How Can UK Lawyers Qualify as US Lawyers?

How Can UK Lawyers Qualify as US Lawyers?

UK lawyers who aspire to become qualified attorneys in the US often wonder about the steps involved in the process of requalifying as US attorneys. It is important to know that all foreign lawyers have to pass the bar exam in the state they wish to practise, and UK lawyers are no exception, regardless of their post-qualification experience. So the question is whether you are eligible to sit the bar exam. There are certain requirements that must be met before you can do so. Here is what you need to know:

As England and Wales is a common law jurisdiction, your professional and academic qualifications will likely be recognised as equivalent qualifications in the US. However, you should be aware that not all UK legal qualifications are the same, and the differences between those qualifications will require you to spend more time and money requalifying or will bar you from sitting the bar exam in the state of your choice.

It is worth noting that the US is a vast country with multiple jurisdictions, and each jurisdiction sets its own rules for foreign lawyers to qualify. The differences in those rules will also make a difference when it comes to the time and money you need to spend. Thanks to its huge legal market, New York State is the most popular destination for foreign lawyers seeking to practise law in the US. So we would like to take this state as an example to illustrate how a UK lawyer can become a US lawyer.

It should be noted that the UK is also a country with multiple jurisdictions, and where you obtain your professional and academic qualifications will also have an impact on your route to becoming a qualified US lawyer. As Scotland is not a purely common law jurisdiction, a Scottish law degree is unlikely to be recognised by the New York State Board of Law Examiners (BOLE) as substantively equivalent to a Juris Doctor from a US law school accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA). Unless your Scottish law degree is specifically a common law degree, you will need to spend another year curing the substantive deficiency in your academic qualification by completing an LLM at an ABA-approved law school.

If your academic qualification is a common law degree, you can sit the New York Bar Exam directly provided that you completed your degree full-time on campus in three years. It is because the BOLE requires foreign academic qualifications to be both substantively and durationally equivalent to an ABA-approved Juris Doctor. Therefore, if you qualify as a UK lawyer via the law conversion GDL route, your academic qualification will not be deemed durationally equivalent because it is only a one-year programme. The same may be true for a two-year senior status LLB, subject to the evaluation of foreign qualifications by the BOLE.

If, on top of the GDL, you also complete a one-year Bar Training Course (BTC) or Legal Practice Course (LPC), your academic qualifications will still not be deemed substantively and durationally equivalent. However, the durational requirement can be partly satisfied by combining your academic qualifications with the professional stage of training such as a training contract or pupillage. In this case, you can sit the New York Bar Exam if you have been admitted to practise law in the UK and also completed an LLM at an ABA-approved law school.

If, without a qualifying law degree, you become a qualified lawyer via the newly implemented SQE or CILEX route, without an academic qualification deemed substantively or durationally equivalent to an ABA-approved Juris Doctor, you will not be able to cure your academic deficiency by studying an LLM at an ABA-approved law school because the LLM can only cure the substantive or durational deficiency in your qualifications, but not both. The same is true for online or distancing learning law degree you obtain from a British law school or elsewhere. In this case, you will not be able to sit the New York Bar Exam even if you have been qualified to practise law in a common law jurisdiction.

Once you are allowed to sit the New York Bar Exam which is a Uniform Bar Exam, the next step is of course to pass it. However, passing the bar exam is not the end of your journey because different states may have additional requirements. The BOLE also requires you to study the New York Law Course (NYLC), pass both the New York Law Exam (NYLE) and the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE), and earn 50 hours of pro bono credit before you can be admitted as a New York attorney.
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