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Bar Examination Information for Foreign-Trained LL.M. Students

The LL.M. Programs at BU Law are not intended to be a preparatory programs leading to the practice of law in the United States. Foreign-trained LL.M. students are expected to return home after completing their studies. A number of LL.M.’s, however, do decide to take a U.S. bar exam, following the completion of their LL.M. studies. Each of the fifty states has its own criteria and procedures for admitting lawyers to practice; achieving the LL.M. degree does not qualify international lawyers to apply for admission to take the bar examination in every state or to practice law in every state.

The New York Bar is the jurisdiction of choice for most of our LL.M. graduates who decide to sit for a U.S. bar exam. Most other U.S. state jurisdictions have requirements that either preclude or make it very difficult for the foreign-trained attorney to meet eligibility requirements to sit for the bar exam. Foreign law graduates admitted to practice outside the U.S., however, should also investigate eligibility for the California Bar and the Massachusetts Bar.

New York Bar Exam

Massachusetts Bar Exam

California Bar Exam

NY Bar Exam

The Office of Professional Development prepares a memorandum that provides comprehensive details about the NY Bar Exam for BU Law LL.M. students who received their legal education abroad.
Here is the link to download this extremely helpful memo (the "NY Bar Memo"): BU Law Graduate Programs Memo on the NY Bar
You are encouraged to contact BOLE directly by phone at at (518) 453-5990 to answer specific questions about your bar exam eligibility and application materials.

While everything you need to know is in the NY Bar Memo and at the NY Board of Law Examiner’s website at http://www.nybarexam.org/, here is a list of frequently asked questions:

Bar Exam Frequently Asked Questions

1. Should I try to take the NY Bar exam, if I am otherwise qualified?

2. Will passing the NY bar exam help me get at job in the U.S.?

3.  What are my chances of passing?

4. When do I need to decide whether to take the NY bar exam?

5. What process must I follow to apply to take the NY bar exam?

6. Am I qualified to sit for the NY bar exam?

7.  How do I contact the Board of Law Examiners to get “official” notice that I am eligible to take the bar?

8. If I am in the LL.M. in American Law or Intellectual Property Law Program do I need to take any particular classes to qualify to take the NY Bar?

9. If I am in the Banking and Financial Law Program or the Graduate Tax Program, which of those programs’ classes count as qualifying classes?

10. I noticed that I need to submit copies of my foreign transcripts with my Eligibility Request letter. How can I obtain these?

11. I notice that I need to provide “Proof of admission to practice in the foreign country or, if not admitted to practice law in the foreign country, then . . . satisfactory proof that [I] successfully completed the educational requirements for admission to practice in the foreign country.”  How do I do that?

12. What type of notification will I receive back from NY indicating that I may qualify to take the exam?

13. How do I submit proof of my successful completion of my program of study BU Law?

14. What is the deadline for filing my application? How much does it cost to apply? Where can I learn about all the logistical details of the process? 

15. If I submitted an early Online Eligibility Request, when should I expect to hear back from the NY Board of Bar Examiners? Should I be worried if I don’t hear back later in the spring?

16. What happens if I don’t request an early evaluation of my eligibility?

17. Besides NY, what about other states might I qualify for?

18. How do I prepare for the Bar Exam?

19. Are there specific classes I should I take at BU Law to help me pass the bar exam?

20. What is the MPRE? Do I have to take it?

21. When will I find out if I passed the bar exam or not?

22. What is the new Pro Bono Requirement for admission to the New York Bar?

1. Should I try to take the NY Bar exam, if I am otherwise qualified?

Each year, a significant number of our foreign-trained graduating LL.M. students who are qualified to take the NY bar exam do so.   Their reasons vary and include such motivations as (1) obtaining the globally-recognized credential U.S. bar membership to support their self-marketing efforts back home; (2) seeking a comprehensive summary of U.S. doctrine; (3) obtaining partial relief from other countries’ bar requirements (i.e., the Paris bar); (4) receiving a “licensed lawyer” degree if one is not licensed in one’s home country, to support overseas law firm job opportunities; and (5) for U.S. citizens or permanent residents, obtaining a necessary credential if one intends to practice law in New York.   NY bar membership carries different weight overseas, depending on the foreign job market; some markets value it highly as a distinguishing credential, others less so.  Ultimately, you need to decide whether the time and cost of preparing for the test is worth your while in light of how the credential is regarded in your firm, company, local market and target employers.  

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2. Will passing the NY bar exam help me get at job in the U.S.?

