The Comprehensive Guide to Bar Admission Requirements, published by the ABA and the National Conference of Bar Examiners, identifies 30 U.S. jurisdictions that permit non-U.S.-trained law graduates to become members of their bar. These include 27 states, the District of Columbia (Washington, D.C.), Palau, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. For ease, I refer to these 30 as “U.S. jurisdictions” or “states”.
Some of these jurisdictions require non-U.S.-Trained lawyers to sit for that jurisdiction's bar exam. Some permit these lawyers to join without taking the particular jurisdiction's bar exam. It is suggested that you carefully review the requirements for each jurisdiction in which you have an interest. Check early. Make certain that you can satisfy the jurisdiction's requirements in a time frame that suits you. You are advised to check the requirements early, and often, as requirements may change.
General bar admission requirements -- Exam or No Exam Required?
There are two basic paths to bar admission in the U.S. (and neither of these paths is “easy”!):
a. Admission by examination. This involves satisfying certain eligibility requirements, registering, then sitting for the state’s bar exam. Non-U.S.-trained lawyers typically take this examination route.
b. Admission not by examination. A state may grant a “waiver” so a candidate does not have to sit for the particular state’s bar exam. This is rare for non-U.S.-trained lawyers. The Comprehensive Guide indicates that U.S. jurisdictions that permit
U.S. jurisdictions consider candidates’ backgrounds
Different states look to different aspects of your background to determine your eligibility to sit for their bar exam. When assessing the ease of becoming eligible for a particular bar, you might consider whether you satisfy certain requirements already, or whether you can take steps in the future to cement your eligibility.
You cannot modify the characteristics of any non-U.S. law degree you already possess. For example, either you first degree was in common law, or it was not.
But if you have not yet completed your non-U.S. degree, perhaps you can take steps now to help ensure your non-U.S. training meets requirements of particular U.S. bars.
If you have not yet completed your LL.M., you may be able to take steps to help ensure that this U.S. degree helps render you bar eligible.
You should decide as early as possible whether you wish to join a U.S. bar, and tailor your pre-U.S. and U.S. education and experience to meet the requirements of that particular bar.
Plan for your U.S. bar admission early, and wisely!
What about your background interests U.S. bars?
States consider many aspects of candidates’ backgrounds in bar admission. When choosing a bar try to join, consider that some bars take into account:
- What your educational background is in your home country (e.g., whether your degree is in common law, civil law, Sharia law)
- What law school you attended in your home country (e.g., whether it meets a “sufficiency of legal education” requirement of some U.S. jurisdictions)
- Whether you are admitted to practice law in your home country
- Whether you have any actual law practice experience in your home country
- From which U.S. law school you plan to receive your LL.M.
- The nature of your U.S. LL.M. degree (the number of credit hours, which courses you take, whether you earned online or internship credits, whether this degree was completed a few or many years ago, etc.)
- Whether you are already admitted to a U.S. bar (since some states will permit you to sit for their bar exam if you are already a member of the bar of another U.S. state).
Bar admission requirements of specific states
The Comprehensive Guide lists particular eligibility criteria to sit for bar exams of certain states. If you are interested in these states, contact the bar authorities in those states directly, to help ensure that you are able to meet those requirements.
The Comprehensive guide indicates that:
- Some states permit you to sit for their bar exam based in part on your being a member of another U.S. bar. So, you might join one bar first and use that bar admission to gain entry to the bar exam of one of these other states (E.g., Alabama, Alaska, California, Florida, Maryland, Missouri, New Mexico, U.S. Virgin Islands)
- Some states appear to require you to have law practice experience in a foreign jurisdiction (E.g., Alabama, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, Vermont, and Wisconsin)
- Some states call for additional education at an “ABA-approved” law school (E.g., Alabama, Alaska, California, D.C., Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, and Wisconsin), and some of these states, like New York, have strict requirements about the U.S. law school educational requirements. Some states require 24 or more credit hours of legal education at a U.S. school, while others require fewer (e.g., Louisiana requires only “14 credit at an American law school”).
- Some states require legal education in English common law (E.g., Alabama, Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, New Hampshire, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia, Wisconsin)
Again, please note that the above-listed criteria are drawn from charts / tables in the Comprehensive Guide. The best source of current bar admission information will be the bar authority of the specific state whose bar you seek to enter!