If you are a foreign law graduate, lawyer or U.S. LL.M. student, U.S. qualification is more achievable than you may think. In fact, with your current credentials, you may already be eligible to sit for a U.S. state bar exam.
New York and California specifically operate a relatively open policy in permitting foreign law graduates or lawyers to sit their bar examination and do not impose restrictions to admission on grounds of nationality or residence.
Candidates are not required to learn and recite case law or statutory provisions, which is a real advantage for candidates who did not get a J.D. in the United States. Exams are designed to test the candidate's ability to think like a lawyer. Candidates are required to know the legal rule and how it should be properly applied to a hypothetical problem situation.
Are you eligible?
Take this short quiz to determine if you are most likely eligible to sit for the New York or California Bar Exam with your current credentials and qualify as a U.S. lawyer. Always confirm eligibility with the applicable board of law examiners before enrolling in a U.S. bar preparation course.
New York Bar Exam eligibility
In general, foreign-trained attorneys with a 3 year on-site undergraduate law degree from most common law countries may be eligible to take the bar examination in New York without completing additional coursework at a U.S. law school.
Foreign-trained attorneys from civil law jurisdictions, or those from common law countries with degrees that do not meet the educational requirements, may be eligible after completing an LL.M. program at a U.S. ABA accredited law school.
To learn more about the New York Bar Examination and the eligibility requirements for foreign-trained attorneys, please visit the official website of the New York Board of Law Examiners of the State of New York (BOLE) and the "Foreign Legal Education" section of the NY BOLE website.
Foreign Evaluation of Credentials
Complete the Online Request for Foreign Evaluation of Academic Credentials and arrange for the BOLE to receive the proper supporting documents. This evaluation must be completed to obtain a decision on your eligibility to take the NY Bar Exam. Deadlines to submit this form and supporting documents varies depending on the exam you wish to take.
The BOLE will not consider your Request for an Evaluation to be "complete" until it receives all supporting documents in one envelope and will not review your application until it is complete. Ensure that you submit all your supporting documentation by the deadline, so that the BOLE may act on your eligibility in time for you to apply for the examination.
The documents required in support of your Request for an Evaluation are outlined by the BOLE on their website. Carefully read through the document descriptions and pay attention to rules related to providing English translations and submitting documents directly from the issuing institutions and/or government agencies in your home country. These documents take time to gather - you must start early in order to ensure you can sit for the exam you wish to take.
California Bar Exam eligibility
If you are a qualified lawyer in your home jurisdiction, you can sit for the California Bar Exam. You still have some other requirements to fulfill, but your foreign license is a shortcut in the application process. If you have a law degree but are not licensed, you may qualify to sit for the bar if you complete an LL.M. with at least 20 credits at an ABA or California accredited school.
As part of those 20 credits, you must take a Professional Responsibility class that covers the ABA Model Rules of Profession Conduct, and leading federal and state case law on the subject. At least 3 classes must be in subjects that appear on the bar exam.
You will be asked to provide a social security number when applying for the California Bar Exam. If you do not have a U.S. social security number, you will simply need to complete and submit a social security exemption form when submitting your bar exam registration forms.
To learn more about the CA Bar Examination and the eligibility requirements for foreign-trained attorneys, please visit the official website of the State Bar of California.
Other U.S. jurisdiction exam eligibility
Many states in the U.S. allow foreign-trained attorneys with (or without) a U.S. LL.M. degree to sit for the bar exam combined with other requirements. These states include Texas, District of Columbia, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Washington.
For a complete list and to learn more about the requirements for these states, consult the full National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) Comprehensive Guide to Bar Admission Requirements.