Becoming A Lawyer In The U.S. – Foreign Lawyers

I will define “foreign lawyer” to be either:

a graduate of a non-U.S. law school (including Canadian law school graduates); or

a person who is licensed to practise law outside the U.S.

In light of NAFTA and a “global economy”, admission to U.S. state bars is becoming more and more attractive. A number of Canadian law firms have offices in New York. Some of these Canadian law firms practise only Canadian law in the U.S. (foreign legal consultants) and some also practise U.S. law (Torys would be an example). This may have some bearing on the issue of joint LL.B./J.D. programs. On this point see:

Globalization Of The Legal Profession

As the world becomes more and more interconnected, lawyers will find themselves practising law and/or giving legal advice outside their home jurisdictions.

For the synopsis of a lecture exploring this topic see:

In either case the goal is to be admitted to the relevant state bar. In order to be admitted to the bar one must (in most cases) pass the bar exam. In order to pass the bar exam, one must be eligible to take the bar exam.

A general source of information about this issue is the ABA site which is at:

A graduate of any U.S. ABA approved law school is eligible to take the bar exam in any U.S. state.

At the present time the U.S. states of New York and Massachusetts (and perhaps others) allow graduates of Canadian law schools to take their bar exams. Some states may allow those who are admitted to the bar in other countries to take their bar exams. Obviously these rules are subject to rapid change. Keep your eyes on the rules!

For a very interesting and recent account of a Canadian lawyer passing the Arizona bar exam see the following:


5 thoughts on “Becoming A Lawyer In The U.S. – Foreign Lawyers

  1. elaine


    i would like to find out how I can qualify for the New York bar exam as a foreigner. i have one major problem(that I recently learned) i have obtained my LL.B degree in South Africa last year (Im not sure if this site only applies to Canadians) from UNISA which is correspondence and therefor not ABA approved. how do i go about this now? some say i must do a conversion course and others tell me that a week before they had to sit for the NY bar exam they were notified that they cant??? can anyone shed some light on this matter for me.

    thank you


  2. Daniel


    I’m a Canadian citizen, born and raised, got a B.A. from a Canadian university, and currently in a 2-year accelerated LLB program in Scotland.

    Will I be able to sit in a bar exam in NY/Cal?
    What do you suggest?

  3. DR


    Refer to these rules for California — (if you are reading this, the links are current as of Feb 2013 but may change).
    You’ll need foreign education credentialing that demonstrates your law degree to be equivalent to a US Law School (ABA Approved); plus one year of study at a US ABA / California Law School – most people in this category of applicant would do a U.S. LL.M. degree and include the required California couse work during that year.

    Successful completion of these would probably qualify you to sit the bar exam; however, there are other admission requirements as well. At present the admission of foreign degree holders (including whether they will continue to be eligible to sit the bar exam in California or be admitted in future years) is the subject of some debate by the State Bar Board of Trustees. see:

    Either way, the success rate for foreign degree holders on the California Bar Exam is quite low compared to California Law School graduates and even then it is a beast of an exam.

    You should check all of the admission requirements with the State Bar before you do anything including enrolling in a California LL.M. Program because they can change and you do not want to be in a situation where you’re invested and the Bar sees you as not qualifying. You can, and should, get detailed information from the Bar Association well in advance.

    I’ve done exactly this process in 2009-2010 with my Canadian Degree and an LL.M. in Intellectual Property from a top California Law School and succeeded on the Bar Exam but it was complicated, and a lot of very hard work. It can be done.

  4. Michelle

    I am a qualified foreign lawyer from South Africa and would like to know what the requirements are in order for me to be able to practice as a lawyer in Florida. Do I have to do my L-Sat and a conversion course at a local university and what does this entail. Thank you.

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