I became an attorney in Venezuela several years ago. When I moved to the United States, I knew I wanted to continue practicing law, but I did not know how to use my existing training and experience to become an attorney in the United States. To find out, I went to different law schools, made various calls, and did research, but the information was too broad. Eventually, I made the transition with the following steps.
As a foreign attorney, your two options to practice law in the United States are either to complete a Juris Doctor program (JD) or a Master of Laws program (LLM).
- To complete a JD program, you must first earn a Bachelor’s degree, take the LSAT, attend law school for three years, graduate with a JD, and then pass the bar in the jurisdiction where you want to practice. Some law schools give foreign attorneys 30 credits (the equivalent of one year) toward the JD and recognize the foreign law degree as a Bachelor’s degree, which means a foreign attorney can complete the JD in two years.
- An LLM is usually a one-year program, and some jurisdictions, such as New York, allow foreign attorneys to take the bar.
Which option is for you? Although you might not like this answer, it depends. Nothing is foolproof—you need to try different things and figure out what works best for you. With a JD, you may take a bar exam in any state and waive into other states, depending on the jurisdictional requirements. This is not the case with an LLM because only a few states allow you to take the bar exam with an LLM.
I decided that the JD route was my best option. I then earned an LLM in tax law. A JD will open the door to more and better opportunities; however, if you plan to study in the United States for a year before returning to your home country, the LLM is the best option.
To decide which program may be best for you, research law schools. As soon as you have your top five schools in mind, you will have to create an account with the Law School Admission Council (LSAC). Your LSAC account will contain all your information, including credentials that must be submitted to the LSAC by your foreign school(s) and bar(s). Once your information is complete, and LSAC has verified your credentials, you must take the LSAT. As soon as your LSAT results are in, you can apply to law schools through the LSAC website. After you are admitted, you can start the wonderful journey of law school in the United States, which will likely be completely different from your law school journey in your home country.
After beginning a JD or LLM program, networking is key to landing your dream job. Although networking and public speaking are essential to practicing law, it can be difficult starting from scratch as a foreign attorney. You have to build a reputation, meet new people, and obtain new clients. The list goes on. Networking is an everyday activity; connections happen everywhere you go and with everything you do.
Throughout your career journey, try to connect with others: ask about their interests and career paths. Do you have an accent? Great! That shows you know more than one language. Do not be afraid of showing who you are when you are networking because our differences are what make us unique. Do you come from a different culture? Excellent! You can teach others about your traditions. For example, I am Hispanic and gay, so do not be afraid of showing where you come from and how far you have gone.
Finally, keep in mind this advice is based on my experience. Additionally, processes change, so start your research when you are ready to embark on the law school journey in the United States.