If you’re looking at the possibilities and paths available on how to become a lawyer in the US as a foreigner, then this article is here to guide you. This applies to foreign-trained lawyers and international students looking to study law in the United states.
The United States is a great place to practice law as it offers among other things, plenty opportunities, better wages as a lawyer and a generally better living standard.
There are two main pathways to become a lawyer in the US as a Non-US citizen. They have been listed below.
How to become a lawyer in the US as a foreigner
1. Complete a JD program at a US law school
The first option available to non-us citizens looking to become a lawyer in US is by graduating with a JD from a law school in the US. This option requires one to have acquired a bachelor’s degree from their home country as most law school admission requirements in the US state a degree a as the minimum academic requirement.
There are numerous law schools to apply to, but you must make sure that the school and state you apply to study law is accredited by the American Bar Association and that the state in which it is located allows international students to sit for the State’s bar exam.
2. Complete an approved LLM in a US law school
To become a lawyer in the US as a foreigner, foreign-trained non-US lawyers with a degree in law can choose the LLM path. Such an individual would have to apply to study a master of laws (LLM) program which will serve as eligibility to write the state’s bar exam.
It must be noted that not all states allow foreigners graduating from an LLM in the state to sit for the bar exam. Read on to know the states that have provision for foreigners to sit for the bar exam upon graduation from an LLM program in US.
3. Be a practicing lawyer of good standing in English Common law jurisdiction
In some US states, foreign-trained lawyers admitted to practice law in their home country or the jurisdiction where they received their training are eligible to sit for the Bar Exam.
Some states have additional requirements such as an evaluation of law degree to ascertain if they meet ABA-approved requirements, lawyers practicing in English Common law Jurisdictions and number of years in law practice.
This means to become a lawyer in the US as a foreigner in such states, foreign-trained lawyers require no extra legal education in an American law school to qualify to sit for the bar exam if these conditions are met.
US States that have such provisions include: New York, California, Hawaii (English common law, 5+ years of practice) among others.
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States that allow foreign lawyers to take the bar
New York, Colorado, Kentucky, California, Hawaii, New Hampshire, Washington and Wisconsin accept foreign law degrees as qualification to sit for the state bar exam if certain conditions are met. The conditions include:
- Evaluation of foreign law degree to be equivalent to ABA-approved law degrees
- Admission or license to practice law in a foreign English Common law jurisdiction after law school
- Number of years in law practice in an English common law jurisdiction (Usually 3-10years depending on the state)
Can foreign lawyers practice in us?
To become a lawyer in the US as a foreigner, Foreign lawyers have to sit for the bar exam and pass it to be eligible to practice in the state’s jurisdiction.
But be minded that merely possessing a law degree from a foreign country doesn’t make you eligible to take the bar exam. Each state has it’s own set of requirements foreign lawyers have to meet.
New York bar requirements for foreign lawyers
The requirements for the New York bar exam for foreign lawyers are in two parts; requirements for foreign lawyers with a degree in law and requirements for Foreign lawyers with a US LLM degree.
Foreign lawyers with a foreign law degree must have their degree evaluated by the Board of Law Examiners to ascertain whether it meets ABA-standards, clearance of which applicant is allowed to sit for the bar exam.
Foreign lawyers who have graduated with an LLM degree from an ABA-approved law school in the United States are eligible to sit for the New York Bar exam.
How to become a lawyer in America with a UK degree
To become a lawyer in America with a UK law degree, you have to first write the bar exam of the US state where you want to practice.
Since UK is a common law jurisdiction, states like New York, Colorado, Kentucky, California, Hawaii, New Hampshire, Washington and Wisconsin will permit you to sit for their bar exam to become a lawyer in America with a UK degree if:
- You can prove that you have been licensed to practice law in the UK
- You’re a lawyer of good standing and have been in practice for a minimum of 3 years in the last 5 years.
- Your law degree is evaluated and found to meet ABA-approved requirements of a law degree.
Other states may require you to do further study in the US such as an approved LLM program in order to be eligible to write the bar exam.
US States which accept Foreign lawyers with LLM
If you decided to take the LLM path, you should consider this list of US states that accept ABA-approved LLM as qualification for foreign lawyers to write the bar exam and become lawyers in the US as a foreigner.
Some states require extra qualifications such as being licensed in an English Common law jurisdiction to practice law and being in practice for a number of years.
After graduating with an LLM or additional 1 year of law study at an ABA-approved or a law school accredited by California which includes a certain number of credits in bar examination subject matter, foreign lawyers qualify to sit for the California bar exam.
Foreign lawyers are eligible to write the Georgia bar exam provided they have
- Graduated with an LLM from an ABA-approved law school, that meets the Curricular Criteria approved by the Board of Bar Examiners.
- Have a law degree equivalent to the ABA-approved law degree
- Is licensed to practice in the foreign jurisdiction
Foreign graduates of LLM in US can apply to waive the writing of the bar exam. Applicant’s must have been licensed to practice in their jurisdiction for 3 of the last 5 years.
In Kentucky, foreign lawyers graduating with an LLM are eligible to write the Kentucky Bar Exam provided they have been actively and substantially engaged in the law practice for 3 of the last 5 years.
Following completion of a qualifying LLM degree from an ABA-approved law school in the United States, Foreign lawyers are eligible to write the New York Bar exam.
Graduation from an approved LLM program with credit hours qualifies a foreign lawyer to write the Vermont Bar exam.
Obtaining an LLM “for the practice of law” from an ABA-approved law school qualifies a foreign Lawyer to write the Washington State Bar exam.
In addition to completing an LLM from an approved law school, a foreign lawyer must also show that the law school they attended in the foreign jurisdiction was approved by the authority there in order to be eligible to sit for the Wisconsin Bar Exam.