In this blog post, Stuti Baid, a student at MS Rammaiah College, Bangalore and pursuing a Diploma in Entrepreneurship Administration and Business Laws from NUJS, Kolkata, describes the challenges of s practising in the United States of America with a foreign law graduation.
For international students, USA is a dream destination to study and practice in the field of law, but the USA gives first preference and priority to American graduates. The United States of America is one of the most developed nations in the world, it’s legislation is well structured and recognised by the world because of the intellectual capital and innovation, technology readiness, infrastructure and transportation and health and security. USA is one of the leading nations of the world, and hence every foreign law graduate aspires to practice in the country.
Unfortunately for a foreign law graduate, it is demanding to work or practice law in the United States. To become a practising lawyer in the United States, it is important to follow these important steps:
- Research and select the state where one intends to practice.
- Looking into in the requirements of that particular state which is the bar examination for every state.
- Meeting the major requirements, i.e., clearing the bar examination.
- Getting admitted to the bar.
The above-mentioned steps sound easy, but every step is complicated and has to be completed with due diligence.
According to the rules in the United States, each state has its own laws and thus is it essential to select the state where one intends to practice. Each US state and the capital city sets its own rules for admission to the bar and thus it is vital for every foreign graduate to look into the rules of each state to find and select the most suitable state.
Out of 51 states in the USA, 23 states do not accept foreign law graduates as they require a JD degree-Juris Doctor degree from the law school accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA) which is only provided by the law schools in the States itself. Only five states permit foreign law graduates to take the bar examination which includes New York, California, Virginia, New Hampshire and Alabama and in this process, the law degree shall be processed and reviewed by the ABA that can take up to a period of one year. Even in this case, the application can either be accepted or deferred. Not only passing the bar exam is difficult, but it is also difficult to be accepted without going to an ABA-approved law school in the United States to comply with the requirement of a JD or an LLM.
The bar examination is equally hard for national students as it is for the foreign graduates. The exam is daunting and requires determination and hard work to prepare and pass the bar. Now, for students of America the work permit comes naturally, but even after passing the bar examination the foreign students are licensed to practice but are not permitted to practice individually as long as they obtain a green card. It is essential for the foreign graduates to get sponsored by a law firm through an H1-B1 visa which is a non-immigrant visa granted for 3 years and extended up to another 3 years and the graduate has to obtain a green card within this period of 6 years.
The laws in the United States regarding foreign law graduates are strict and have to be duly complied with. For example, if a foreign law graduate is found working independently under the H1-B1 visa then the graduate can be deported back to its country for the violation of immigration law. Foreign-trained attorneys are at a definite disadvantage compared to students who have earned law degrees in the United States, at least when it comes to gaining state bar admission. There are many hoops to jump through and a good deal of communication needed between the foreign-trained lawyer and the state bar association if a foreign lawyer is seeking admission to the bar.
One of the most significant problems faced by the foreign law graduates also includes the expenses incurred by the students while staying in the United States. Not many students have the opportunity to get a scholarship and thus the cost of living along with universities fees is a major barrier faced by the students. Not every student can afford to bear the expense of staying in the United States unless they acquire a job under a law firm and later be eligible to practice independently. So, not only is the process of entering into a bar demanding, the financial aspect of studying and working in the country is also extremely challenging.
Emphasising more on the aspect of employment, every law graduate aspires to look for lucrative job and employment opportunities. In the United States employment opportunities are granted more to American students as compared to the foreign students. With an environment where the national students are preferred it becomes burdening for the foreign graduates to get employed with ease. Students from prestigious universities spend an enormous amount of money to get their degree but struggle to find employment. Due to this problem, many foreign law graduates return to their home country and practice.
Foreign law students not only face problems due to immigration laws and financial expenses but also due to cultural barriers as many law firms employ American students as they cannot agree with the idea of working with a foreign student and hence consider them as an ‘outsider’. Such a stringent mentality of American employers overlooks the merit of the students and judges them based on their respective nationality.
With the above-stated problems, it is evident that foreign law graduates face immense problems to practice in the USA and it takes a lot of hard work, preparation, focus and patience to become a lawyer in the States. While, after attaining a degree of LLM the graduates have an option to return to their home country and practice, but those who choose to work in the States have to go through a chain of the stringent process to become an Attorney.