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WES Advisor Blog

Law Licensure

by Lisa Levi,

WES Education Services

September 27, 2022

Licensure is required to work as an Attorney at Law or Lawyer, a Law Clerk, or a Judge.

Licensing requirements for internationally trained lawyers vary by state. Each state has a bar association that regulates licenses.

Bar Exam:

You must successfully pass the bar examination for your state to be eligible for licensure.

Each state used to administer its own bar exam, but the Uniform Bar Examination (UBE) is now accepted in 39 states and 2 territories. While each state still sets its own standards for eligibility to take the UBE and minimum acceptable scores, the score that you earn is now portable to any other participating state.

  • If your state does not accept the UBE, contact your state bar association to find out more about their bar exam.

Most states also require the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination as well as character and fitness assessments, whether or not they participate in the UBE.

Educational Requirements:

A Juris Doctor (JD) degree from an American Bar Association (ABA)-approved program is generally required in order to take the bar exam, although there are many exceptions.

  • To find out the exact eligibility requirements of the state in which you are seeking licensure, always contact your state bar association.

However, internationally trained lawyers rarely need to repeat their entire legal education to become eligible for licensure in the U.S., although you will most likely have to obtain some additional education. Many internationally trained lawyers qualify for two-year advanced standing JD programs.

  • While a regular JD program takes three years of full-time study to complete, an advanced standing JD gives you one year of credit for your non-U.S. law degree, and only takes two years to complete. Obtaining a JD degree will qualify you to take the bar exam for licensure in any state.
  • 16 U.S. states and 5 territories do not allow internationally trained lawyers to take the bar exam without a JD degree from an ABA-approved law school. An advanced standing JD meets this requirement.

In California, New York, Washington, and Wisconsin, graduates of non-U.S. law schools also have the option of taking the bar exam if they complete a one-year, ABA-approved Master of Laws (LLM) program. Many other states also offer an LLM pathway to licensure provided additional stricter requirements have been met, such as holding active licensure in your country of legal education, or having worked as a licensed lawyer in that country for a certain number of years.

  • While earning an LLM degree takes half the time of an advanced standing JD, it does limit your options to later move to another state and obtain licensure there, as many states do not accept this pathway.

A few states, including but not limited to California, Illinois, New York, and Texas, allow internationally trained lawyers to take the bar exam with NO additional legal education if they meet certain educational or professional requirements.

Credential Evaluations:

Your application to any U.S. LLM or advanced standing JD program must include a credential evaluation, which compares the legal education you received outside the United States to a similar educational program in the U.S. Most ABA-approved law schools require that internationally educated applicants to each kind of program obtain a specific credential evaluation.

This information is not comprehensive, and may vary with time and location. Always contact your state bar association before starting the licensure process to find out exactly what they require.

For more detailed licensure information, see “Navigating the Legal Field in the United States.”

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