“First year of law school, you have to cover three subjects: criminal law, torts, and contracts,” Kardashian told Vogue. “To me, torts is the most confusing, contracts the most boring, and crim law I can do in my sleep. Took my first test, I got a 100. Super easy for me. The reading is what really gets me. It’s so time-consuming. The concepts I grasp in two seconds.” (Harvard Law School lists legislation and regulation, civil procedure and property law as additional first-year subjects.)
Except Kardashian isn’t in law school. It turns out that California, along with Virginia, Vermont and Washington state, doesn’t require a degree from those who wish to pass the bar exam. They can instead become “law readers” and apprentice with a practicing lawyer for a designated amount of time each week. Kardashian, who does not have an undergraduate degree, either, has been logging 18 hours of weekly supervised study since July, according to Vogue. She must pass California’s “baby bar” sometime this summer to continue studying for the remainder of her four-year apprenticeship with a law firm based in San Francisco.
The practice of “reading the law” dates from the days of Thomas Jefferson, who, according to a decades-old Washington Post story, “became a lawyer in the 1760s after many hours reading the Virginia code under the tutelage of a prominent lawyer and legislator.” Vogue’s Van Meter pointed out that law degrees weren’t even “a thing” until the early 1800s, and that the esteemed Abraham Lincoln also chose to study the law through an apprenticeship in lieu of traditional courses. (Another notable law reader, depending on your perspective, is Frank Abagnale, the real-life con man Leonardo DiCaprio played in “Catch Me if You Can.”)
This path is uncommon nowadays. According to the National Conference of Bar Examiners, only three of the 13,084 Californians who took the bar exam in 2015 were educated through “law office study” (and only two of them passed). Law reader numbers are unavailable for more recent years, as the 2016 and 2017 NCBE reports note that “California no longer reports statistics for categories with fewer than 11 takers.”
Perhaps Kardashian’s ambitions aren’t so surprising given how close she was to her late father, Robert Kardashian, who famously served as a member of O.J. Simpson’s legal defense team. “My dad had a library, and when you pushed on this wall there was this whole hidden closet room, with all of his O.J. evidence books,” she told Vogue of her father, who died in 2003. “On weekends I would always snoop and look through. I was really nosy about the forensics.”
Kardashian has some experience with criminal justice reform as well. She says her studies were prompted by her role in securing clemency for Alice Marie Johnson, a 63-year-old great-grandmother who was sentenced to life in prison for a nonviolent drug offense. Kardashian learned about Johnson’s situation on Twitter and, after meeting with Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, eventually visited the White House last year to advocate for Johnson’s freedom. During the Oval Office meeting, Kardashian also highlighted the case of Cyntoia Brown, an alleged sex trafficking victim serving a life sentence for the 2004 murder of a man who took her to his home. Brown, 31, was granted full clemency earlier this year.
“The White House called me to advise to help change the system of clemency, and I’m sitting in the Roosevelt Room with, like, a judge who had sentenced criminals and a lot of really powerful people and I just sat there, like . . . I need to know more,” Kardashian told Vogue. “It’s never one person who gets things done; it’s always a collective of people, and I’ve always known my role, but I just felt like I wanted to be able to fight for people who have paid their dues to society.”