Where Foreign-trained lawyers can take the bar exam

The National Jurist contacted George Edwards, a law professor at Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law, in Indianapolis, and author of LL.M. Roadmap, to ask about bar exam options for foreign-trained lawyers. Here is his response:

There are 30 U.S. jurisdictions that permit non-U.S.-trained law graduates to become members of their bar. These jurisdictions include 27 states, the District of Columbia (Washington, D.C.), Palau, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Each state has a different set of requirements for LL.M. graduate bar admission. A great place to get general information about bar admission requirements for all states is the Comprehensive Guide to Bar Admission Requirements 2014  

There are two basic paths to bar admission in the U.S.: 1) Admission by examination (sitting for the state’s bar exam); and 2) Admission not by examination (a “waiver” is granted so the person does not have to sit for the particular state’s bar exam).

Generally, non-U.S.-trained lawyers must sit for a state’s bar examination if they want to become full members of the bar of that particular state. In limited instances, some states may excuse a candidate from taking the bar, and permit a bar “waiver” based on admission to the bar of another state, practice in another state for a certain period, and other criteria. The Comprehensive Guide to Bar Admission Requirements indicates the U.S. jurisdictions that permit waivers for graduates of non-U.S. law schools when those individuals are admitted to practice in another U.S. jurisdictions include D.C., Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Ohio, Oregon, Vermont, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The Comprehensive Guide lists some states as having particular criteria for eligibility to sit for their bar exam. Some states permit you to sit for their bar exam based in part on your being a member of another U.S. bar. So, you might join one bar first and use that bar admission to gain entry to the bar exam of one of these other states (E.g., Alabama, Alaska, California, Florida, Maryland, Missouri, New Mexico, U.S. Virgin Islands)

Some states appear to require you to have law practice experience in a foreign jurisdiction (E.g., Alabama, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, Vermont, and Wisconsin).

Some states call for additional education at an ABA-approved law school (E.g., Alabama, Alaska, California, D.C., Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, and Wisconsin), and some of these states, like New York, have strict requirements about the U.S. law school educational requirements. Some states require 24 or more credit hours of legal education at a U.S. school, while others require fewer (e.g., Louisiana requires only “14 credit at an American law school”).

Some states require legal education in English common law (E.g., Alabama, Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, New Hampshire, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia, Wisconsin)