It’s a sunny Saturday afternoon in Los Angeles and Kim Kardashian West is sitting in a conference room of a law office, blinds drawn, surrounded by law books, an array of highlighters, pens, binders and notebooks filled with her handwritten notes. On the other end of a sprawling conference room table are a pile of letters addressed to her from inmates who are hoping she will take interest in their case in an attempt to have their life sentences commuted. It’s in this quiet room, removed from the distractions that come with being one of the most famous women in the world, that Kardashian West meets once a week with two attorneys who are helping her prepare for the California state bar exam.
Kardashian West announced in April that she was studying to become a lawyer and that she had begun a four-year apprenticeship with attorneys, Jessica Jackson, the national director of criminal justice advocacy group #Cut50 and Erin Haney, the National Policy Director for #Cut50, a criminal justice reform office based in San Francisco, California.
Reading the law, as the process is called, is an accepted route to become eligible to take the California bar, which Kardashian West plans to do in 2022. California is one of a small number of states, along with Vermont, Virginia and Washington that permit individuals to prepare for the bar this way as an alternative to law school. (Abraham Lincoln, for example, became a lawyer in this manner in 1837.)
Her decision to pursue a law license was met with skepticism by many.
But her longtime friends, publicist Simon Huck and actress La La Anthony, say she shouldn’t be doubted.
“Let’s talk again in 2022,” Anthony says in an interview with CNN. “I’m telling you, when she puts her mind to something, she’s unstoppable. She is going to do exactly what she says she’s going to do.”
Huck echoed these sentiments in a separate interview saying, “I would tell those [skeptics] the same thing I told people over 10 years ago when Kim started her career: You shall see
He probably has a point.
A ‘book worm’ from the beginning
Kardashian West, 38, has navigated a remarkable transition from a one-time celebrity closet organizer to reality TV star, businesswoman, ultimate influencer and now a legal advocate.
CNN reached out to Kardashian West to be interviewed for this story, but she was unavailable.
She grew up in the suburbs of Los Angeles, alongside her siblings Kourtney, Khloe, Rob, Kendall and Kylie. The daughter of Kris Jenner and the late Robert Kardashian, her family gained national recognition when Kardashian became one of O.J. Simpson’s defense attorneys during his highly publicized murder trial in 1995.
Years later, Kardashian West stepped into the spotlight with appearances on her friend Paris Hilton’s Fox reality show, “The Simple Life.”
It was her family’s own reality series, “Keeping Up With the Kardashians,” that made Kardashian West a household name when it debuted in 2007. The show led to television spin-offs and lucrative endorsement deals. It also became a launching pad for Kardashian West’s numerous businesses, which include shapewear and beauty and fragrance lines.
She serves as one of the executive producers of “KUWTK,” and has an estimated net worth of more than $350 million, according to Forbes.
Kardashian West married rapper and entrepreneur Kanye West in 2014, and they are now parents of four.
So, with all her personal and professional success, one may wonder why Kardashian West would want to become a lawyer?
“The real Kim is a little bit of a nerd quite frankly, and a little bit of a book worm,” says Van Jones, co-founder of #Cut50, CEO of The Reform Alliance and a political commentator and host for CNN. “She just inhales this legal stuff in a way that’s hard to imagine. You’ve got four little kids and a celebrity husband and a bunch of businesses to run, but she is just inhaling these law books. I mean listen, does she authentically like beauty and fashion and all that stuff? Yeah, but I think that she was moving in this direction as a kid. I think she wanted to be like her dad.”
“Kim talks about sneaking into her dad’s office and reading the law books and looking at the evidence from the O.J. case [when she was a little girl] … while her siblings were looking at her like she was crazy,” Jones adds. “I think this is the real Kim.”
Kardashian died of esophageal cancer in 2003 at the age of 59, just months after being diagnosed.
“Something that she’s always talked about is her dad and how close they were,” Anthony says. “I know she feels like, ‘Wow, my dad would be so proud of me and looking down and saying wow you’re really doing this.’ I think that’s part of the drive, as well, that keeps her going, along with just her passion for wanting to help people.”
Huck believes that her perspective changed after she became a mother.
“The idea of not using her platform to help others wasn’t an option,” he says.
“Kim obviously does not need a law degree,” Haney, one of Kardashian West’s attorney mentors tells CNN. “This is something that she is doing because she was deeply, deeply affected by the stories of people who are incarcerated and she’s been really moved to action.”
Jones adds, “She’s got more social media followers than most countries have people, and she decided to cash it all in for people who are poor, mostly black and behind bars. Who does that? What’s so special about Kim is that she’s completely turned her life around to join this cause.”
Beyond turning her spotlight toward advocacy, Anthony says Kardashian West has told her that she genuinely wants to know the ins and outs of the legal system.
“She really wants to understand the law and what it means and be able to have these conversations with people about the law and be able to go back and quote the law. That was really important to her as opposed to just, ‘“I’m Kim Kardashian, so because I said so, you should do it.’”
