Practicing Law in the United States

In the United States, each state administers its own bar system generally through the state’s highest court, which is usually its supreme court (although in New York, the Court of Appeals is the highest state court). In some states, both the state supreme court and the state legislature handle the rules for admission to practice. Therefore, foreign attorneys who wish to practice law in the United States must check with each state bar in which they are interested in practicing for the specific rules and eligibility. Any lawyer who wants to practice in the U.S. must be admitted to the bar of the state in which they intend to practice. Any foreign-trained attorney seeking to take a bar examination should check with the Board of Law Examiners (BOLE) of the state in which they wish to practice to see if they are eligible.

There are many states that allow foreign-trained attorneys with an LLM from an ABA-approved law school to take their bar examination: New York, and California are two of the most popular. For a quick, comprehensive guide on whether foreign law school graduates are eligible to take the bar examination, see the “Comprehensive Guide to Bar Admissions Requirements” published by the National Conference of Bar Examiners and the American Bar Association, Section of Legal Education and Admission to the Bar: In the 2014 edition, a simple chart can be found on pages 12 and 16. We would recommend you follow up with each state to verify that the rules haven’t been changed since the guide was published. 

New York State and California are both large population centers that have a large international contingent, therefore making them popular jurisdictions for foreign law school graduates to take the bar. Below are the requirements for New York and California.

Bar and Bar Admission:

The term “bar” means “the whole body of lawyers or the legal profession.” Bar admission refers to the privilege to practice law. A person who is admitted to the bar is therefore a “member” of a particular bar.