International Students Becoming a Lawyer in the United States
The international student seeking a law degree in the United States must plan their educational track carefully and as early as possible in order to succeed. The international student who wishes to practice law in the United States may encounter confusion in the law school admission process. One of the main difficulties the student will face is the varying criterion of each of the individual states. Each state has its own criteria for a student wishing to be admitted to that state’s bar. There are, however, two basic criteria that seem to cross all state lines.
Most states require all students to earn a Juris Doctor degree that has the approval of the American Bar Association. At this time, these accredited schools are only located within the United States and are not available online. If a foreign student earned a law degree, or any portion thereof, in another country, they will not be eligible for the state bar exam in most states. There are currently five states that do recognize international attorney eligibility. These five states are Alabama, California, New York, New Hampshire, and Virginia.
While these five states allow foreign attorneys the ability to gain admission to the Bar, the process can be long and difficult. The first step is approval of their law degree by the American Bar Association. If the ABA approves of the candidate, they are then able to take that state’s bar exam just as any applicant would. Once they have passed that state’s bar exam, it is possible that the foreign candidate could practice law in other states based upon an agreement of reciprocity among states.
For the foreign law student who is just starting out, the process would be simpler if the student was able to gain a student visa, earn their undergraduate degree, and attend law school in the U.S. This process leads to other complications however, because of the already difficult process of gaining entry into the few accredited law schools available. For instance, the foreign student, just as the domestic candidate, must navigate through the admissions process, submit their essay, make housing and living arrangements, and tackle financial aid.
International students will also have to prove their abilities through extra curricular activities and prior test scores. If a foreign student doesn’t have an SAT score, it may be an arduous process trying to get transfer grades approved. Another consideration is command of the English language. The international student must receive good marks on the TOEFL or IELTS exams. Law schools will verify that students know how to read and write English.
Many schools also limit the number of international students they will allow for that calendar year. Often this number is as low as ten percent of the student admissions. It is estimated that the number of international students wishing to earn a degree in the U.S. will more than triple in the coming years. With schools strapped for money, international students may appeal to more and more universities as they pay a higher fee for attendance and offer a diversity of culture to the student population.