A U.S. Bar Examination

Foreign trained lawyers who wish to remain in the United States and practice law here are advised to obtain the JD degree rather than the LLM degree. The JD degree will enable candidates to take the bar examination in every state while the LLM degree may qualify them only to take the bar exam in a few states. In addition, foreign trained lawyers with only a U.S. LLM degree who are looking for long term career positions will be at a disadvantage in competing for employment with JD graduates who have more extensive training in US law.

Each year about half of the students in our LLM Program decide to take the New York Bar Examination after they receive their LLM degree. Some will already qualify to take the Examination based upon their prior academic training in the common law. Most of our students, however, will have to combine their prior academic training with an LLM degree in order to qualify. As we point out below, there are “costs” involved in deciding to do that and applicants should consider carefully whether the “benefits” for their careers justify those costs. We recommend that our LLM students discuss with employers in their own countries the need for New York Bar admission before they make the decision to take it.

Since 2011, the New York Court of Appeals and the New York Board of Law Examiners have made major changes to the requirements for foreign trained lawyers to qualify to take the New York Bar Examination and the steps needed to become members of the New York Bar. Given the magnitude of these changes, prospective LLM students should not rely on advice from friends or associates who qualified for New York Bar admission in prior years.

As a practical matter, what the Court and the Board have done with these changes is to create a requirement that a larger portion of an LLM student’s academic program be devoted to what they consider “basic” elements of U.S. law and practice. This means that LLM students who plan to use their LLM course work to qualify to take the New York Bar Examination will wind up taking fewer courses in the more advanced areas of U.S. law – areas where LLM students at Chicago and elsewhere have often preferred to focus their study. There will definitely be a curricular tradeoff in the decision to take the New York Bar Examination and people have to decide if it is worth that price. Additional “costs” include the registration fee to take the examination, the price of a summer preparation bar course which most people will take, and the “opportunity cost” of a lost two months preparing for the examination.

Contrary to what some applicants believe, taking the New York Bar Examination is not a prerequisite for finding a short term position in this country with most employers. This is because the earliest a candidate who passes the Bar Examination in July can be formally admitted to practice is not until January, well after the time when employers will have made their hiring decisions for short term international associates.

If you do decide to take the New York Bar Examination, please see the steps below to (1) qualify to take the Examination and (2) become a member of the New York Bar.

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The first step is to carefully review the section for foreign trained lawyers on the New York Board of Law Examiners webpage. Note especially the section Advance Evaluation of Eligibility. This section describes the process of establishing that you will be eligible to take the Bar Examination once you complete your LLM studies. This process is something that you can and should do now, well before you begin your LLM studies. You do not have to wait until you have been admitted to an LLM program in this country since it involves the submission of documents about your prior legal education and professional experience. The deadline for completing this process for the July Bar examination is October 1 – the year before you want to take the exam. There is no charge for this evaluation and you can always decide not to take the examination even if it is determined that you qualify.

Once you submit this evaluation application, you will get a message from the New York Bar Examiners - usually about six months later – saying that you do not meet the requirements to take the exam. Don’t panic! The message will also say that you can “cure” the weakness in your background by completing an LL.M. program with certain course requirements. Chicago and other schools will inform you about how you will be able to meet these LLM curricular requirements at their respective institutions.

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The second step, if you need to use an LLM degree to qualify to take the New York Bar Exam, is to meet each of the curricular requirements New York has specified for that degree.

We have set out below the specific requirements established under the current qualification scheme for foreign trained lawyers. Please note that where the Board has identified specific course credit hour requirements, we have converted those requirements to credit hours on Chicago’s quarter based academic calendar. The numbers used in the actual Board regulations are for schools on semester calendars. We have described in bold type how Chicago LLM students may meet each specific requirement established by the Board, including a list of the Chicago courses the New York Court of Appeals approved for the 2016-2017 academic year. A new list for each year will be made available to students in late summer.

 (3) An LL.M. degree shall be satisfactory to qualify an applicant otherwise meeting the requirements of subsections (b)(1)(ii) or (b)(2) to take the New York State bar examination provided the following requirements are met:

(i) the program shall consist of a minimum of 30 credit hours (or the equivalent thereof, if the law school is on an academic schedule other than a conventional semester system) which, except as otherwise permitted herein, shall be in classroom courses at the law school in substantive and procedural law and professional skills;

We require 27 credit hours for our LL.M. degree. Any Chicago students who wish to take the New York Bar exam will need to have at least three additional credits. That should not be a problem since our LL.M. students often complete more than the required 27 credit hours. Note that the text refers to “classroom courses.” This means that credits earned in independent research papers will not be counted as part of the 30 required. Credit hours for research papers in seminars or workshops may be counted to meet this 30 credit hour requirement. These additional three credits may be from courses in the Law School or “courses related to legal training” in other departments or schools at the University.

