Whether or not you have already practiced law in your home country, you may be considering sitting for the bar in one of the states of the United States of America this upcoming exam season. To help you navigate this important decision, this article briefly outlines the benefits of passing the bar and things you should consider when choosing a bar exam study program.
There are Great Benefits to Passing the Bar as a Foreign Lawyer
Perhaps you, like many international law students, are pursuing a Master of Law (LLM) degree. If you fall into this category, congratulations on seeking or obtaining this wonderful achievement!
To hopefully state the obvious, you likely already know that, while this impressive law certification has global credibility and allows individuals to obtain a niche specialty through advanced legal study, obtaining an LLM will not allow you to actually practice law as an attorney. As such, you may be interested and eager to sit for the bar so that you can practice law, perhaps in the area your LLM focused on!
Of course, your end goal does not need to be practicing law in a specialized area of law (or in any area of law, frankly) in order to want to sit for the bar. Perhaps you understand that passing the bar will look stunning on your resume, regardless of whether or not you want to work in the United States, your home country, or in another country altogether! Passing the bar shows that you are capable of navigating at least the basics of the law in the United States, which is no small feat. Further, it shows that you are able to work hard, remain accountable, master new concepts, and read and write at least moderately well in the English language – all of which are attractive qualities many employers look for when wading through their applicant pool for new hires.
Regardless, you never know what your future holds, and passing the bar gives you the freedom to practice law in at least one state in the Unites States. Moreover, once you pass the bar in one state, you may be able to practice law in another state without taking that state’s bar exam, depending on what is referred to as its “reciprocity rules.” Needless to say, this opens up your job prospects and opportunities, which is never a bad thing!
You Can Pass the Bar Even if You Did Not Study Law in the United States
As a foreign lawyer preparing for the bar, you may be concerned that law students trained in the United States have a significant advantage over you. Do not let this fear stop you. While a test written in English is certainly initially easier for U.S. trained students, everyone who wants to sit for the bar needs to spend a significant amount of time studying and preparing for it. You may find that you are better equipped for this than your American counterparts!
Regardless, like American law students, foreign lawyers should consider taking a bar review course to prepare for the bar. Several are available, so you want to make sure to study the differences before financially committing.
In considering what bar prep program is best for you, if you really struggle with English, you may want to study longer and wait until the next bar season. To be clear, when I say “English,” I mean American English as opposed to British or Indian English. You will be tested in American English, and there are some differences between the three when it comes to legal terms of art.
Ideally, you can get ready this season, so consider purchasing a program that offers recorded videos. With recorded lectures, you can always listen to a lesson again if a particular section was too difficult to get through the first time. That said, listening to lectures is a passive study method, so don’t rely on them too heavily. You want to use approximately half of your study time with proactive study methods, such as taking practice essays or completing sets of multiple choice questions.
Additionally, consider purchasing a program that offers one-on-one tutoring (we offer such a program, so check it out!). While programs with a one-on-one component are beneficial for all bar applicants, they can be particularly helpful for foreign lawyers and English as a second Language (or ESL) applicants. For example, our tutors find that video chats with ESL students work really well, because tutors can pick up on non-verbal cues that indicate a student is confused. This allows for real-time communication about an issue, so that you can hammer the issue repeatedly and from different angles if necessary until it makes sense. Other programs without this individualized component keep chugging along through new material, whether or not you are ready for it! Further, while some programs offer written feedback on essays (and this is something you really should look for in any program you choose), having all of your essays go to one tutor helps you identify common themes and areas to improve upon across all subject matters, which can save time and help you make improvements across the board.
The Change in California from a Three-Day Exam to a Two-Day Exam
If you are taking the bar exam in California, you should already know that the exam is being scaled back from a three-day exam to a two-day exam. The differences are talked about in greater detail here, but I wanted to note a few things for you foreign-trained attorney to consider.
- First, this change may help you, because the performance test has been substantially reduced. Instead of two 3-hour performance tests (PTs), there will only be one 90-minute performance test. This means that the weight given to the writing portion will substantially reduced, which will really help those of you that are not entirely comfortable reading quickly in English (and, frankly, many of your English-only speaking counterparts may enjoy this change for the same reason!).
- Second, because the PT section is smaller, the MBE section is going to carry more weight. This is great if you are better at taking multiple choice questions than answering essays. However, because correct answers can turn on a single word or phrase (consider, for example, “shall” versus “may” and “intentionally” versus “accidentally”), you have to reach each word carefully before filling in your answer sheet.
- Finally, because you were educated or practiced law outside of the United States, you need to file paperwork that exempts you from having a Social Security number if you do not have one.
- To find out more about the requirements for foreign applicants to sit for the California bar, click here.
To conclude, I remain incredibly impressed by students who not only take the bar, but brave a foreign language in order to obtain their professional goals. I tip my hat to you and praise your drive and determination. Best wishes on your incredibly impressive journey. My colleagues and I are here to help if you need it! To learn more tips on taking the bar when English is your second language, check out these other helpful posts: