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.
Always confirm eligibility with the applicable board of law examiners before enrolling in a U.S. bar exam preparation course.
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 California professional responsibility class and 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.
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.
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.
Are you eligible?
This free BARBRI Bar Exam Digest for International Lawyers, Law Graduates & LL.M.s will assist you in determining if you are most likely eligible to sit for the New York or California Bar Exam. It also includes information such as format, subjects tested, deadlines and fees relevant to foreign-trained applicants.
Always confirm eligibility with the applicable board of law examiners before enrolling in a U.S. bar preparation course.
State bar admissions requirements for foreign attorneys
Before you can practice law in any U.S. state or jurisdiction, you must go through that state’s admissions process and pass that state’s bar exam. We recommend that you start the state bar admissions process at least a year or more in advance of your anticipated bar exam date.
The primary steps for foreign-educated law graduates and lawyers include:
- 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 three most common and easily accessible jurisdictions for foreign lawyers and law graduates have been California, New York, and Texas.
- 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