How to apply for U.S. bar admission as a foreign candidate

High-level steps to becoming a licensed U.S. attorney

Before you can call yourself a licensed lawyer in any U.S. state or jurisdiction, you must go through that state's admissions process and pass that state's bar exam. While each U.S. state or jurisdiction defines its own admissions requirements and process, we've outlined the major steps that you can expect.

We recommend that you start the state bar admissions process at least a year or more in advance of your anticipated bar exam date. We also always recommend that you refer to the official bar examiner website for the state in which you wish to become licensed, such as the State Bar of California or the New York Board of Law Examiners of the State of New York (BOLE).


Confirm your eligibility to sit for the U.S. state bar exam of interest

If you wish to sit a U.S. bar examination, first make sure that you are eligible to do so. Traditionally, the most common and easily accessible jurisdictions for foreign lawyers and law graduates have been California, New York, Illinois and Texas.

Learn more about U.S. bar exam eligibility and take the eligibility quiz.

Apply for the bar exam

Each jurisdiction independently decides who may sit for their bar exam and who may ultimately be admitted. You must complete an application to sit your state's bar exam.

Complete the Character and Fitness Application

This is a comprehensive background check to make sure you are morally fit for the practice of law. You will be asked to disclose very extensive details about your academic, work and financial history, as well as include references, any criminal record and civil proceedings, and submit Live Scan fingerprinting. Candor is key.


Submit the notarized authorization and release (A&R) form

Your bar exam application will not be accepted without a signed and notarized A&R form. A notarized A&R provides character and fitness analysts the authority to perform a full background check on you. Depending on your state/jurisdiction, you may upload the A&R to your online account or mail it postmarked no later than the filing deadline for the bar exam. Some states require that you submit this application before you can take the bar exam and other states allow you to submit it afterward.

Pass the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE)

Passing the MPRE is required for admission to the bars of all but two U.S. jurisdictions - Wisconsin and Puerto Rico. Learn more about MPRE exam details here.

Pass the bar exam

The bar exam is the final hurdle toward becoming a licensed U.S. attorney. Each U.S. jurisdiction administers a bar exam to test a candidate's ability to think like a lawyer and prove that they have the "minimum competency" to practice law in that state. Just as each jurisdiction determines its overall admissions requirements, each jurisdiction also independently determines the bar exam format they will administer, the content that will be covered, scoring and more.

Learn more about the format, content and scoring of the New York Bar Exam and the California Bar Exam.

Download the U.S. Bar admissions checklist

While there are several steps involved, U.S. qualification is more achievable than you may think. Download the U.S. bar admissions checklist for foreign candidates to keep track of these critical steps as you move toward successfully qualifying as a U.S. lawyer.

Next steps

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