Kim K and the History of Women in Law School

Sunday, September 15, 2019

By now you're probably familiar with the fact that Kim Kardashian West is using the free time she has, between her instagram posts and whatever else she does, to study The Law. As one of the most influential humans on the planet, if social media followers equate to influence--which they do because it's 2019 (compare her 145 million instagram followers to, for example, Barack Obama's 23 million)--her choice to go into the rather mundane profession that her father famously practiced has created quite a stir. The ruckus includes guffaws over the audacity she has to think she's smart enough to practice law, screaming accusations that she's just using her money and influence to get ahead, and, more accurately, predictions that she'd never be able to actually appear in court because the mere fact of her influence would tip the scales of justice too unfairly. Mostly, though, people are just confused about how she's going to sit for the California bar having never set foot in an accredited law school.

Turns out, folks, you can do that. At least in California. The California Bar requires that students either attend an accredited law school OR do four years and at least 864 hours of study via a registered (but unaccredited) law school - usually online. After one year of study at an unaccredited law school, students then have to pass what's called the "Baby Bar" (get it - like the bar exam that all lawyers have to take to get licensed, but smaller). After passing the Baby Bar, students at unaccredited schools then do three more years of study and can sit for the regular bar with everyone else and become licensed attorneys. The fact that California (along with a few other states) allows students from unaccredited schools to sit for the bar has been cited as one of the reasons why the overall national bar pass rate has dropped significantly in recent years.

And while allowing students to take the bar exam who haven't attended accredited law schools may be hurting California's passage rates and not actually preparing those students for the practice of law, there is something to be said for more accessible law schooling. I spent over $1,000 just on applying to law school, to say nothing of the cost of tuition. In comparison, online law schools cost a few thousand dollars a year and may give access to a legal education to people from minority groups that are grossly underrepresented in the legal profession.

But that is a topic for another day, and Kim K is obviously not concerned about tuition costs. She's likely taking an online course or has personal tutors who are registered with the state of California, which allows her to study the law without having to set her Louboutins anywhere near a plebeian law school campus. And not to completely conflate a celebrity who's foundational attribute is her artificially enlarged ass with women who have worked thanklessly to change the trajectory of equal rights, but this got me thinking about other influential ladies who have managed to practice law without being able to attend law school or, in some cases, even sit for the bar at all.

Myra Bradwell. Lookit this badass.

One of the foundational cases I read for my constitutional law class regarding the Fourteenth Amendment was Bradwell v. Illinois, an 1873 SCOTUS case in which Myra Bradwell sued for the right to practice law in the state of Illinois. This badass Myra was born in 1831, married a lawyer, taught herself law and then apprenticed in his law office. In 1868 she founded Chicago Legal News and worked as its editor and business manager. The paper included a column called "Law Relating to Women." Here's the issue though: in the 1870s, married women didn't have the right to form contracts. Women were property. Property can't have rights in other property. Only the men had the mental constitution to legally sign documents. That fact really gets in the way of one's ability to practice law - at least that's what the Illinois Supreme Court said when it denied her application to the bar. She appealed all the way up to the US Supreme Court. Unfortunately, that group of men decided that the protections of the Fourteenth Amendment didn't extend to one's choice of profession, and therefore did not protect against discrimination on the basis of sex, stating that "[t]he natural and proper timidity and delicacy which belongs to the female sex evidently unfits it for the many occupations of civil life." It wouldn't be until our lord and savior RBG started stirring the pot in the 1970s (ONE HUNDRED YEARS LATER) that SCOTUS would rule in favor of protections for women under the Fourteenth Amendment.

Despite this defeat, Myra continued to fight for the rights of women as a member of the suffragist movement and by supporting other women in their attempts to study and practice law. In 1890, twenty years after initially denying her application to practice law, the Illinois Supreme Court acted of its own volition to approve Myra's admission to the Illinois bar as a licensed attorney. She died of cancer four years later.

Arabella Mansfield. Another goddess.

Meanwhile, in 1869 in Iowa, a gal by the name of Arabella Mansfield became the first female lawyer in the United States. (Midwestern ladies get it done. Period.) Her and her older brother Washington both graduated in 1865 from Iowa Wesleyan College. He was salutatorian, she was valedictorian, but he became a lawyer first and she apprenticed in his law firm. In 1869, Iowa law stated only men over 21 could sit for the bar exam. Arabella took that test anyway and passed with flying colors. She challenged the restriction against women lawyers in court and that same year Iowa became the first state in the union to allow women to be licensed to practice law. All this because Arabella didn't give a shit about the rules. The real kicker is that she went on to be a teacher and activist. She didn't practice law at all. She literally just put up that fight to prove a point.

And that brings us back to Kim K. Again, please don't think I'm trying to tarnish the legacy of Myra Bradwell and Arabella Mansfield by comparing them to a reality TV star. However, we'd be remiss not to recognize that Kimmy is pushing the envelope by deciding to use her platform--which includes, unbelievably, direct contact with the President of the United States--to discuss issues of race and the criminal justice system in America. She's no suffragist, but Kim K is following in the footsteps of some tenacious lady lawyers by deciding to play by her own rules, and that's something I can respect.

Think I'm wrong? Feel free to drag me in the comments below. Or, better yet, write a rebuttal article and if it's any good I'll publish it. Email

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Linked throughout the article, plus:

[1] Myra Bradwell, Wikipedia (last accessed Sept. 14, 2019).

[2] Arabella Mansfield, Wikipedia (last accessed Sept. 14, 2019).

[3] Bradwell v. Illinois, 83 U.S. 130, 141 (1872).

*DISCLAIMER* Nothing I write on this blog should ever be taken as legal advice. This entire project is just me applying my limited knowledge of The Law to the news and trying my best to analyze it all. I am not an expert in anything. I don’t even have my JD yet.

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