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International Students and the U.S. Bar Exam

GUEST BLOG Makenzie Way, 1L at the University of Pennsylvania Law School

              For countries, outside of the commonwealth it is still possible to gain admittance to the U.S. bar, however it may take a different route.

This week I decided to look to Reddit for inspiration in my blog post topic.

One question, in particular, caught my eye as it dealt with foreigners, or foreign degree holders taking the US bar exam. As a Canadian citizen, the particulars surrounding the US bar entrance requirements have been a topic of conversation since before applying to law school, so I figured I could shed some light for those who may be curious.

If you’re like me, from a commonwealth county, you’re in luck! Gaining admittance to the US bar is fairly easy. First, you need to obtain a J.D. degree from a recognized law school within your country (or the U.S.A.). Second, once you’ve graduated from law school you can then apply to those state bars you’re interested in. Generally speaking you will be able to sit for any state bar exam, however, a degree from certain universities automatically grants eligibility to specific states, thus reducing the amount of paperwork you need to do. For instance, J.D. students at the University of Toronto can automatically write the New York bar upon graduation.

For countries, outside of the commonwealth, it is still possible to gain admittance to the U.S. bar, however it may take a different route. A number of countries follow a similar process to Canada whereby their universities receive automatic recognition from the United States bar associations, and therefore students are able to apply their foreign degree automatically towards the bar exam requirements. For those whose degree isn’t recognized automatically, no need to panic. While it may not be ideal, nearly all J.D. holders are able to enroll in a one to two year LLM program within the United States. Completion of the LLM program entitles LLM graduates to sit for the bar within the United States.

As a general rule, foreigners are not required to have secured employment within the U.S. to satisfy the requirements for the bar exam. Instead, the eligibility for the bar rests on a recognized J.D. or LLM degree, and satisfactory records. Unlike U.S. citizens, the U.S. government will not have direct access to your personal records (i.e. criminal, academic, work, and financial), thus as part of a foreign application for the U.S. bar applicants must supply these records to the satisfaction of the bar committee.