Every year more than 5,700 graduates of non-U.S. law schools take a state bar exam, 80 percent of them in New York. But the results are not pretty. Only 34 percent pass the exam in New York, and a dismal 13% pass in California.
But it’s not that foreign attorneys are less capable than U.S. trained attorneys.
“Most of these students are the best and brightest,” said Steve Marietti, executive director at Kaplan PMBR. “But there are structural disadvantages.”
Marietti, whose company offers a specialized bar exam prep course for foreign attorneys, said there are three primary challenges. First, English is a second language for most.
“They have been practicing attorneys in their home country, but now they have to do it in their non-native language,” he said.
Second, even though they may have received an LL.M. in the U.S., they did not have to take the foundational subjects that U.S. law students take in their first year in law school — torts, contracts, property and U.S. Constitutional law.
Third, many come from a country with a different legal sytem — civil law instead of common law.
“The key to our program is addressing those areas of weakness such that students arrive to the exam on equal footing with J.D. students,” Marietti said.
Kaplan does this by starting the bar prep three months before J.D students get started. That means the students will be studying for the bar exam while finishing their LL.M.
The program starts with a writing workshop that focuses on key terms, and provides quizzes and personal guidance throughout.
“Many students come in not even really understanding what a bar exam is and how it will test them,” he said. “We make sure they get what they need to pass the exam.”
Kaplan has had great success with bar pass rates, as have had other programs like Pieper Bar Review and others.