The case that became her cause
Before Kardashian West shared her legal pursuits, she had already made headlines in 2018 for helping get the life sentence of Alice Marie Johnson commuted by President Trump. Johnson had been convicted in 1996 of conspiracy to possess cocaine and attempted possession of cocaine and subsequently spent 21 years in prison before being released just months after Kardashian West took interest in her case.
“It started with the Alice Marie Johnson case,” Anthony tells CNN of West’s decision to become a lawyer.
“She was like, ‘I really think I want to pursue my law degree,’” Anthony recalls. “I just looked at her like, I have no clue how you’re going to do this, how you’re going to pull this off.”
She’s finding her way.
“I think Kim and her team would be the first to say she does, of course, have a lot of help, and that’s essential,” Haney says. “I think when she first announced that she was doing this, there were some people who felt some level of inequity. One of the things that Kim has talked about a lot is that she is consistently, incredibly impressed by people who were able to study law, make it through the bar, be a parent, all of these things because it is just so incredibly hard.”
Kardashian West is already proving to be an effective advocate for justice.
CNN reported in May that Kardashian West helped aide the commutation of life sentences for 17 inmates who were first-time nonviolent drug offenders over the course of just 90 days.
Jones points out that Kardashian West is going beyond what is required to take the bar exam.
“She’s got a whole extra curriculum that she’ll get no credit from the bar for,” he says. “I just think that she is just an exception to the exception, with her level of commitment, her creativity, her courage. Like most people, I didn’t know anything about Kim except for what I saw in the tabloids. I didn’t know what to expect when we first met, but she’s really blown me away.”
Kardashian West is logging a minimum of 18 hours per week of studying time, some of which has to be supervised by both Haney and Jackson. Her friends and lawyer mentors tell CNN she uses any free time she has, especially on the weekends. They all note how she is leaning on support from her husband.
“It was Sunday, last I checked, where she just zones out by herself,” Anthony says. “Kanye usually has the kids. They go do something and she is just studying all day, and we kind of know she’s going to be off the grid that day for a bunch of hours.”
Haney says that West will make sure to pop in when they happen to be studying at their home.
“[Kanye] is very supportive of what she’s doing. You can tell that he really believes in her,” Haney says.
Despite their careers and notoriety, those close to the couple say their family life is more routine than one might expect.
“That household, the kids are running around everywhere,” Anthony describes with a laugh. “Saint [West] and North [West] go to school, so while they’re in school she’s able to get a lot done. And yeah, she has help, but she’s a super hands-on mom. Whether she’s reading something and North is sitting next to her painting her nails or playing with something, she figures out a way to get it all done, and she definitely gets it done.”
Haney says that she and Jackson spend the majority of their supervised studying time with Kardashian West at a rented office space in Los Angeles, where they block off days to study, go over homework and administer tests.
In an interview for CNN with Jones in April, West spoke about how she hopes pursuing a law degree, while also at the helm of her other ventures, is setting a good example for her children.
“Coming home, I have my backpack. [My kids] have their backpack,” she says. “They’re studying, I’m studying. And them seeing that I have this filming career and I’m having makeup samples tested all over my arm while I’m trying to read my flashcards, I hope that they get inspired to know that they can put in the hard work.”
What kind of a student is Kardashian West?
As it turns out, a very focused and organized one.
“She highlights, she hand writes most things, although she does do some stuff on the computer obviously, but she is really, really invested in not just sort of checking off boxes to get through the homework but in really understanding the concept,” Haney says. “One of the things that’s been really impressive about Kim is that she consistently connects it to real life and real people, and I think that that’s been both helpful in keeping her engaged but also really helpful in her understanding of the law itself.”
Kardashian West has been criticized by some on the left for her husband’s vocal support of the Trump administration and for working with the White House on prison reform.
But Jones tells CNN that Democrats should be thanking Kim.
“I’ve been in the oval office with her, and I felt like she was by far the most effective person in the room with Trump because she’s got such big IQ and EQ. She was able to figure out really how to get through to him… she played a major role in helping Trump to re-evaluate where he was coming from on [prison reform]. When you see Donald Trump and Joe Biden arguing [over] which one of them is more in favor of letting people out of prison, somebody worked the magic spell and that somebody’s name is Kim Kardashian.”
Kardashian West still has years of studying ahead before she’ll be eligible to take the bar exam. Those working with her have complete confidence she’ll succeed.
“If Kim wants to take the bar in 2022, she will pass,” says Haney.
And for those who doubt Kardashian West’s dedication to this goal, she says that only fuels her motivation.
“I don’t want to be put in a box,” she says to Jones during their interview. “I saw a comment where someone said, ‘You need to stay in your lane. You can have ambitions but don’t be too ambitious.’ I read it to my husband in bed, and I was just like, ‘This will even push me harder.’”