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How Internationally Educated Lawyers Can Qualify to Take the Bar Exam and Practice Law in the United States

How Internationally Educated Lawyers Can Qualify to Take the Bar Exam and Practice Law in the United States

Internationally educated lawyers who want to practice law in the U.S. must verify minimum legal education requirements, pass the bar examination in the jurisdiction where they will be working, and demonstrate strong moral character and fitness to serve as legal counsel.

Unlike in most countries around the world, where the practice of law is regulated at the national level, the legal profession in the United States is regulated by jurisdiction. This means there are 57 different sets of rules governing the right to practice law in the United States—one for each state, the District of Columbia, and territories under federal control.

However, a lawyer must pass at least one jurisdiction’s admission requirements in order to practice law in the United States. Absent a practice exclusively in an area of federal law (for example, immigration law), this will be the jurisdiction in which the foreign lawyer’s office is physically located or the jurisdiction where the lawyer is actively practicing law.

In most states, the right to practice law is regulated by the highest court in that state. However, private state bar associations regulate the right to practice law in a few states.

Very generally speaking, individuals who earned their law degree outside the United States must successfully complete the following steps to practice law in the United States:

  • Meet the minimum legal education requirements
  • Pass a character and fitness review
  • Pass the bar examination
  • Pass the legal ethics examination

Read more about each of these requirements in the sections below.

Some jurisdictions are more open to foreign lawyers than others. Prospective lawyers should be aware that the rules for admission to each jurisdiction’s bar are subject to change. It is vitally important that the relevant jurisdiction’s rules for admission be reviewed carefully prior to undertaking a course of action intended to qualify an internationally-educated law school graduate to practice law in the United States.

Legal Education

The most common legal education requirement is a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree from a law school accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA). Some states allow foreign lawyers to apply for bar admission based on years of law practice and/or a qualifying foreign law degree (typically involving legal education in English common law).

However, most states require foreign lawyers to obtain an LL.M. degree (or equivalent) from an ABA-accredited law school. For example, in Washington state, foreign lawyers can meet the supplemental legal education requirement with an LL.M. degree from an ABA-approved law school. The qualifying LL.M. degree must be 18, 200 minutes and include instruction in principles of domestic U.S. law. 

In California, a foreign lawyer must complete an additional 20 credits of study in an LL.M. Program, including instruction in bar-tested subjects.

Through the University of Dayton School of Law’s Online LL.M. Program, internationally educated law school graduates can access an online curriculum that aligns with the current requirements of the California and Washington state bar examinations.*

Character and Fitness

Applicants for bar admission must demonstrate good moral character in order to practice law in the United States. This requirement is typically met by completing a detailed questionnaire addressing the prospective lawyer’s background and disclosures regarding criminal activity, substance abuse, or mental illness. Committees of investigators convened by state courts or state bar associations review and investigate the information provided in the questionnaire.

The Bar Examination

In the United States, every jurisdiction requires applicants for bar admission to pass examinations that test legal knowledge and legal problem-solving abilities. As of January 2023, 41 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands require applicants to pass the Uniform Bar Examination (UBE), a series of standardized tests developed by the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE). The UBE consists of three different examinations: the Multistate Bar Examination (MBE), a multiple-choice examination covering constitutional law, criminal law, evidence, real property law, contracts, and torts; the Multistate Essay Examination (MEE), consisting of 30-minute essay questions on MBE topics and additional legal topics such as business associations, federal civil procedure, wills and trusts, and secured transactions; and the Multistate Performance Test (MPT), an examination that tests analytical and problem-solving skills, as well as the ability to resolve professional ethics issues.

States that do not require all three UBE standardized tests may nevertheless require some of them. For example, California requires bar applicants to take (and pass) the MBE but not take the MEE or MPT examinations. California administers its own series of essay examinations testing legal knowledge and legal analysis skills. In Louisiana, the only civil law jurisdiction in the United States, bar admission authorities require applicants to pass a multiple choice and essay examination testing knowledge of Louisiana’s unique legal system.

It is important for every applicant for admission to the bar to carefully review the admission requirements for that particular jurisdiction. While many are similar, none are identical.

The Professional Ethics Examination

Every state, with the exception of Wisconsin, requires bar applicants to pass the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE), a legal ethics test also developed by the NCBE. The MPRE is based on the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct. It tests a broad spectrum of legal ethics principles, including client-lawyer relationships, conflicts of interest, legal malpractice, handling client funds, marketing of legal services, and other duties lawyers owe to their clients and to the general public.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do you have to be a United States citizen to take the bar exam?

