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NY & California Bar Exam Eligibility

I mentioned in my last blog that New York and California are relatively open to internationally trained law graduates and lawyers qualifying in their jurisdictions. Today I want to address the differences in eligibility to sit the respective Bar exams, as well as some of the differences we have historically seen between the practice of law in New York and California.

California and New York have dramatically different requirements to sit their Bar exams, and often it is a student’s eligibility that is the deciding factor behind the choice to sit either the California or New York Bar exam.

To succeed at these bar exams, the Academy (AOL) has joined BARBRI to offer effective and flexible NY and California Bar courses combining proven studying, assessment and revision techniques with the chance for students to engage with the international legal community of the DIFC Courts.


Generally, any qualified lawyer in good standing anywhere in the world is eligible to sit the California Bar exam. So long as the attorney can produce a certificate of good standing and a practice certificate from their home jurisdiction, California is available. In addition, an international law student may become eligible for the California Bar by completing a one-year LL.M at an American Bar Association approved law school or at a California accredited law school. In practice this means completing an LL.M in the United States.

New York, on the other hand, hangs its eligibility determination on the nature of the undergraduate law degree achieved. What is required is a three or four year, full-time LL.B from a common law jurisdiction. The curriculum needs to be on campus and amount to 166 European Credit Transfer System credits. Usually completing an LL.M. from an American Bar Association approved law school can cure any deficiencies in someone’s LL.B. that does not meet the above-listed criteria. Lately we have seen the New York Board of Law Examiners being slightly less strict in adhering to these criteria. By way of example, in certain cases accelerated 2-year LL.B. programmes have qualified for eligibility. It suggests that New York eligibility determinations are being made more on a case by case basis.

It is very important to note that the only arbiters of bar exam eligibility are the New York Board of Law Examiners and the State Bar of California, respectively. No one other than these two governing bodies can confirm eligibility to sit the Bar exam. Confirming eligibility can take between four to six months, so it is important that a prospective Bar candidate begin the process early.

Where to practice

A qualified lawyer can practise any area of law in either California or New York. However, historically we have seen more of a focus on arbitration, financial commodities and capital markets in our internationally trained New York lawyers. California-barred lawyers tend to focus more in intellectual property, entertainment, and sports law. But don’t let this dissuade you. Each jurisdiction has the need for legal counsel in all areas of society and provides opportunity in all areas of practice.

Overwhelmingly BARBRI has more students (90%) preparing for the New York Bar than the California Bar (10%), though the numbers are starting to shift. I think the main reason for such a disparity is New York’s long established role in global business – it’s only more recently that California has been seen as relevant world-wide. California however, is an established international venue, although perhaps without the established pedigree of New York. An interesting fact to bear in mind is that California currently ranks as the sixth largest economy in the world…

Chris Jorgenson, Legal Manager, BARBRI

For more details on the AOL courses visit: http://www.draacademy.ae/international-law-qualifications/us-bar-qualification/