Are LL.M. graduates discriminated against?

By Desiree Jaeger-Fine

An LL.M. graduate who would like to take the New York State bar examination is likely familiar with the administrative requirements that come with the advanced evaluation of eligibility.

Section 520.6 of the Rules of the Court of Appeals for the Admission of Attorneys and Counselors at Law (22 NYCRR 520.6) stipulates the eligibility requirements for applicants who wish to qualify for the New York State bar examination based on the study of law in a foreign country.

Whenever I talk to LL.M. students about this requirement, I hear the frustration in their voice, and it doesn’t take long for someone to mention “discrimination.” “New York does not want international students to become attorneys here and they make it increasingly more difficult for us.”

It is true that the rules and regulations are changing and that the process is becoming more involved. However, it is not true that the rules are making it difficult for international law students per se.

The rules clearly state that they apply to those “who wish to qualify for the New York State bar examination based on the study of law in a foreign country.” “Based on the study of law in a foreign country” is the important phrase here. An LL.M. graduate who would like to sit for the New York Bar Exam is applying based on the study of law in a foreign country plus an LL.M. degree.

The rules do not state “any student with foreign citizenship is required to do the advanced evaluation of eligibility.” There is a very big difference between the two. The law student’s citizenship or visa status in not mentioned in the rules once and is irrelevant to eligibility. Any U.S. citizen who pursued her law degree abroad goes through exactly the same process when seeking eligibility for the New York bar.

At this point I hear: “But why are LL.M. graduates treated differently than J.D. graduates?” The answer is: Because a J.D. is different than an LL.M. degree. How can one even begin to compare a two-semester degree with a six-semester degree?

They are two different degrees and as such require different treatment. Any international attorney is welcome to do a J.D. However, many choose to do the shorter and cheaper LL.M. degree. With that choice come consequences. If you choose to buy an apple, you will not complain to the vendor that it doesn’t taste like a banana.

So, if we choose an LL.M., we cannot subsequently complain that it is not like a J.D. It is not. It is a completely different legal education.

There are 195 countries in the world, and the Board of Law Examiners is looking at each applicant’s papers no matter where they come from. I am not aware of another country where a foreign attorney can become admitted after nine months of law study.

This is an extraordinary opportunity, and I wished more would see it as such. If you choose the LL.M., choose it wholeheartedly. Be grateful for the opportunity, do what is required and become an attorney in New York State. I will never forget the day of my swearing in after nine months of law study in the U.S. I will forever be grateful to New York State for this amazing opportunity.

Desiree Jaeger-Fine is director of International Programs at Brooklyn Law School and author of "A Short & Happy Guide to Networking" (West Academic Publishing) and "A Short & Happy Guide to Being Hired" (West Academic Publishing).