Each U.S. state and similar jurisdiction (e.g. territories under federal control) sets its own rules for bar admission, as a result of the separate sovereignty of the states and their respective court systems as guaranteed by the Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. In practice, this leads to different standards among states as to how bar admission works.
In general, a prospective lawyer will need to pass a state-administered bar exam after earning a Juris Doctor degree from a law school approved by the state in which he/she wants to practice. Typically, there is also a character and fitness evaluation, along with a background check.
Because each state has its own bar, a lawyer who is admitted to practice in one state is not automatically allowed to practice in another. Some states have reciprocal agreements that allow attorneys from other states to practice without sitting for another full bar exam. These agreements differ significantly among the states.
Many states allow some foreign-educated lawyers to take the bar examination. For example:
- New York allows individuals with at least three years of formal education in the common law (such as English or Australian law) to take the bar exam. Individuals with two years of common law training or three years of civil law training may take the bar exam after completing a one-year Master of Laws (LL.M.) program at an American institution.
- Washington allows individuals admitted "to the practice of law by examination, together with current good standing, in ... any jurisdiction where the common law of England is the basis of its jurisprudence, and active legal experience for at least 3 of the 5 years immediately preceding the filing of the application."
Historically, the LL.M. degree is an element particular to the education system of English speaking countries, which is based on a distinction between Bachelor's and Master's degrees. Over the past years, however, specialized LL.M. programs have been introduced in many European countries.
In Europe different countries as in Belgium and France a Master's degree is one of the conditions to obtain a licence. Due to the Bologna process in these french speaking countries a BAC +5, a five year study divided into Bachelor and Master, are necessary.
Denmark and Switzerland requires a masters with an additional two years to become a lawyer. A person with "only" a LL.M is called a jurist.
In Finland an LL.M is the standard graduate degree required to practice law. No other qualifications are required.
Browse through the American Bar Association's database on Foreign Law Graduates; and choose the content and U.S state you may be interested in.
The Albany Law School's Master of Laws degree, LL.M. program for International Law graduates is designed for international (foreign educated) law graduates who seek to qualify for admission to the New York State or other state bar. Read the School's Admission requirements.
Find other Master of Laws degree program in other schools (in the state you may be interested in) and contact that particular school.
Also read and learn about the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE) of the United states.