If an employer has an interest in hiring you, it will be for your foreign credentials, background and experience – not necessarily because you passed the NY bar.  In the U.S., employers often make job offers with the expectation that the candidate will pass the state’s bar exam, if he or she has not already done so.    While being a member of the NY bar will certainly not hurt a U.S.-based job search, it will not -- by itself – necessarily “open any doors” to U.S. employment or “create an opportunity” where one does not otherwise exist.

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3.  What are my chances of passing?

For most foreign-trained LL.M. students, passing the NY bar exam is closely related to (1) their English proficiency; (2) their ability to memorize and absorb an enormous quantity of foreign (and new) legal rules; and (3) how diligently they prepare.  About 46.2 percent of foreign-educated candidates taking the NY bar exam for the first time in July 2011 passed the test.   Students should refrain from comparing “LL.M. passage rates” among U.S. law schools because LL.M. programs, including BU Law’s programs, are generally not designed to prepare students for the bar exam. Further, the myriad variables that impact success rates render meaningless any statistical comparisons. 

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4. When do I need to decide whether to take the NY bar exam and how early are the application deadlines?

Even if you have not decided at the beginning of your LL.M. studies whether you definitely will take the bar exam after your LL.M., you should consider submitting an Online Request for Foreign Evaluation of Academic Credentials through the New York Board of Law Examiners ("BOLE") website. (BOLE refers to this as the “Online Foreign Evaluation Form”) to obtain a decision on their eligibility for the NY Bar Exam. BOLE and Boston University recommend that students seek an evaluation AT LEAST ONE YEAR before you plan to sit for the exam because of the high volume of requests submitted to Board. The very latest that you can submit your documentation is six months prior to the application period of the exam you plan to take.

To meet the six month deadline for review of your documents, you must submit your Online Foreign Evaluation Form and supporting foreign documentation NO LATER THAN OCTOBER 1st of the year preceding the exam you plan to sit. Please see "VI. Required Documentation" at http://www.nybarexam.org/Foreign/ForeignLegalEducation.htm.

Also, If you are unsure whether you will take the bar exam, it is best to arrange your fall courses so you qualify to take the exam (and, thus, at least have the option to apply later). More information on the course requirements is available in the NY Bar Memo.

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5. What process must I follow to apply to take the NY bar exam?

In general, the process involves the following:  (1) determining whether you are qualified to take the exam; and (2) completing the required application forms and submitting your payments by the stated deadline.  These steps are explained in the NY Bar Memo and at the BOLE website.

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6. Am I qualified to sit for the NY bar exam?

BU Law makes no representations or assurances that students who are admitted into or who complete our LL.M. programs will qualify for the New York State Bar Exam or the bar examination of any other jurisdiction. That said, the Rules of the New York State Court of Appeals generally permit a person with an undergraduate law degree from most countries to take the bar examination, depending on the length and nature of his or her legal education.

In general, if a person has earned his or her law degree in a country other than the United States, that person may qualify to take the New York State Bar Exam by graduating from an LL.M. (Master of Laws) degree program consisting of at least 24 hours of credits at an approved law school in the United States. Boston University School of Law is an approved law school in the United States and all the LL.M. programs here meet the 24 credit hours requirement. Students enrolled in these LL.M. programs are required to take certain taught law courses and seminars.

One important point: Only the NY Board of Law Examiners (BOLE) (not BU Law or any other entity) can determine whether you are eligible to take the bar exam.   You therefore need to contact the BOLE directly in order to have your foreign law degree evaluated for duration and substance, and to receive confirmation of the U.S. legal education requirements that will satisfy eligibility requirements for the bar exam.

You are responsible for reading and understanding the eligibility rules before you apply to take the exam.  Read them at http://www.nybarexam.org/Foreign/ForeignLegalEducation.htm.

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7.  How do I contact the Board of Law Examiners to get “official” notice that I am eligible to take the bar?

BOLE has published detailed instructions about how to receive official confirmation of your eligibility to take the exam at http://www.nybarexam.org/Foreign/ForeignLegalEducation.htm. Please go to this webpage and read the instructions there.

