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