DUMMERSTON — On his very first try, state Sen. Nader Hashim, D-Windham, passed the bar exam - and did so in an unconventional way.
Vermont is one of the few states where people can still study for the bar exam by using an apprenticeship model, called the Law Office Study Program (LOS) in the state.
The LOS allows participants to "read the law," studying 25 hours a week for four years with a Vermont attorney or a judge instead of going to law school.
Who studies law that way? Well, Abraham Lincoln did, for one. (And Kim Kardashian is doing so now in California, but let's not go there.)
It used to be the way most lawyers learned their trade. Now Washington, Vermont, California, and Virginia are the only four states that allow it.
But North Dakota, South Dakota, Oregon, and Georgia are considering alternate licensure paths for lawyers. So is Maine. They are seeing reading the law as a way for these states to address lawyer shortages, keep young lawyers from moving away after they earn their law degree, and help clear up case backlogs.
It is not an easy or popular method. According to Reuters, of the 7,543 people who took California's bar exam in July 2022, fewer than 11 studied under an attorney or judge, state bar records show. In 2019, VtDigger reported that 47 people in Vermont were reading the law.
But Hashim, 34, who lives in Dummerston, has experienced the law from a variety of angles - as a state trooper and a lawmaker as well as a paralegal.
And to him, the process makes perfect sense.
"I was considering law school," Hashim said. "But I also had to keep on making money. And I wanted to keep working. Then I heard about the law study program."
He described it as "basically four years of doing an apprenticeship and following an attorney around."
"It's learning from what they do, and learning how lawyers actually do the work," Hashim continued. "And after four years of doing that, you have to take the bar exam. Then you're an attorney."
On Sept. 15, he posted with glee, all-capital letters, and exclamation points on Facebook: "I PASSED THE BAR EXAM! I AM A LAWYER!"
Hashim studied long hours all summer for the exam and called it "one of the most stressful experiences of my life."
His sponsor was Evan Chadwick of Chadwick & Spensley, PLLC, of Brattleboro, also an LOS lawyer.
While doing the apprenticeship, Hashim also spent four years as a paralegal at Chadwick's firm, earning a salary while being mentored.
"I am very proud of Nader and feel he will serve as a great asset to the Vermont bar," Chadwick said.
Hashim first got to know his employer and mentor during his years as a state trooper.
"Working as a trooper, you end up meeting and learning about different lawyers," Hashim said. "Evan was somebody I knew and somebody I respected."
Chadwick's firm "covers a wide range of different areas of law, and that's definitely an important thing to keep in mind when you're doing the program," he continued. "You want to have as much exposure to different areas of law as possible."
The program is administered through the Vermont Bar Association, and it requires a bachelor's degree as well as a mentor.
"You provide the bar association with the paperwork, you have to pay for the license and the fees, and you have to provide updates on what you're studying," Hashim said.
Furthermore, "your supervising attorney has to sign off on it. And you have to cover a certain number of subcategories to make sure that you're fulfilling all the prerequisites - like secure transactions, or criminal law, or civil procedure."
Chadwick's firm practices in the areas of criminal defense, divorce, child custody, child support, personal injury, wills, trusts and probates, real estate, and general civil litigation. So Hashim was able to gain hands-on experience in many areas of the law.
For example, if he was asked to draft a motion, he would do legal research, find the relevant Supreme Court cases, and study the legal precedents.
"You learn about things like criminal procedure and what evidence is admissible or inadmissible," Hashim said. "And it's that way, really, for many different areas of law. About 95% of the job is reading and writing."
The first thing an attorney does when they get a case is to send in a "notice of appearance" to the Windham County Superior Court to show that they are representing the client.
"Then we do an investigation to get an idea of what is going on," Hashim said.
"We do discovery, which is the process of getting all the information from law enforcement and the state attorney's office regarding photographs, police reports, dashcam and bodycam video footage," he added.
"And then, depending on what's in the case, there could be pretrial motions, [and] there could be a suppression hearing - meaning that we're trying to make certain evidence that we feel isn't relevant or admissible to not continue forward," Hashim said. "And then oftentimes cases result in a settlement or a plea deal. And sometimes they go to trial."
Learning different skills
Hashim said that he learned more than just the law by doing an apprenticeship.
"There's an additional part that I think you don't get in law school," he said. "You learn how to talk to clients and how to
do the actual people work."
In law school, Hashim noted, "you learn a lot of history, which is helpful in understanding the genesis of laws and understanding why certain things are the way they are."
"Doing the LOS program, you do a lot of legal research, but you also get that experience of learning how to talk to a person who's going through a really bad divorce," he said. "Or how to talk to a client who was wrongfully charged with a crime. That's the type of interpersonal skills that you don't learn in law school."
It is useful to learn from many lawyers, Hashim said.
"You tend to stick towards one, but you also work with others," he said. "Every attorney has their own knowledge that they can provide. And different attorneys have different ways of doing things. So it's good to learn from a variety of people. You learn what to do, and you also learn what not to do."
Hashim compared the method to being a state trooper, or a carpenter.
"The analogy that I use is the police academy," he said. "A police officer spends six months in the academy, but the vast majority of what they actually learn about doing the job is when they're on the road with a field training officer. They're watching how it's done."
Another example is carpentry or the trades, he said.
"You can go to the classroom and learn how to do carpentry, but nothing beats shadowing the carpenter and having them tell you everything they're doing, why they're doing it, and what not to do," Hashim noted.
In a few months, Hashim will be sworn in as an attorney, and then will undertake a mentorship. He is aiming for a career in family law.
"I feel like I make a good mediator," he said. "These are very stressful situations that people are in. And my past history on working with domestic violence cases, both as a trooper and in the Legislature, is driving me towards working on family law as my main goal."
A frugal approach
Considering that some law students graduate with a degree in jurisprudence and $150,000 or more of debt, the LOS program can be a good way for a focused individual to become a lawyer.
"It costs $200 to commence the program, and $100 every six months," Hashim said.
"If you're a number of years out of your undergraduate school, and you have a family and bills the way I did, it's a great way to not incur thousands of dollars of debt, and get paid for the work that you're doing while also working towards getting your license," he said.
"It is the traditional way of doing it," Hashim said. "And I think it makes sense."
This News item by Joyce Marcel was written for The Commons.