At the bottom of the web page, you will find a a link to an Online Foreign Evaluation. Click this link to access instructions and the webpage for an online Evaluation Request. You will have to create a BOLE Account on this page. After creating your account, you will have to answer questions about your legal education. After completing the online Evaluation Request, you will need to send the following original documents to BOLE:

  1. Official law school transcripts from every law school attended – These should include the dates of attendance for each period of study, the courses taken and passed, grades, the degree awarded and the date that the degree was awarded;
  2. Degree Certificate – If the official transcript does not clearly state the degree awarded and the date that the degree was awarded, the degree certificate must also be sent;
  3. Proof of fulfillment of the educational requirements for admission to the practice of law in the foreign country. - ,If you are admitted to practice law in a foreign country, submit a copy of your admission certificate. However, if you are NOT admitted to practice law in a foreign country, submit proof of the educational requirements for admission to practice law in your country and proof from the bar admission authorities that you have fulfilled these requirements.
  4. Accreditation – Submit a written statement from the competent accrediting agency of your foreign government that the law school or law schools you attended were recognized as qualified and appoved throughout your period of study.
  5.  Proof of successful completion of a 24 credit LL.M. Program – This refers to your BU Law LL.M. transcript, which you should ask the BU Law Registrar to send to BOLE after your graduation.

All documents must be sent to BOLE directly from the issuing institutions. If any document is not in English, then you must also furnish an English translation prepared by an official translator.

Ideally, you should submit an online Evaluation Request at least ONE YEAR from the application period for the bar examination that you intend to sit for (i.e., If you are planning to sit for the July 2014 Bar Exam, then you should have submitted and online Evaluation Request in March 2013). If you missed this date, we recommend submitting an online Evaluation Request as soon as possible.

*NOTE: BOLE will not consider your Request for an Evaluation to be “complete” until it receives ALL supporting documents. If you do not send ALL your supporting documents by October 1st, you face a substantial likelihood that BOLE will not act on your eligibility in time for the July 2014 bar exam, if it acts on it at all. Therefore, you should begin the process of obtaining these documents NOW.

After you have submitted your online request form on the BOLE website and sent in your required documentation, you should not expect to receive an email from BOLE notifying you that your file is complete before you leave your home country for Boston in August. You can try calling BOLE directly to verify that they have received your documents (+1 (518) 453-5990). You should obtain multiple original copies of your required documents (ideally sealed from the issuing institution) and bring them with you to Boston in case BOLE requests them at a later date. You will also need copies of your transcripts for applying to the ISIP- NYU Job Fair so bring multiple copies with you to Boston.

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8. If I am in the LL.M. in American Law or Intellectual Property Law Program do I need to take any particular classes to qualify to take the NY Bar?

You must take the following courses: (a) Introduction to the American Legal System; (b) Legal Research and Writing; and (c) Professional Responsibility

In addition, you must take at least 6 credits in other courses in subjects tested on the New York State Bar Exam, “where a principal focus of the courses includes material contained in the Content Outline for the New York State bar examination published by the New York State Board of Law Examiners.” The Content Outline is available on the BOLE website: http://www.nybarexam.org/Content/ContentOutline.htm

Based on our experience, the following classes have qualified for the “Content Outline” requirement under BOLE’s current standards:
First Year J.D. Courses
:
Constitutional Law
Contracts
Criminal Law
Civil Procedure
Property
Torts

Upper Level Courses:
Anatomy of a Mass Tort (Seminar)
Business Law: Sales
Business Law: Secured Transactions
Business Law: UCC
Constitutional Theory (Seminar)
Corporate Governance
Corporations
Criminal Procedure
Evidence
Family Law
Federal Civil Practice (Seminar)
Federal Courts
Fiduciary Law
First Amendment
Fourteenth Amendment
Land Use
Mergers and Acquisitions
Tort Policy (Seminar)
Trusts, Wills & Basic Estate Planning

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9. If I am in the Banking and Financial Law Program or the Graduate Tax Program, which of those programs’ classes count as qualifying classes?

In the Graduate Program in Banking and Financial Law, students must take the following courses to qualify for the NY bar examination: (a) Introduction to the American Legal System; (b) Legal Research and Writing; (c) Professional Responsibility; (d) Corporations and (e) Commercial Code.

In the Graduate Tax Program, students interested in taking the New York Bar Exam are encouraged to obtain their LL.M. degree through the 32-credit Graduate Tax Program Option and should meet with the Associate Director of the Graduate Taxation Program to discuss this option when they are planning their course schedules.  

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10. I noticed that I need to submit copies of my foreign transcripts with my Eligibility Request letter. How can I get these?

It is your responsibility to request your law school abroad to send your transcripts to BOLE. As referred to in Question 7 above, all documents must be sent directly to BOLE from the issuing institution. 

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11. I notice that I need to provide “Proof of admission to practice in the foreign country or, if not admitted to practice law in the foreign country, then . . . satisfactory proof that [I] successfully completed the educational requirements for admission to practice in the foreign country.”  How do I do that?

