The legal services industry in the US is among the most extensive in the world. The country offers an unparalleled chance to practice law, making it an attractive destination for attorneys with international degrees. But how can a foreign lawyer practice in the US?
In a nutshell, it depends on your qualifications and the state where you want to practice law. Each state in the US has its own judicial and legislative systems, allowing them to set their own standards for lawyers seeking to practice inside their borders. Read on to learn how to practice law in the US with a foreign degree.
Can Foreign Lawyers Practice in the US?
To speed up the admission of foreign-trained attorneys to the bar, states like New York and California have devised state-specific regulations. These states let foreign-qualified attorneys directly sit the bar, provided they have completed their education in a program emphasizing the study of common law, such as the LL.B. program.
Outside New York and California, foreign-qualified attorneys are normally required to complete either a J.D. program or an LL.M. The J.D. is a three-year full-time program, while LL.M. is a one-year full-time program at a law school accredited by the American Bar Association.
How Can a Foreign Lawyer Practice in the US – New York Requirements
In the NY state, foreign-educated lawyers may or may not be able to transfer their foreign education to the American system, or it will not. Reputable credential evaluation organizations are available to help you evaluate your credentials.
The education credentials will typically transfer if a foreign-trained lawyer has finished a program at least three years long and focused on English common law. After earning evaluation eligibility from the Board, these attorneys are permitted to take the bar examination. The Board’s approval process can take up to a year or longer, so you’ll want to start early. Submit all your documents at least one year before the exam date you wish to take.
On the other hand, if you cannot transfer your education to the US, you will be required to complete an LLM degree to meet the specific requirements.
How Can a Foreign Lawyer Practice in the US – California Requirements
The California Bar has comparatively lax admission requirements for international attorneys. In fact, it may be easier to take the bar examination here than in New York.
Foreign-trained attorneys permitted to practice in a non-U.S. jurisdiction are frequently able to sit the California bar exam without completing additional criteria. On the other hand, foreign attorneys who are not permitted to practice must finish an LLM program to be eligible for the bar exam.
California also provides an option for an additional year of study at an ABA-approved or California-accredited law school. The entire year should be devoted to bar exam topic matters.
How to Practice Law in the Other States as a Foreign-Trained Lawyer
Thirty-four additional jurisdictions have varied requirements for foreign-educated lawyers seeking admission to the bar. In almost all instances, the ABA must assess and verify your law degree prior to admission. This can take up to a year.
If the ABA approves you and you fulfill all other standards the state sets, you may sit for the bar exam in that state. In some states, the Board of Governors must accredit the law school you chose for your LLM degree in Washington.
In other states, additional criteria include, but are not limited to, English common law education, ABA-approved coursework, and practice in a foreign jurisdiction. The prerequisites for each state are provided on the bar exam website and summarized in the Bar Admission Guide.
Other Options for Law Graduates in the US
A foreign-trained lawyer has the greatest options after earning bar admission. Still, there are several paths to professional success that do not require you to become a member of the state bar in order to use your international law degree.
Becoming a foreign legal consultant is a popular choice. A foreign-learned counsel is a lawyer who was educated outside of the United States but is now licensed to practice law in the US in a restricted capacity. Some states additionally offer chances for foreign attorneys to work as in-house counsel, practice law temporarily as transactional lawyers, or gain admission to the state bar on a “pro hac vice” basis.
Take the Next Career Step with ERES
Still, wondering how to practice law in the US with a foreign degree? ERES can help you take the next step. We serve as a conduit between individuals with international education and new opportunities in the US. We offer foreign transcript evaluation for CPA, legal education, and more. Our reports can be used for various situations, including credit transfer to US universities, employment, immigration, and military enlistment.
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