Kim Kardashian West grabbed headlines last week when she appeared on the cover of the May 2019 issue of Vogue and declared, in the pages within, that she has decided to become a lawyer.
Her father, Robert Kardashian, was an attorney who gained notoriety serving on O.J. Simpson's defense team, but Kardashian West's own interest in the law grew from her work with CNN commentator and criminal justice reform advocate Van Jones on his efforts to "shrink the incarceration industry." Kardashian West made a much-publicized visit to the Oval Office to advocate for Alice Marie Johnson, a 63-year-old great-grandmother who was sentenced to life in prison for a nonviolent drug offense. After her meeting with President Donald Trump, Johnson was granted clemency.
"I just felt like I wanted to be able to fight for people who have paid their dues to society," Kardashian West tells Vogue. "I just felt like the system could be so different, and I wanted to fight to fix it, and if I knew more, I could do more."
Kardashian West, who does not have an undergraduate degree, knew the unlikely choice "would be met with an eye roll for the ages." But even more surprising to some is the fact that the entrepreneur and social media influencer won't need to attend law school before she takes the bar exam, which she plans to do in 2022.
According to The Washington Post, California does not require a law degree as a prerequisite for taking the bar exam. Neither do Vermont, Virginia or Washington.
Instead, these states allow people to become "law readers" by apprenticing with a practicing lawyer for a designated amount of time each week. Programs vary from state to state. Kardashian West is participating in the California Law Office or Judge's Chamber Program, which requires applicants to complete a form giving "Notice of Intent to Study in a Law Office or Judge's Chambers" and pay an initial fee of $158, as well as additional paperwork and $105 fees to be submitted every six months throughout the program.
After one year as an apprentice, applicants qualify to take the First-Year Law Students' Examination, sometimes known as the "baby bar." If they pass this exam, legal hopefuls are permitted to continue studying for three more years.
The program requires a total of four years as an apprentice at a law office or in a judge's chamber. Kardashian West says she has been completing 18 hours of weekly supervised study since July, under the supervision of two mentor lawyers, Jessica Jackson and Erin Haney of #cut50, an Oakland-based prison reform organization co-founded by Jackson and Van Jones.
Kardashian West was introduced to Jackson and Haney by Jones.
After the Vogue article, Kardashian West says she received push-back on social media with some telling her to "stay in her lane" and others critiquing her unconventional path towards becoming a lawyer (a path some describe as a shortcut). She took to her Instagram account — which has 134 million followers — to respond.
"I've seen some comments from people who are saying it's my privilege or my money that got me here, but that's not the case," she wrote. "The state bar doesn't care who you are. This option is available to anyone [who's] state allows it."
"You need 60 college credits (I had 75) to take part in 'reading the law', which is an in office law school being apprenticed by lawyers. For anyone assuming this is the easy way out, it's not. My weekends are spent away from my kids while I read and study. I work all day, put my kids to bed and spend my nights studying."
Of course, Kardashian West does have some advantages it's unlikely other apprentices enjoy. She often travels to San Francisco to complete her mandatory hours of supervised studying with Jackson and Haney, but the two lawyers also travel to Southern California to fit into Kardashian West's schedule.
Haney recently joined #cut50 as a policy director and only learned that her new job would also include withing with Kardashian West once she had taken the position. "When I came on board, Jessica was like, 'OK, the other part of our job is we're going to mentor Kim Kardashian,' and I was like, 'Wait, what?!'" she tells Vogue. "But she's incredible: Just the kindest, smartest — I have been so impressed by everything she's doing and how committed she is."
Others, besides Kardashian West's mentors, have also made statements of support.
"A lot of these jokes about Kim Kardashian becoming a lawyer are just revealing that you don't think a woman with a public sexual identity can be smart or care about justice," Jennifer Wright, political editor for Harper's Bazaar, wrote on Twitter. "Do we need a 'Legally Blonde' remake already?"
The practice of "reading the law" as an apprentice actually has a long history in the U.S., and Kardashian West is in good company. The Washington Post reports that Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson both became lawyers through apprenticeships.
"If you are resolutely determined to make a lawyer of yourself, the thing is more than half done already," wrote Lincoln in 1855. "Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other one thing."
Today, these programs are relatively unpopular. The most recent figures from the National Conference of Bar Examiners indicate that in 2015 only three of the 13,084 Californians who took the bar exam participated in the law office study program — and only two passed.
But so far, Kardashian West says her studies are going well.
"First year of law school," she tells Vogue, "you have to cover three subjects: criminal law, torts and contracts. 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."
Like this story? Subscribe to CNBC Make It on YouTube!