Last Updated on January 15, 2023 by Team College Learners
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Taking Bar Exam in USA as foreign lawyer And Practicing law in the United States or from abroad
Unfortunately there is no easy answer for foreign lawyers who wish to practice law in the United States. The issue is a very complicated one because all lawyers that wish to practice law in the United States must be admitted to the Bar of the State where they intend to practice law and the US bar system is administered at the state level. You must first be licensed to practice law in one state and after compliance of rules framed under another state of the United States, you can or cannot be permitted to practice law in that state unless there is a reciprocity between the states.
This means that each US state (and the capital, Washington D.C.) sets its own rules for bar admission and the question “can I move to the US and be a lawyer?” has, essentially, 51 different answers. If you are taking the bar as a foreign lawyer this translates to drastically different admission standards among the different states, so a fair bit of homework is in order. Broadly speaking, however, US states fall into one of two camps with some significant outliers. In the first camp are those states which require all bar applicants – domestic and foreign – to earn a Juris Doctor(JD Degree) from a law school accredited by the American Bar Association. Because no schools outside of the US have received this accreditation. In practice this policy means that fully 23 states will not consider graduates of foreign law schools as eligible for admission to their state. If this is the case for the state this can be a lengthy and difficult process, requiring admission to (and completion of) an ABA recognized law school.
[Although foreign educated lawyers are not eligible to be admitted to the bar of these states directly, a system of reciprocity between states allows those admitted elsewhere in any other State of reciprocity in the United States itself to practice, eventually, in any state.] In the other camp are the five US states which allow a foreign lawyer to take the bar: New York, California, Alabama, New Hampshire and Virginia. These states allow some foreign-educated lawyers to take the bar examination without earning their degree locally. In this case, however, foreign-educated lawyers must begin the process by getting their law degree reviewed and analyzed by the American Bar Association (ABA) with an option to complete either JD or LLM degree from ABA approved Law school.. Easier said than done, it can take up to a year for the foreign law credentials are even assessed.
Once reviewed, the application is either accepted or deferred. If accepted, foreign lawyers are allowed to sit for that state’s bar exam in much the same way a domestic applicant would. In New York, one of the jurisdictions most open to foreign lawyers, this would allow foreign lawyers to sit for the bar after completion of 20 credit program or LLM – Master of Laws from an American Bar Association (ABA) approved law school in US. But all that is explained here is not as easy as it appears. Not only passing bar exam is difficult but it is also difficult to be accepted without going to ABA approved law school in the United States to comply with the requirement of JD or LLM. Even if deferred, applicants may be asked to complete coursework at an ABA-approved law school before sitting for the bar exam.
This coursework usually takes the form of a one-year LL.M program at an ABA accredited school of law The LL.M, from the Latin Legum Magister or Master of Laws, is essentially an overview of US law for foreign lawyers and is most often requested of applicants who were educated or practiced in Common Law as opposed to Civil Law countries. If this is the case, once the candidate completes their LL.M and obtains ABA approval, taking the bar as a foreign lawyer proceeds as outlined above. Please learn more about the International LLM here.Given the intricacies of this process, it can take anywhere from 3 months to 2 years for a foreign educated lawyer to take the bar and this does not even begin to cover the preparation required to take the bar itself! Fortunately, for anyone taking the bar as a foreign lawyer, preparing for the bar exam is a typical, if daunting challenge.
Many American law students spend months preparing to sit for the bar exam by taking bar review courses and classes and foreign-educated lawyers should consider doing the same. Regardless of their backgrounds, so many applicants take these review courses that the model answer the examiners are looking for is invariably in the style taught by these courses. Such classes can be time consuming and expensive but well-recommended ones are generally worth it. After all, the goal of taking the bar as a foreign lawyer is well within sight! It is not a child’s play to become an Attorney and Counselor at Law in the United States for a foreign lawyer not only especially because it is very expensive but also because the success ratio of foreign lawyers passing the bar exam is low for those who have English as a second language in the country of their origin.
