The USA has become an attractive destination for foreign lawyers who wish to settle and practice law. The United States has a long history of legal practice and is considered one of the best legal systems in the world. An established legal practice in the US can benefit the career of any lawyer. There is, however, cut-throat competition with the biggest and brightest legal minds in the country who have graduated from world-class legal departments such as Harvard, Stanford, and Columbia Law Schools. Practising law may be easy but it is difficult to establish a mark in the US, especially for foreign lawyers. In this article, we will simplify and explain the requirements that are needed to practise law in the US for an Indian Lawyer.
The USA has a Common Law System. Fortunately, India also has a common law system. This makes it easier to pursue law in the USA if you have a degree obtained from India. Being a true federal system, all states have different requirements for admission to the Bar.
Choose the State Where You Wish to Practice: -
All states in the United States have different requirements to be admitted to the bar. This is a result of the federal structure of the US. It allows all the federal states to develop their own rules and process for admission. Choosing a state depends on a number of personal as well as impersonal factors. The choice is made by the lawyer at his discretion depending on his preferences.
Once you select a state, you may apply for the Bar Examination in that state in order to be a practising lawyer there. Appearing for the Bar Exam is compulsory in order to practise. For the purpose of this article, we will be referring to New York as it is one of the most sought-after states for foreign lawyers. New York is preferred as it is easier to be a lawyer in New York compared to other states in the US, more so as it is also considered the financial capital of the United States.
Accreditation of Law School by ABA
The ABA or the American Bar Association approves some law schools under itself. Only those approved law school graduates are allowed to appear for bar exams. This is compulsory in the majority of states in the US. This makes it very difficult as foreign law schools do make an entry as they do not have ABA accreditation. Thankfully, the State of New York Bar allows Non-ABA approved law graduates to appear for the law exam as well. Some other states that follow the same practice are the states of Washington & California.
Eligibility and Qualification
In the state of New York, The Rules of the Court of Appeals for the Admission of Attorneys and Counselors at Law have laid down the eligibility for one to appear for the bar exam when they are a foreign applicant i.e. from India or any other foreign state.
A. Rule 520.6 (b) (1) (most applicants will be applying under this provision) has four major eligibility requirements:
Qualifying Degree (520.6 [b] ). The foreign-educated applicant must have fulfilled the educational requirements for admission to the practice of law in a foreign country other than the United States. The applicant must have a qualifying degree, which must be a degree in law.
Accreditation (520.6[b]). The qualifying degree must be from a law school or schools recognized by a competent accrediting agency of the government of the foreign country and must be deemed qualified and approved.
Durational Equivalence (520.6 [b]  [i] [a]). The applicant’s period of law study must be successfully completed. The program of study must also be “substantially” equivalent in duration to a full-time or part-time program required at a law school in the United States approved by the American Bar Association (ABA) and in substantial compliance with the instructional and academic calendar requirements of section 520.3(c)(1)(i) and (ii) and 520.3(d)(1).
Substantial Equivalence (520.3[b]  [i] [b]). The foreign country’s jurisprudence must be based upon the principles of the English Common Law, and the "program and course of law study" successfully completed by the applicant must be the “substantial” equivalent of the legal education provided by an ABA-approved law school in the United States.
According to this, an Indian applicant must have studied at an Indian law school approved by the Bar Council of India. The degree obtained from the Law school must also be recognised by the Bar Council. Lastly, the education must be equivalent to the standards of education in the US in the aspects of duration and common law.
The requirements listed above are similar to the state of Washington where one needs two to three years of experience as a practising lawyer in their jurisdiction.
Online Foreign Evaluation
This is the first step that will kickstart one’s process to enter the New York state bar. The Foreign Evaluation is a process that will pave the way to giving your bar exam. Application for foreign evaluation does not mean that the candidate can appear for the Bar. It has to be submitted before the application is made for the Bar Examination. The foreign evaluation determines the eligibility of the candidate. Applying for the bar exam without receiving determination of eligibility will be risky for the candidate. The candidate also has to submit the following documents that will prove their eligibility.
Taking The Bar Exam
Foreign lawyers who wish to sit for the bar examination should refer to the Comprehensive Guide to Bar Admission Requirements and contact the state board of examiners in the state(s) in which they wish to sit for the bar exam. A directory of state bar admission agencies can be found in the Comprehensive Guide.
The bar exam is taken in several parts over at least two days. Most states will dedicate one day to the Multistate Bar Examination, a multiple choice exam covering topics not specific to the law of any one state, such as Contracts, Torts, Property, Constitutional Law, and Evidence. Another day would cover the law of the specific state in which you are taking the exam. This might be a multiple choice exam, an essay exam, or both. Additionally, the exam may include the Multistate Performance Test, which is designed to evaluate lawyering skills rather than substantive law. Finally, you will need to pass the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam, which tests your knowledge of professional ethics. This exam is administered on a separate occasion from the regular bar exam.
