Foreign law graduates may be eligible to take the New York Bar Exam directly based on their foreign legal qualification. The specific requirements for foreign-educated applicants are outlined in Section 520.6 of the Rules of the Court of Appeals in New York. Here is a breakdown of the major requirements:
Durationally and Substantively Equivalent
You must have completed a programme of study at a law school outside the United States that is both durationally and substantively equivalent to a programme of study at an ABA-approved law school in the United States. This means that your foreign law degree must be comparable in terms of the length and content of the curriculum to that of a US Juris Doctor degree. If you complete your common law degree full-time on campus in three years, your foreign qualification is likely to be deemed durational and substantively equivalent.
Durationally But Not Substantively Equivalent
If your foreign law degree is deemed durationally equivalent but not substantively equivalent to a US Juris Doctor degree, you will be required to complete an additional programme of study at an ABA-approved law school in the United States. This is likely the case if your law degree is a civil law degree rather than a common law degree. You should also make sure that your law degree is a purely common law degree, as a hybrid civil and common law degree is unlikely to be deemed substantively equivalent. If this is the case, you will need to cure the substantive deficiencies in your qualification by completing an LLM degree at an ABA-approved law school.
Substantively But Not Durationally Equivalent
If your foreign law degree is deemed substantively equivalent but not durational equivalent to a US Juris Doctor degree, you will be required to complete an additional programme of study at an ABA-approved law school in the United States. This is likely the case if you completed your common law degree, whether an LLB or Juris Doctor, in just two years, so a senior status LLB or 2-year Juris Doctor from a law school outside the United States may not be deemed durationally equivalent. You may need to cure the durational deficiencies in your qualification by completing an LLM at an ABA-approved law school.
It is important to note that an LLM from an ABA-approved law school can only cure durational or substantive deficiencies, but not both. This means if your foreign law degree falls short of the substantive and durational requirements, you cannot complete an ABA-approved LLM in order to become eligible for the New York Bar Exam. The evaluation of your legal qualification is primarily based on your qualifying law degree, so even if you have also completed another legal qualification, such as the LPC (Legal Practice Course) or BTC (Bar Training Course) in the UK, or the PCLL (Postgraduate Certificate in Laws) in Hong Kong, or an LLM outside the United States, the qualification will not be counted towards the durational requirement, unless you have been admitted to practise law in a common law jurisdiction and you have also completed an LLM at an ABA-approved law school.
The evaluation of your foreign law degree and the determination of additional educational requirements are conducted by the New York State Board of Law Examiners. Foreign law graduates must complete a Foreign Evaluation Form online and submit supporting documents including academic transcripts, and pay an evaluation fee of $750. The documents must come directly from issuing institutions in a sealed envelope and must be the original or certified copy.
If you think you will likely be required to obtain an LLM from an ABA-approved law school, you are advised to file a request for evaluation of eligibility at least one year in advance. If you think your law degree likely meet the durational and substantive requirements, you are advised to file a request for evaluation at least 6 months before applying to take the bar exam.