(ii) a minimum of 700 minutes of instruction time, exclusive of examination time, must be required for the granting of one credit hour;

(iii) the program shall include a period of instruction consisting of no fewer than two semesters of at least 13 calendar weeks each, or the equivalent thereof, exclusive of reading periods, examinations and breaks, and shall not be completed exclusively during summer semesters, but a maximum of four credit hours may be earned in courses completed during summer semesters;

(iv) the program shall be completed within 24 months of matriculation;

(v) all coursework for the program shall be completed at the campus of an American Bar Association approved law school in the United States, except as otherwise expressly permitted by subdivision (b)(3)(vii);                    

(vi) the program completed by the applicant shall include:

(a) a minimum of 3 credit hours in a course or courses in professional responsibility.

  • Legal Profession
  • Legal Profession: Ethics
  • Legal Profession: Ethics in Government and Public Interest Legal Practice
  • Modern Professional Responsibility
  • Professional Responsibility
  • Professional Responsibility and the Legal Profession

(b) a minimum of 3 credit hours in legal research, writing and analysis, which may not be satisfied by a research and writing requirement in a substantive law course;

The Law School offers “Writing and Research in the U.S. Legal System” for LL.M. students.

(c) a minimum of 3 credit hours in American legal studies, the American legal system or a similar course designed to introduce students to distinctive aspects and/or fundamental principles of United States law, which may be satisfied by a course in United States constitutional law or United States or state civil procedure; credit earned in such course in excess of the required 3 credit hours may be applied in satisfaction of the requirement of subdivision (b)(3)(vi)(d) below;

  • Constitutional Law for LL.M. Students
  • Constitutional Law I: Governmental Structure
  • Constitutional Law II: Freedom of Speech
  • Constitutional Law III: Equal Protection and Substantive Due Process
  • Constitutional Law V: Freedom of Religion
  • Criminal Procedure I: The Investigative Process
  • Civil Procedure I
  • Civil Procedure II

(d) a minimum of 8 credit hours in other courses in subjects tested on the New York State bar examination.

  • Administrative Law
  • Business Organizations
  • Civil Procedure I
  • Civil Procedure II
  • Constitutional Law for LL.M. Students
  • Constitutional Law I: Governmental Structure
  • Constitutional Law II: Freedom of Speech
  • Constitutional Law III: Equal Protection and Substantive Due Process
  • Constitutional Law V: Freedom of Religion
  • Constitutional Law VII: Parent, Child, and State
  • Contracts
  • Contract Law for LL.M. Students
  • Criminal Procedure I: The Investigative Process
  • Evidence
  • Secured Transactions
  • The Constitution Goes to School

Summary of the requirements for people planning to qualify to take the New York Bar Examination:

  1. 30 credit hours of Law School courses (up to three credits can also be “courses related to legal training” in other departments or schools at the University). Included in those 30 hours must be-
  2. 3 credit hours of a course in professional responsibility
  3. 3 credit hours in legal research and writing
  4. 3 credit hours in Constitutional Law or Civil Procedure
  5. 8 credit hours in other courses whose subject matter is tested on the Bar Exam

This means that a student who wishes to qualify for the New York Bar Examination and wants to take only the minimum 30 required credit hours will have 13 credit hours of courses available beyond the 17 required for the Bar.

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Step 3Apply to take the New York Bar Examination. The bar examination is administered on the last Tuesday and Wednesday of February and July. Applications must be filed during the month of November for a February examination and during the month of April for a July examination. There is no late application period.

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Step 4 - The New York State Court of Appeals has also adopted a requirement  that applicants for admission to the New York State Bar perform 50 hours of pro bono services. This service requirement must be satisfied during a period which starts one year prior to enrollment in an LL.M. program (this includes work done in a student’s home country) and ends at the time the candidate applies for admission to the New York bar. Thus, it may be satisfied after a candidate has taken the bar examination and may be done anywhere in the world. The Law School has a Pro Bono Services initiative office which will help LL.M. students meet this requirement while they are at the Law School if they wish to do that. This is a requirement for admission to the bar – not a requirement to take the bar examination.

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Step 5 - There is a requirement that applicants for admission in New York complete an online course on New York law and take and pass an online examination on New York law, as a requirement for admission. This is a requirement for admission to the bar – not a requirement to take the bar examination.

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Step 6 - Applicants must pass the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE) to be admitted to the bar. Read BOLE's information on the MPRE; note that the exam may be taken within three years before or after passing the bar exam. Please go to the MPRE webpage for information about test dates and other items. This is a requirement for admission to the bar – not a requirement to take the bar examination.

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Step 7 –Skills requirement. This requirement for admission to the bar – not a requirement to take the bar examination – may be satisfied up to three years before the LLM program or three years after. LLM students will use Pathways 4 or 5 to meet this requirement. This requirement will only apply to LLM students who begin their LLM programs after August 1, 2018.

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Step 8 – Once all of the above requirements have been met, including passing the bar examination, candidates can then submit a formal application for admission to one of the Appellate Divisions of the New York Supreme Court.