Legal Education In The United States
If you are someone who has undergone his legal education in the United States itself, you may skip the procedures outlined above as you will be directly eligible for the Bar Exam. In the table below we have outlined some of the leading law colleges in the country according to their rankings in the U.S. News & World Report.
Yale Law School (always #1)
Harvard Law School (#2–4)
Stanford Law School (#2–3)
Columbia Law School (#4–5)
University of Chicago Law School (#3–5)
New York University School of Law (#5–6)
University of Pennsylvania Law School (#7–8)
University of Virginia Law School (#7–10)
University of California Berkeley Law School (#6–9)
Duke Law School (#10–11)
University of Michigan Ann Arbor Law School (#7–10)
Northwestern Law School (#10–12)
Cornell Law School (#13–14)
Georgetown Law School (#13–15)
Documents Required for New York Bar Exam: -
Official Transcript(s). Submit a final, official transcript directly from every law school attended that includes the dates of attendance for each period of study, the courses taken and passed for each period of study, the grades, the number of credits, the degree awarded, and the date the degree was awarded.
Degree Certificate. If the official transcript does not clearly state the degree awarded and/or the date such degree was awarded, you must also furnish the degree certificate.
Proof of fulfillment of the educational requirements for admission to the practice of law in a foreign country.
(a) If you are admitted to practice law in a foreign country, attach a copy of your admission certificate, OR
(b) If you are not admitted to practice law in a foreign country, submit proof of the educational requirements for admission to practise law in your country and proof from the bar admission authorities that you have fulfilled these requirements.
- Accreditation. Submit a written statement from the competent accrediting agency of your foreign government that the law school or schools you attended were recognized by them as qualified and approved throughout your period of study.
Further, a written statement that your law school has an affiliation with the National Bar Council also has to be proved.
After the above process is completed, one can apply to appear for the bar examination. The fees that have to be paid during application for the bar exam is $750. This fee is for foreign applicants only. The Bar Examination is a high-quality, uniform battery of tests. It consists of the Multistate Bar Examination (MBE), the Multistate Performance Test (MPT), and the Multistate Essay Examination (MEE). It tests knowledge of general principles of law, legal analysis and reasoning, and communication skills – essentially, it tests the fundamental knowledge and lawyering skills that are needed to begin the practice of law.
The bar exam is ideally for two days where the various sections of the exam are taken in the morning and in the afternoon sessions of the exam. In order to pass the examination, the applicant has to score 266 out of 400. The subjects covered are Administrative Law, Business Relationships, Civil Practice and Procedure, Conflict of Laws, Contracts, Criminal Law and Procedure, Evidence, Matrimonial and Family Law, Professional Responsibility, Real Property, Torts and Tort Damages, and Trusts, Wills and Estates.
LLM Approach in California
As most states in the US only allow ABA-approved law school students to appear for the bar, a foreign lawyer can easily pursue an LLM course in any state ABA-approved college in the US. Again, this is only allowed in a few states such as California. It allows the candidate to sit for the bar exam after a law degree from an ABA college is received. It easily allows one to appear for the bar exams in the state as they completed some of their legal education in the US. The candidate must complete 200 hours of coursework at an LL.M. or other law program, which includes courses in four subjects tested on the California bar exam.
After carrying out all of the above i.e. evaluation, documents, application for the exam, appearing for the exam, etc. there is one key thing that makes your legal career in the US possible. Namely, immigration. As you are immigrating to the US permanently for work there are some aspects that need to be observed in terms of Visa and Immigration.
One can apply for an H1-B visa which is ideally the one provided for people who have completed professional studies and wish to move to the US under such a work visa. There are some requirements that need to be fulfilled and some eligibility criteria. We recommend that hiring an immigration lawyer will simplify these aspects for you.
Extraordinary Ability Visa
The O-1 Extraordinary Ability Visa will allow attorneys who demonstrate they have extraordinary ability to enter the US. There are requirements to prove that you have shown extraordinary ability in your profession in which you should consult an immigration lawyer.
What Are The Top Law Firms Based In The United States?
Kirkland & Elis
DLA Piper LLP
These are certain aspects that have to be considered when one wishes to practise law in the US. Every state has different criteria. Anyone who wishes to work in a particular state is advised to visit the Bar Association website of that state for all the important and relevant details, and for a more comprehensive understanding of the entire process.
Legal Bots wishes you all the best!