While it may not be common knowledge, there are three ways an international lawyer can practice law in the US which include: 1) attending a US Law School, 2) completing an equivalency report, or 3) passing a state examination with no requirements for international lawyers. This allows foreign lawyers to be able to practice law in the world’s largest economy. However, just as there are many rules and State regulations in place for US lawyers to practice law, there are rules for how an international lawyer can practice law in the United States.
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Why is it Important for an International Lawyer to Practice Law in the US?
Being able to practice in multiple countries will allow lawyers to have an expanded view of international law. Companies and clients generally value lawyers that have more qualifications and specialties. In addition, many international lawyers understand multiple languages which can have a higher salary and increase their ability to travel and serve more clients. However, understanding the method for how an international lawyer can practice law in the US will offer a smooth transition for the aspiring lawyer.
How can an International Lawyer Attend a US Law School?
Many US States do not recognize foreign law degrees and require international lawyers to attend an ABA-approved school. Therefore, it is important to note that each state has its own rules to follow making it important to know exactly where you intend to practice. It is much easier to have a focus on a specific state’s regulations than the country as a whole.
For example, the following States do not allow graduates of foreign law schools to take the bar exam: Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Wyoming. This means that in those States one would be required to attend an accredited law school in the U.S. to be able to take the Bar exam, which is required to practice law in the given state.
International Lawyers are able to obtain a Juris Doctor and/or Masters of Law Degree.
What is a Juris Doctor Degree?
The Juris Doctor (JD) degree is the law degree that most lawyers who attend US law school obtain. These lawyers typically take the LSAT and follow additional law school admission steps. Traditionally it takes three years to complete the JD degree, but international lawyers can opt to take the shorter Masters of Law Degree, which often takes two years to complete.
What is a Masters of Law Degree?
Many US States accept the LL.M. or Masters of Law at an accredited law school in the United States to suffice to qualify to take the US bar exam. The LLM is one year and will provide international lawyers with a thorough overview of the law. With the LL.M. you would be able to practice in New York, California, Washington State, Wisconsin, and other US States.
But along with each of these states, there are other requirements to keep in mind. For example in Washington State, the law school you choose to get your LL.M. from must be a Board of Governors approved school for it to qualify you for the bar exam. New York and California are the most popular states for international lawyers to practice in because of their more relaxed set of guidelines compared to other states.
What is the US Equivalency Report for International Lawyers?
Foreign trained lawyers may be granted permission to take the bar exam, but each state has its own restrictions as well. For example, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Nevada, Oregon, and Vermont are some of the States that do not require a degree from an ABA-approved school. But most of these US States require an equivalency report which requires a thorough review of the international lawyer’s legal education and background to determine whether he/she has enough knowledge to take the bar exam.
For more specific information about practicing in a state, the Comprehensive Guide to Bar Admission Requirements provides more in depth information about specific state guidelines.
What are the US State Bar Exams that do not have Requirements for International Lawyers?
The only State that recognizes all foreign law degrees with any regularity is Vermont, making it by far the easiest to start practicing law in than any other state but even they provide apprentice programs to allow foreign lawyers to adequately prepare for the bar exam.
While this can be a complicated process for international lawyers to become US lawyers, it can be a worthwhile experience when you are able to practice law in the US. These successful international lawyers will be able to attend court. As globalization continues to make the world smaller, lawyers with legal experience in multiple countries and jurisdictions will increasingly become more important.
There are numerous ways for lawyers to be able to practice law in the US. It is much easier to either get a review to be approved to take the bar exam in the states mentioned above or get an LL. M. to qualify for the bar exam in those specific states.