Proof of admission to practice law in your home country can be made by showing a bar card, bar admission certificate or the certificate to practice law. We have been told that photocopies of bar cards are acceptable to submit. In the event that you  completed your  law studies but have not been admitted to the bar in your home country (e.g., graduated from law school but is still undergoing practical training, clerkship, articling, apprenticeship or have not attended a Legal Training and Research Institute in Japan or Korea, for example), then you should provide a letter or a written statement from your home country’s bar authorities that you have completed all the educational requirements needed for admission to the bar in that country. In the event that the admitting authorities in your country publish a list of degrees that qualify an applicant to sit for the bar, then you can furnish a copy of such list.

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12. What type of notification will I receive back from NY indicating that I may qualify to take the exam?

The notification you receive will say that you are NOT NOW qualified but that you may qualify “upon presentation of proof of successful completion of a program of study consisting of a minimum of 24 semester hours of credit, in an approved law school in the United States.”  This simply means that you need to complete your BU Law studies before you are qualified to take the exam.

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13. How do I submit proof of my successful completion of my program of study BU Law?

You must furnish a final official transcript before you will be permitted to sit for the bar examination. You do this by completing a Transcript Request Form in our Registrar’s Office on the 4th floor, requesting the BU Law Registrar to send to NY your final BU Law LL.M. transcript.  You must do this sufficiently in advance of NY’s June 15 deadline.  Do it in the spring semester, in May.

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14. What is the deadline for filing my application? How much does it cost to apply? Where can I learn about all the logistical details of the process? 

All of these logistical questions are answered at the BOLE’s website at http://www.nybarexam.org/TheBar/TheBar.htm.

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15. If I submitted my Online Evaluation Request before the 6 month deadline, when should I expect to hear back from the NY Board of Bar Examiners? Should I be worried if I don’t hear back by later in the spring?

If you submit your request early enough, you can expect to receive a letter from BOLE confirming your eligibility to take the bar examination (conditioned on your completing your current program of study) within a few months. Sometimes candidates do not hear back from BOLE until quite late in the spring.  If you submitted an online Eligibility Request and do not hear back by June, please let your Graduate Program staff know.

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16. What happens if I don’t request an early evaluation of my eligibility?

You can still apply to take the bar exam but you must submit your Online Evaluation Request and supporting documentation (i.e., foreign transcripts, etc.) before the final deadlines outlined on the BOLE website: http://www.nybarexam.org/Foreign/ForeignLegalEducation.htm   If BOLE needs additional information, you might not have enough time to submit it before the exam, so there is substantial risk involved and you may lose your application fee. Students in this situation should call BOLE directly to inquire about the risk of submitting their documents after the six month deadline as BOLE may advise you to wait to apply for the next bar exam date.

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17. Besides New York, what about other states might I qualify for?

For a summary of requirements to take the bar in each U.S. jurisdiction, including the rules governing applicants whose law degree is from a foreign school, see the Comprehensive Guide to Bar Admission Requirements published by the National Conference of Bar Examiners and the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, in particular the section on “Foreign Law School Graduates.”

  • California: In general, California’s rules provide that if you are admitted as a lawyer and are in active status and good standing in a foreign jurisdiction, you may take its general bar examination.  Information about “Attorney Applicants” is available at the California Bar web site at http://www.calbar.ca.gov/state/calbar/calbar_home.jsp. More information on qualifying for the California bar may be found in a separate section at the bottom of this page.
  • Massachusetts allows foreign-trained lawyers to sit for its bar exam based on further LL.M. studies taken at an accredited law school such as BU Law. The course of studies to be pursued depends on whether the foreign lawyer was educated in a common-law or civil-law jurisdiction. More information on qualifying for the Massachusetts bar may be found in a separate section at the bottom of this page.

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18. How do I prepare for the Bar Exam?

The overwhelming majority of LL.M. (and J.D.) students prepare for the bar exam by taking a “bar preparation” program offered during the summer (June and July) by private companies.   BU Law does not endorse any particular bar preparation company, though an number of companies will be present at BU Law during the school year.  Some companies offer winter programs as well.  We caution students against becoming distracted with bar preparation activities during the school year, to the point of jeopardizing their academic performances.

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19. Are there specific classes I should I take at BU Law to help me pass the bar exam?

