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Qualifying at the US Bar

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Generally the United States' 'legal market' is open to anyone with basic legal qualifications. Because of the jurisdiction in the fifty different states I have chosen the New York and California Bars as examples, in order to demonstrate how the system in America works.

The New York Bar

For the New York Bar, eligibility can only be determined by the New York Board of Law Examiners. It is the responsibility of each applicant to confirm their eligibility with the Board of Examiners. The minimum requirement is a 2:2 degree or its equivalent. The candidate must have completed a three year law degree in order to sit for the Bar examinations. The applicant must also be over 21 years of age. In order to open up the market the applicant is not required to be a resident of New York State or even a citizen of the United States.

The student must demonstrate that he has completed the degree in a law school approved in the country in which it is located and he must also satisfy the Board of Examiners that the degree that he has studied was based on the English Common Law.

The New York Bar examinations themselves are divided into several parts. The New York portion of the examination is based on procedural and substantive law. In addition candidates must sit for the multi-state bar examination paper which involves 200 multiple choice questions prepared by the National Conference of Bar Examiners. This part of the examination can be taken in another jurisdiction as it is common to all of the 50 states. The third part of the examination is important; this is the multi-state professional responsibility examination. No applicant can be admitted to the New York Bar without successfully completing all these examinations. The multi-state professional responsibility examination consists of multiple choice questions in the field of professional responsibility but is administered by the National Conference of bar examiners. The examinations are held three times a year in March, August and November. The examinations are conducted in Albany, the capital of New York State.

On passing the examination the candidate is certified as a member of the New York Bar.

The Californian Bar

The Californian Bar is open to candidates who have at least a 2:2 law degree. There are two categories of applicants in California. These are called 'general applicants' and 'attorney applicants'.

General Applicants

General Applicants must be at least 18 years of age and of good moral character. They must have graduated from a college or university approved by the American Bar Association or the Department of Education. Applicants are considered from those with a US law degree, those who have passed the Bar examinations of a sister state in the United States and also from candidates who have obtained similar qualifications overseas where the Common Law of England constitutes the basis of jurisdiction.

Attorney Applicants

Attorney applications must be from other sister states who wish to be admitted to the Californian Bar. A lawyer who is licensed to practice in a country other than the United States must sit for the General Bar Examination no matter how long the candidate has practiced in his or her native country.

The examination consists for four parts:
  • The Californian State Bar examination which is an essay test.
  • The Multi-state Bar examination.
  • The Californian State Bar examination which unlike the essay test is a performance test involving drafting inter-relational skills, negotiation etc.
  • The Multi-State Professional Responsibility Examination which involves some accounts and ethics.
On successful completion of the examination the applicant is certified as a member of the Californian Bar.

Those candidates who are attorney applicants only need to sit for the Multi-State Professional Responsibility Examination if the pass mark in the state in which they have taken the examination is lower than the pass mark for California.

American Bar Association (ABA)


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