FINALLY even if you complete your Master of Law(LLM) degree from ABA approved law school and pass the bar exam of the State by which you are permitted to do so and get licensed as Attorney on record, you cannot practice law independently unless you have a green card. International students who complete the process and get licensed as stated above try hard to get sponsored from the law firm in H-1B visa which is a non-immigrant temporary working visa status granted initially for a period of three years and extendable for another three years but the beneficiary cannot live in the United States for more than six years unless green card is under process.
If every thing goes well it takes around 12 years to get employment based green card. Now in H-1B visa status also, a licensed Attorney cannot practice law independently because he is permitted to work for the petitioner i.e law firm and for & on its behalf, but if caught practicing law independently, he or she is subject to deportation because it is a violation of immigration law. Better the Attorneys in such a case should return to the country back home and keep the US Attorney’s license active and work from his country for example from NIGERIA through an associate law firm in the United States and if necessary an attorney on per diem basis can be hired in case representation is required.
Bar Examination for Foreign Trained Attorneys
Scalia Law offers the U.S. Law LLM Program which qualifies international attorneys who hold a law degree from a school outside of the United States to sit for a bar examination in the United States.
Scalia Law is currently receiving applications for the U.S. Law LLM Program, please visit https://www.law.gmu.edu/admissions/llm/how_apply_llm for more information on how to apply.
A few jurisdictions (including New York, California, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Georgia, Massachusetts, Illinois, and Texas) in the United States allow an individual to take the bar examination without having to graduate with a JD degree from a United States law school. For a full list of which states allow foreign trained attorneys to sit for a bar examination, please refer to the National Conference of Bar Examiners’ Comprehensive Guide to Bar Admission Requirements. This publication is free to consult online. Refer to Chart 4 on pages 12 – 16 for information on foreign trained attorneys.
Basic information on the most popular jurisdictions currently allowing foreign trained attorneys to sit for their Bar Examination is provided below. Please note that Bar Examination eligibility rules are subject to change. If you are interested in sitting for a bar examination in any state, you should visit that state’s bar examination website and contact them for the most up-to-date information.
New York Bar Examination
The New York Bar Examination is the most popular bar examination for foreign trained attorneys. The New York Board of Law Examiners is the only entity that can deem an individual qualified to sit for the New York Bar Exam. Some individuals from common law countries may be found eligible to sit for the New York Bar Exam based solely on their first law degree. Most individuals, however, will need to finish the requirements of the LLM degree and plan their curriculum carefully to meet the coursework required to be eligible to sit for the exam. If you wish to sit for the New York Bar Exam, it is your responsibility to review the state’s eligibility rules for foreign trained attorneys (see §520.6 of the Rules of the Court of appeals for the Admission of Attorneys and Counselors at Law 22 NYCRR §520.6)).
The Board requires foreign trained lawyers to complete an online Foreign Evaluation Form and submit required documentation to their offices at least 6 months prior to the start of the application filing period for the bar exam (February or July) they wish to take. We strongly encourage you to complete this evaluation form and to submit all necessary documents to the Board prior to staring the LLM program to determine your eligibility to sit for the bar.
Individuals should be aware that every applicant admitted to the New York State Bar on or after January 1, 2015 must complete at least 50 hours of qualifying pro bono service prior to filing an application for admission with the appropriate Appellate Division department of the Supreme Court (§520.16 of the Rules of the Court of appeals for the Admission of Attorneys and Counselors at Law (22 NYCRR §520.16)).
The District of Columbia (D.C.) Bar Examination
Washington, D.C. is the jurisdiction closest to Scalia Law that allows foreign trained attorneys to sit for the bar examination. The D.C. Court of Appeals is the only entity that can deem an individual qualified to sit for the D.C. Bar Examination. The Rules of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, Rule 46(c)(4) requires that foreign trained attorneys take at least 26 credit hours in subjects tested on the D.C. Bar Examination in order to become eligible to take the exam.
Please note that any student who wishes to sit for the D.C. Bar Examination will need to complete approximately 3 semesters (two full time, one part time) of coursework at Scalia Law in order to meet the requirements listed in Rule 46(c)(4).
The D.C. Court of Appeals also offers a “special legal consultant” status for a foreign-educated lawyer who has been admitted to practice in another country and is at least 26 years of age, as outlined in Rule 46 (f).