USA Manhattan Skyline with the One World Trade Center building at twilight

Foreign-Qualified Lawyers – v – US Attorneys

Foreign-Qualified Lawyers wanting to practice in the US?

The United States (US) has one of the most all-embracing legal services sectors globally and provides an invaluable opportunity to practice law making it a popular opportunity for foreign-qualified lawyers to cross the pond. But as a ‘foreign-qualified lawyer’ what do you need to practice in the US? In short, it depends on the state that you intend on qualifying into and the state-specific qualifications required.

Thankfully, it’s a comparatively undemanding transition as both jurisdictions are based on common law. The principal difference is that US states have certain judicial and legislative powers, allowing states to develop their own requirements for lawyers intending to practice within state borders.

States like New York and California (the two most popular state-jurisdictions for foreign-trained lawyers to qualify into) have developed state-specific regulations to admit foreign-trained lawyers more speedily to the bar. The states welcome foreign-qualified lawyers to directly sit the bar, subject to completing their legal education in a system that focuses on the study of the common law, like the LL.B. program. Outside of New York and California, it is typically required that foreign-qualified lawyers either complete their Juris Doctor (J.D.) – three-year full-time program, or an LL.M. – one-year full-time program, at an American Bar Associate-accredited law school.

With these qualifications, foreign-qualified lawyers are then eligible to sit for the bar exam. The state of California invites foreign-qualified lawyers that have fully qualified in their jurisdiction. For England & Wales qualified solicitors this requires having a qualifying law degree, completing the LPC and a training contract, to sit the California bar examination directly.

It’s not impossible, but it’s a commitment!

Being admitted in an additional US state (to waive-in) …. now that’s a different ball game…. If you are admitted in one state and want to practice in another, you may have to shuffle some papers, sit an exam, tick a box, and/or have been practicing for 5+ years’ – options vary, and I would be happy to discuss this on a state-by-state basis.

Final thought – there are many US visas out there, so it can be confusing to know which ones are suitable for foreign-qualified lawyers. Most employment offers in the US will require a visa sponsorship and for foreign-qualified lawyers, are typically pursued via the H1-B or L1-B visas.

The H1-B visa is initiated by an employer in the US. The employer must have an open job position and not be able to find an American employee who is qualified to complete the work. Applications open every year in spring and approximately 85,000 petitions are approved annually starting from October 1 to September 30 of the following year. To note, the H1-B is visa is a total lottery – the selection process is entirely random.

An employer has a two-week period every year in March to submit an H1-B petition and then…. fingers crossed!

The L1-B visa – the Intra Company Transferee visa is a US temporary work visa that allows you to transfer from a company in your foreign country into its US branch, subsidiary, affiliate, or parent company. You will have been employed in another country that is not the US for at least one year in the past three years.

For a confidential chat about the US market, please contact Will Sciarretta.