Foreigner’s Guide: How to Become a Lawyer in the United States?

Back-to-school season inspired me to finally write a post about becoming a lawyer in the United States. People often ask me: “Can you become a lawyer if you’re not a US citizen?” The answer is YES. However, this career path for a foreigner can be really challenging and daunting at times. There are primarily two ways to gain the ability to practice law in the United States.

OPTION 1: Graduate from college (either in or outside the United States) and from American law school with a Juris Doctor (“JD”) degree

How long does it take? ¬†6-8¬†years (3-5 years of college depending on where you’re studying + 3 years of law school)

What else do you have to do? Pass MPRE (or so-called ethics exam) and a bar exam in a state of your choice as well as successfully submit character and fitness application in order to get admitted to practice in that state. The actual requirements vary from state to state. For instance, in New York, a candidate also needs to pass New York Law Exam before becoming eligible to sit for the bar. On the other hand, Wisconsin offers Diploma Privilege program, which allows people who graduated from law school with a JD in Wisconsin to secure a license without taking the bar there.

OPTION 2: Graduate from law school outside the United States and enroll in LLM program in an American law school

How long does it take? 5 to 6 years (depending on duration of law school in your home country or any other country where you decided to study + 1 year of LLM degree)

What else do you have to do? Same as in OPTION 1, but not all states allow students with an LLM degree to sit for the bar exam. The most popular states to take the bar as a foreigner include New York and California. However, please note that having the LLM degree is not a 100% guarantee to gain the eligibility to sit for the bar.

Before making a decision to become a lawyer in the US, you need to do a lot of research. All in all, it’s a time-consuming process. Also remember that the bar exam in each state takes place only twice a year – in February and in July, and you need to apply quite far in advance. But nothing is impossible!

In the next few weeks, I’ll cover topics regarding applying to law school in the United States. Let me know if you have any other questions regarding studying law in the US, and I’ll be happy to answer them.


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