison, Meek Mill joined rapper Jay-Z to create a nonprofit foundation titled The Reform Alliance, which intends to decrease the amount of people that are in community watch programs, such as probation and parole.  Elias Leight, Jay-Z, Meek Mill Launch ‘The Avengers’ of Criminal Justice Reform Organizations, Rolling Stone (Jan. 23, 2019, 3:54 PM), https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-features/jay-z-meek-mill-reform-alliance-criminal-justice-783228/.

More recently, A$AP Rocky’s detention in Sweden forced some to rethink America’s judicial practices, such as electing judges, juries, plea bargaining, and our bail system.  Doran Larson, The A$AP Rocky Case Shows Why We Should Be Inspired and Troubled by Sweden’s Justice System, Wash. Post (July 30, 2019, 11:57 AM), https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2019/07/30/asap-rocky-case-shows-why-we-should-be-inspired-troubled-by-swedens-justice-system/.  Kardashian discussed criminal justice reform with President Trump on multiple occasions, which turned out to be instrumental in garnering the White House’s support for A$AP Rocky’s arrest and subsequent detention.  Jon Blistein, Kim Kardashian Contacted White House About A$AP Rocky’s Detention in Sweden, Rolling Stone (July 18, 2019, 3:05 PM), https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/kim-kardashian-white-house-kushner-trump-asap-rocky-860759/.

V.  Conclusion

Kardashian has drawn criticism for both her advocacy and her aspirations to become an attorney.  Debra Johnson, Why Are Lawyers Mad at Kim K?, Medium (Apr. 25, 2019), https://medium.com/@bydebrajohnson/why-lawyers-are-mad-at-kim-k-b581cc79a1a8.  Criminal justice activists have mixed reactions about the recent growth of issue-based concern for criminal justice issues advanced by Kardashian.  Helena Andrews-Dyer, Go Ahead, Take Kim Kardashian Seriously as a Criminal Justice Activist. It’s Okay., Wash. Post (Oct. 1, 2018, 9:30 AM), https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/magazine/go-ahead-take-kim-kardashian-seriously-as-a-criminal-justice-activist-its-okay/2018/09/28/9470c7fc-ba91-11e8-9812-a389be6690af_story.html.  Critics argue that it is frustrating to see controversial issues that were previously brushed under the table now being taken seriously because of Kardashian’s use of her star power.  Id.  Supporters respond that celebrities like Kardashian can actually produce real results in the fight for criminal justice reform.  Id.  Likewise, Kardashian has been criticized for her efforts to become an attorney.  Johnson, supra.  Regardless of whether one is a fan of Kardashian, most millennials agree that acquiring crippling debt for higher education should not be the only option.  Reihan Salam, Why Conservatives Are Turning Against Higher Education, Atlantic https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/08/higher-education-has-become-increasingly-partisan/596407/ (last updated Aug. 20, 2019).  Perhaps Kardashian’s newest mission will encourage aspiring attorneys in California, Vermont, Washington, and Virginia to explore reading the law as an alternative to the traditional law school route.

*Victoria Devore is a second-year day student at the University of Baltimore School of Law, where she is a staff editor for the Law Review and a Distinguished Scholar of the Royal Graham Shannonhouse III Honor Society. Victoria is a law scholar for Professor William Hubbard’s civil procedure class, and a research assistant for Professor John Bessler.  She is currently a law clerk at Prisoner Rights Information System of Maryland.  Next semester, she will be the law scholar for Professor William Hubbard’s property law class.

 

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