This is probably the most frequently asked FAQ.  Our advice, based on many years of experience, is that no single class or combination of classes will ensure your success on the exam.  You should therefore choose classes based on your professional and personal interests, not because you expect your selection(s) to lead to bar success.  There are too many variables beyond your chosen classes that will impact your chances of passing (namely, your English). That said, our experience has been that civil-law trained LL.M. students have identified “Evidence” and “Property” as among the two more difficult topics to learn quickly, during a summer preparatory program.  

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20. What is the MPRE? Do I have to take it?

The Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE) is a 60-question, two-hour-and-five-minute, multiple-choice examination administered three times each year, covering the rules of professional responsibility and ethics. You must pass this exam to be sworn into – and become an official member of – the New York Bar.  The exam is offered three times a year:  in November, March and August. 

Most LL.M. students take the MPRE in March.  We strongly advise students against taking it in November; you will be too busy adjusting to your LL.M. studies in the fall semester and should avoid the distraction of preparing for the MPRE.  You can also take it in August, after you take the NY bar exam.  (Students who do not pass the MPRE in March can also re-take the exam in August.) The bar preparation companies offer lectures and materials to help you prepare for the MPRE.  Information about the exam, including how and when to register, is at the National Conference of Bar Examiners web site: http://www.ncbex.org/multistate-tests/mpre/.

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21. When will I find out if I passed the bar exam or not?

Generally, New York releases the results of the summer exam in mid-November, following the July test.

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22. What is the new Pro Bono Requirement for admission to the New York Bar?

The New York Court of Appeals recently approved a rule requiring that all applicants to the New York State Bar complete 50 hours of pro bono legal work. This rule goes into effect for all applicants who seek admission after January 1, 2015. Because of the lag time between sitting for the bar exam and achieving admission to the bar, it is safe to assume that all applicants who sit for and pass the July 2014 bar exam will need to meet this requirement. Note that you need not have completed the 50 hours in order to sit for the bar exam; however, you must have completed the 50 hours in order to seek admission after passing both the bar exam and the MPRE.

LL.M. students may be able to fulfill this requirement during their time at Boston University School of Law by participating in the law school’s Pro Bono Program.  However, it will likely be impossible for us to find pro bono opportunities for all, or even most, of the LL.M. students who will sit for the NY bar exam. Ultimately, it is your responsibility to find an opportunity to meet this requirement.

The NY Court of Appeals has said that it will allow work performed in another country to fulfill this requirement. Therefore, we strongly encourage all students coming from abroad to reach out to public interest organizations engaged in legal work in their home countries to establish a relationship that will allow students to fulfill this requirement in due course (during school breaks or following the bar exam; work that is completed prior to starting the LL.M. program will not count). We believe that such contacts and relationships will provide the most abundant opportunities for LL.M. students to fulfill this requirement.

For additional information, please see the Frequently Asked Questions document issued by the New York Court of Appeals available here :  http://www.nycourts.gov/attorneys/probono/FAQsBarAdmission.pdf
We advise you to review this document carefully so that you will understand completely the nature of the work you must perform and the supervision and reporting required. If you have any questions, you may contact BOLE directly at (518) 453-5990.

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Massachusetts Bar Exam

As of July, 2010, amendments to Rule 3:01 of the Massachusetts Supreme Court and new Board of Bar Examiners (the “Board” or “BBE”) Rule VI make it possible for a foreign-trained law student to sit for the MA Bar Exam.  The full text of Rule 3:01 is available here: http://www.mass.gov/bbe/barrules.pdf. If you have questions about your eligibility to take the Massachusetts Bar Exam, you can contact the BBE directly at (617) 482-4466 or speak with your Graduate Program staff for guidance. For more information on eligibility requirements and required supporting documentation for taking the Massachusetts Bar Exam, please carefully review the Massachusetts Bar Memo for International LL.M. Students available here: MA Bar Memo
Please note that unlike the New York requirements, in order to sit for the Massachusetts Bar Exam, you MUST take the Constitutional Law course at BU Law and you MUST pass the MPRE prior to applying to sit for the exam. Thus, if you think you might want to take the Massachusetts Bar Exam at some point in the future, you should definitely take Constitutional Law and plan to take the MPRE in March.

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California Bar Exam

Our LL.M. programs are not intended to meet the requirements to sit for the California Bar Examination and our course offerings may not satisfy the academic requirements of the California Bar. If you are considering applying to the California Bar, you should visit the website of the California bar examiners (http://admissions.calbar.ca.gov/) and review their requirements for foreign-educated applicants: http://admissions.calbar.ca.gov/Education/LegalEducation/ForeignEducation.aspx. Please note that Boston University School of Law does not offer any courses that cover California law to any significant extent.

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