The Law Society has become increasingly concerned about the restrictions imposed by the American legal system on UK solicitors who wish to practise in the US. Accordingly, it has arranged a meeting with leading members of the American Bar Association during the group’s annual meeting in August to discuss how to deal with the problems encountered by UK lawyers.
Legal practice in the US is organised on a state level and the right to practise in one state does not necessarily confer the right to practise in another. Most of the obstacles encountered by foreign lawyers are not aimed at them but at lawyers from other US states. Foreign lawyers are merely incidental victims of the restrictions.
There are two main ways in which UK lawyers can practise in the US: they can re-qualify or practise under home title as Foreign Legal Consultants.
In order to re-qualify, a solicitor must take a particular state’s Bar exam. Most states require a three-year US law degree (juris doctor) in order to sit it.
Additionally, most states require candidates to sit the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam. All states require candidates to satisfy moral character and fitness standards.
The following states allow recipients of LLB degrees (or their equivalent) from non-US law schools to sit the Bar exam, subject to other criteria (such as a minimum number of years’ practice in a common law jurisdiction): Alaska, California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Montana, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington. In all others, candidates have to take a US law degree before sitting the state Bar exam.
New York recognises most English LLB’s provided they roughly correspond to the time spent on similar subjects in US law schools. Unlike California, New York does not recognise the Common Professional Examination (CPE) as sufficient to take the Bar exam. But solicitors may qualify to sit the exam after completing a minimum 24-credit hours at an ABA-approved law school. Some New York schools have special programmes for this purpose. A final way to qualify to take the Bar exam in New York is to be accepted on an accredited US LLM course. Solicitors who qualified with a CPE and want to sit Bar exams in other states should contact the relevant state Bar. All answers from state Bars should be received in writing before proceeding.
Admission to a state when qualified in another, without having to take the Bar exam of the second state, is governed by the rules for Admission in Motion in individual states. The criteria for such admission usually involve minimum periods in practice. For preliminary information, contact the state Bars’ representative organisation at The National Conference of Bar Examiners, 333 Michigan Avenue, Chicago, Illinois 60601, US. Exemptions by state Bars should be in writing.
There are many review courses in the US which help prepare law school graduates for the various Bar exams. This year the BAR/BRI course established a branch in London to prepare lawyers for the February and July New York and California Bar examinations. For further details, contact Graham Wood Law Consultancy, 28 Upper Montague Street, London WIH 1RP; tel: 0171 706 0644, fax: 0171 724 5966.
Foreign Legal Consultants
As a Foreign Legal Consultant (FLC), it is possible to advise on home country law and international law but not to appear in court. FLCs are recognised in Alabama, Arizona, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Texas and Washington. California does not allow FLCs. As the rules affecting FLCs change constantly, contact the individual state Bars to obtain details and make sure you receive the necessary confirmation in writing.
There is considerable work to do to persuade the US to treat UK solicitors in the same way as US lawyers are here. There is goodwill within the ABA to work towards a solution to the problem, and it is hoped that the forthcoming meeting will go some way towards a satisfactory outcome.