No state bar requires a foreign lawyer to have U.S. citizenship in order to practice law in the United States. Foreign lawyers physically present in the United States must, however, comply with U.S. immigration laws.

Can I take the bar examination with a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B.) degree or another foreign law degree?

Yes. However, most jurisdictions require holders of foreign law degrees to have an additional legal degree, such as a J.D. or LL.M., from an ABA-accredited law school in the United States.

Are foreign law degrees recognized in the United States?

Yes. Many states recognize foreign law degrees. However, these degrees are subject to review by state bar regulators. In addition, many states will require the successful completion of a course of study at an ABA-accredited law school.

Can a foreign lawyer give counsel in the United States?

A foreign lawyer cannot provide legal services in the United States without being admitted to at least one state’s bar. Exceptions may exist in some states for example, where foreign lawyers may apply for a license as a foreign law consultant. 

How do I prepare for the bar exam?

The vast majority of state bar examinations take place over two days and are administered twice annually. Foreign lawyers will want to begin their preparations to take the bar exam at least one year in advance. It will be necessary to carefully review each jurisdiction’s criteria for taking the bar exam, pay the required registration fees, and complete the character and fitness questionnaire.

In most cases, the best way to ensure that an internationally-educated lawyer possesses sufficient legal knowledge to be competitive on the bar exam is to complete the degree requirements for either a J.D. or LL.M. from an ABA-accredited law school, supplemented by a commercial bar preparation course oriented towards the particular bar examination the foreign lawyer plans to take.

Bar Admissions Criteria by Jurisdiction


Bar Admission Authority


Alabama State Bar


Alaska Bar Association


Arizona Supreme Court


Arkansas State Board of Law Examiners


State Bar of California


Colorado Supreme Court Office of Attorney Admissions


Connecticut Bar Examining Committee


Board of Bar Examiners of the Delaware Supreme Court

District of Columbia

District of Columbia Court of Appeals


Florida Board of Bar Examiners


Supreme Court of Georgia Office of Bar Admissions


Guam Board of Law Examiners


Hawaii Board of Examiners


Idaho State Bar


Illinois Board of Admissions to the Bar


Indiana Office of Admissions & Continuing Education


Iowa Board of Law Examiners


Kansas Board of Law Examiners


Kentucky Office of Bar Admissions


Louisiana Supreme Court Committee on Bar Admissions


Maine Board of Bar Examiners


Maryland State Board of Law Examiners


Massachusetts Board of Bar Examiners


Michigan Board of Law Examiners


Minnesota State Board of Law Examiners


Mississippi Board of Bar Admissions


Missouri Board of Law Examiners


State Bar of Montana


Nebraska Supreme Court


State Bar of Nevada

New Hampshire

New Hampshire Supreme Court

New Jersey

New Jersey Board of Bar Examiners

New Mexico

New Mexico Board of Bar Examiners

New York

New York State Board of Law Examiners

North Carolina

Board of Law Examiners of the State of North Carolina

North Dakota

North Dakota State Board of Law Examiners

Northern Mariana Islands

Judiciary of the Northern Mariana Islands


Supreme Court of Ohio


Oklahoma Board of Bar Examiners


Oregon State Board of Bar Examiners


Judiciary of the Republic of Palau


Pennsylvania Board of Law Examiners

Puerto Rico

Judicial Branch of Puerto Rico

Rhode Island

Rhode Island Supreme Court

South Carolina

Supreme Court of South Carolina Office of Bar Admissions

South Dakota

South Dakota Board of Bar Examiners


Tennessee Board of Law Examiners


Texas Board of Law Examiners


Utah State Bar


Vermont Office of Attorney Licensing


Virginia Board of Bar Examiners

Virgin Islands

Supreme Court of the Virgin Islands Office of Bar Admissions


Washington State Bar Association

West Virginia

West Virginia Board of Law Examiners


Wisconsin Board of Bar Examiners


Wyoming Board of Law Examiners

*Eligibility requirements for bar admission vary by jurisdiction. Dayton Law cannot guarantee bar admission. Students are responsible for contacting the state bar to determine their eligibility.Online LL.M. Graphic


Online LL.M. Program

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Dayton, Ohio 45469 - 2772