A guide to the New York Bar Exam for foreign lawyers

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So you want to be a U.S. qualified New York lawyer?

Want to add a glamorous qualification to your CV? Thinking of emigrating to the states? Want to learn about the New York Bar Exam for foreign lawyers?  You have arrived at the right place. This article will provide you an overview of the New York Bar Exam, and tips for those seeking to take this prestigious qualification.

If you’re ready to start preparing for the New York Bar Exam as a non-U.S. attorney, click here to learn more about BARBRI Extended U.S. Bar Prep.


Before selecting a bar preparation provider, you need to establish whether you are eligible to undertake the examination.  If you do this straight away, you will be minimizing the fundamental risk as to whether you will be confirmed eligible, as the examination arrives nearer. You should allow up to 6-months for confirmation of eligibility. It is the student’s responsibility to make a timely application.

Foreign applicants are required to send supporting documents to the New York State Board of Law Examiners. The New York Board of Law Examiners will request that you supply the following documents:

1.  University Transcripts

  • Request a copy from your university in a sealed stamped envelope.
  • Some universities will send the documents directly to New York, others will send them out to you and you will need to forward them to New York. NB. Do not open the transcripts before you send them to NY.
  • Transcripts must be in English/ translated into English. Ensure credits are listed on the transcripts.
  • It may be useful to request two sets of transcripts from the university. This way you can check that you are sending the correct document.
  • If your university uses an electronic transcript system, print a copy of the transcripts, and ask your university to stamp them as a true copy. Send them in a stamped sealed envelope.

2.  Copy of your Degree Certificate

3.  Practicing Certificate OR

4.  Letter from the Solicitor’s Regulatory Authority/Law Society of the applicable country

Once eligibility has been confirmed, foreign applicants will need to register for the exam. To sit the July exam, register between April 1st- 30th. To sit the February exam, register between November 1st–30th. There are no exceptions/late filing deadlines. There is a fee of $750. There is an option to defer your registration fee to the next sitting of the exam. You need to contact New York directly to discuss this, in the event you have applied for eligibility less than 6-months before registering to sit the exam. You may not have your eligibility confirmed before registration.

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Structure & layout of the bar exam

The bar exam is a grueling, two-day examination: 6-hours each day.  Stamina and endurance under timed pressure will be crucial elements to passing the exams. There are three different components to the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE):

  • Multistate Essay Exam (MEE) topics include:
    Business Association; Agency & Partnership, Corporation, Limited Liability Companies, Conflict of Laws, Family Law, Trust & Estates; Wills & Trusts, Future Interests, Uniform Commercial Code. These are tested on day one only (+ MBE subjects listed below).
  • Multistate Performance Test (MPT)
    Tests the practical element of being a lawyer. All information needed to complete the question is supplied in the question.
  • Multistate Bar Exam (MBE) Topics Include:
    Federal Civil Procedure, Constitutional Law, Contracts/ Sales, Criminal Law & Procedure, Evidence, Real Property & Torts. These are tested on day one and two.  200 multiple choice questions across 8 subjects. They are mixed. No labels for the question. Your mind will need to be racing through all the laws to issue-spot which area the examiners are testing.

Uniform Bar Exam marking

The Multistate Bar Exam is worth 50%, the Multistate Essay Exam is worth 30% & the Multistate Performance Test is worth 20%. The total score is 400. New York has set the passing score at 266. Aim to get over 60% in all parts. The percentage pass rate varies from year to year.

On a further note, it is crucial to note that the pass rate has been reducing every year.  Statistics drop even more for foreign candidates.  In fact, pass rates are now at the very lowest in approximately 20 years.  Do not be scared.  This is just a warning that you need to be disciplined to master the material and practice, practice, practice.  Practice makes perfect.  BARBRI’s statistical evidence that 76% of students who complete 80%+ of the Personal Study Plan pass.

New York Bar Exam for foreign lawyers admission requirements

You will need to complete the following to fulfill the requirements for admission as a New York lawyer:

(i) New York Law Examination (NYLE):
It comprises of 50 multiple-choice questions. It is a two-hour open-book test and can be completed online. You can sit this exam four times annually. The New York Law Course prepares you for the exam and can be found free of charge on the New York Bar website (www.nybarexam.org). It can be completed one year before the bar exam or three years after. The pass mark is 30/50. Subjects tested include Administrative Law, Business Relationships, Civil Practice & Procedure, Evidence, Matrimonial & Family Law, Professional Responsibility, Real Property, Torts & Tort Damages and Trusts, Wills & Estates.

(ii) The Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE):
This exam is two hours long and includes 60-questions. It is administered three times a year. It is required for admission to all state bars, apart from Maryland & Wisconsin. Passing scores are on a scale of 50-150. New York requires a scaled score of 85.

(iii) Pro Bono Requirement:
The final requirement for admission is 50-hours of pro bono work. The work should be legal in nature and must be unpaid. You should look for work involving legal research/ advice. The work must be signed off by a practicing lawyer, in the jurisdiction the work is completed in.

There is no doubt that there is a lot of effort, hard work, and discipline required to pass a bar exam and to fulfill the admission requirements in order to become a licensed attorney. But if you want to pursue this qualification the rewards are great.

For further support visit BARBRI Extended U.S. Bar Prep, who can offer tailored advice on the New York Bar Exam process. To learn more about the New York Bar Exam for foreign lawyers, click here. 

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