8 steps to be admitted as an international attorney in New York

By Desiree Jaeger-Fine

The New York Bar examination is the bar exam of choice for many foreign attorneys, not because of its ease but because of the rules that permit international attorneys to sit for it. Many other states require a U.S. J.D. degree to sit for their exams, but New York does not.

Let’s have a look at what is required to be admitted as an international attorney in New York State:

  1. Complete an LL.M. (if you need to cure the substantive or durational educational deficiency)
  2. Pass the UBE
  3. Take the New York Law Course
  4. Pass the New York Exam
  5. Pass the MPRE
  6. Complete the 50-hour Pro Bono Requirement
  7. Satisfy the New Skills Requirement (for applicants beginning their LL.M. studies in or after fall 2018)
  8. Pass the Character and Fitness Evaluation  


Complete an LL.M.

A foreign attorney, whether educated in a common Law or non-common law country, whose legal education is not of sufficient duration or not substantively equivalent to an ABA-approved law school program, may cure the durational or substantive deficiency with an LL.M. degree that meets certain requirements. Your law school should be able to guide you on the specific course requirements needed during your LL.M. studies.


The Uniform Bar Examination(UBE)

What is the UBE?

Since each state regulates its own bar admission, each state also administers the bar exam differently, and admittance to one state does not automatically allow admittance to another. So, if you took the New York bar exam and now seek to practice in California, you would have to take the California bar exam to become admitted there, as well. The UBE seeks to change that in that it allows for a portable score to simplify admittance to another jurisdiction. 


What does the UBE mean for L.L.M students? 

Not much. What the UBE accomplishes for J.D. students, a portable score to ease admission in another jurisdiction, it does not for international LL.M. graduates. The UBE does not offer LL.M. students an easier path to move between states since the rules of admission in each state remain in effect. In 2016, The New York Court of Appeals decided to adopt the UBE. The Court of Appeals' Notice to the Bar about adopting the UBE did not list any amendments to the section of the rules that are dealing with foreign lawyers, but LL.M. students should keep their eyes and ears open about any changes that may affect foreign attorneys seeking to sit for the exam. The eligibility requirements for the New York bar exam thus remain unchanged. 


Take the New York Law Course (NYLC)

The NYLC is an on-demand online course with approximately 15 hours of video lectures on New York law. It covers the following subjects: 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. The video lectures are embedded with questions which must be answered correctly before you can continue viewing the lecture.


Pass the New York Law Exam (NYLE)

The NYLE is a two-hour, open book test consisting of 50 multiple choice questions. The test is administered online and offered four times a year. You can register for the exam only if you have completed the NYLC. However, you can take the NYLC and NYLE up to one year before and three years after you first sit for the UBE.

International LL.M. students are often stunned to hear that a bar exam would be open book. The exam is structured in a way that looking into the books will not help you if you do not understand how to properly conduct legal reasoning and solve legal issues. 


Pass the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE) 

The MPRE is a two-hour, 60-question multiple-choice examination developed by the National Conference of Bar Examiners. The test is administered three times per year. The purpose of the MPRE is to measure your knowledge and understanding of standards related to the professional conduct of lawyers. The MPRE is not a test to determine your personal ethical values. The law governing the conduct of lawyers in diverse roles is applied in disciplinary and bar admission procedures, and by courts in dealing with issues of appearance, representation, privilege, disqualification, and contempt or other censure, and in lawsuits seeking to establish liability for malpractice and other civil or criminal wrongs committed by a lawyer while acting in a professional capacity.


Complete Pro-Bono Requirement 

Applicants to the New York bar must demonstrate that they have performed 50 hours of qualifying pro-bono service before applying for admission to practice. The pro-bono requirement for bar admission is intended to ease the gap in legal assistance and to provide instructive and meaningful experiences to law students that will expose them to the pressing needs of the less fortunate. 

LL.M. students may engage in their 50 hours of qualifying pro-bono service up to one year before the commencement of the LL.M. program. LL.M. candidates may perform some or all of their 50 hours of qualifying work in the United States or in their home country, either during or after the LL.M. program. 

Even if you are admitted to practice in a foreign jurisdiction, the 50 hours of pro-bono work must be law-related, and an attorney admitted to practice in a jurisdiction must complete the supervisor certification on the Affidavit of Compliance that must be filed with your admission application. Additionally, the supervisory work must not violate any statute, regulation or code regarding the unauthorized practice of law. 


New Skills Requirement 

Additionally, foreign educated lawyers who are required to complete an LL.M. at an ABA approved law school and who commence their LL.M. studies after August 1, 2018 must comply with a new Skills Competency Requirement. 

The skills competency requirement can be satisfied in 4 different ways:

1. You can satisfy the skills competency and professional values requirement by submitting a law school certificate stating that you have acquired sufficient competency in skills and values identified by the law school and incorporated into their curriculum. Law schools are currently working on implementing this new rule into their LL.M. programs. You should ask your law school what courses you need to take to satisfy this rule, although law schools are required to publish this information on their websites.

2.You can further satisfy the skills competency and professional values requirement by submitting proof that you completed 15 credits of practice-based experiential coursework designed to foster professional competency training. Up to 6 of these 15 credits can be earned in law school certified non-credit-bearing summer employment programs, provided those employment opportunities are certified by the law school and satisfy certain other criteria.

3. You can also satisfy the skills competency and professional values requirement upon completion of a post-graduate, six-month apprenticeship in the United States, or in a foreign country, under the supervision of an attorney authorized to practice in the jurisdiction where the work is performed. The apprenticeship can be paid or unpaid. The supervising attorney is responsible for certifying that the apprenticeship satisfied certain criteria.

4. Finally, if you have been authorized to practice law in another U.S. state or a foreign country, and have practiced in that jurisdiction full-time for one year, or part-time for two years, you will meet the skills competency and professional values requirement.


Pass the Character and Fitness Evaluation 

Once you have passed all necessary exams and fulfilled all requirements, you are ready for the Character and Fitness Evaluation. 

A complete application consists of the application questionnaire, all required forms and supporting documentation, including two Affidavits of Good Moral Character, and Legal Employment Affidavits from every law-related position you have held, including paid or unpaid internships, summer associate positions, volunteer work in law school clinics or elsewhere. The application materials also include law school certificates for you to fill out and send to every law school you attended. The law school then fills out its portion of the form and sends it directly to the Committee.

This part is easy in that it is a formality and tough in that it has strict requirements that can put international attorneys in difficult positions. Since international students need to submit notarized affidavits from their home country (school and employers) it requires asking former employers and law schools to fill out a form about your moral character and notarize it. A U.S. notary is different than a notary in many other countries and it may seem odd to ask our former employers to go to a notary. Well, that's what we must do, and I know that even though it is uncommon, employers are very happy to help our career development and try their very best to do what is necessary. This requires obviously that we have a good relationship with all of our former employers, including those we interned or clerked with. While this should be true in any case, knowing that we will return to them with a request to fill out and notarize a form may emphasize the importance of a good relationship. Once all forms are submitted you will be invited to a 10-minute interview during which your application materials will be discussed.  If no notable incidents like a prior criminal record are present, the interview is an easy conversation. 

Once you have completed these steps, you will be sworn in as an attorney in New York State, a day I will never forget.



Desiree Jaeger-Fine is principal of Jaeger-Fine Consulting, LLC, a career management firm for international attorneys in New York, and author of A Short & Happy Guide to Networking (West Academic Publishing).