The Top 5 Obscure Yet Plausible Ways Towards Bar Admission for LLMs


There are so many different categories of law students that it can take a lot of work to keep up.  The categories break down even more for LLMs in the USA who have a first degree in law from a foreign law school:

1. There are those qualified to practice law in their home country and

2. Those not qualified or practice law in their home country.   

Those who are qualified to practice law in their home country and who have practiced law there for several years will find it much easier to select a jurisdiction in which they can meet the criteria to take bar exam.  This is especially true if their home country is a Common Law country.  These LLMs can register for the bar exam (with some restrictions) in the following states:  Alabama, Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Florida, George, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Palau, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin.  See this chart for more info.  Of course, some states make this process easier than others.

But what if you are among those who studied law in another country, received your degree, but have yet to go through the process to qualify as a lawyer there?  Where does that leave you once you’ve graduated with your LLM? There are a few state bar exams you can take.  But there are even fewer options if you were an online student.  D.C. and California are the obvious ones.

Wherever you are in your LLM journey don’t lose hope about the bar exam.  For whatever reason, these below Jurisdictions don’t get a lot of attention, but as an LLM, they are worth some consideration.  We’ve had a look through their laws and restrictions and we’re calling the most obscure yet plausible ways to bar admission.

1. Palau.   Ah!  The South Pacific.  This little-known archipelago of 500 islands won its independence from the United States in 1979.  They use a Common Law legal system based on a similar structure to the USA.  They administer their bar exam just once a year in July.  Each year 10-16 people take it.  And though their bar regulations state that you need a JD, you can motion to their Supreme Court to admit you with your foreign law degree and LLM.  A few things you must know about Palau. 

  1. You have to send them a paper check in order to pay for the bar exam.
  1. It takes the post a minimum of 2 weeks to get there.  (Don’t even think about registering for their bar exam less than a month before the deadline or your check will never get there. We speak from experience.
  1. Their exam isn’t UBE, and you can’t transfer your score out, but you can transfer your MBE or MEE score in.  You only need a score of 120 on another state’s MBE to transfer your score in and skip that part of the exam
  1. You will need to learn about Palauan culture as there is a section on local Palauan laws tested on their exam.
  1. For more info:

2. Rhode Island.  The smallest state in the USA with the big Bar Exam Fee ($975).   The state with the motto “Hope” which seems quire apt for the bar exam.  RI is one of these states that doesn’t have a hard JD requirement.  They also allow “Senior Law Students” to represent indigent clients in court or appear on behalf of the state in a public defender capacity.  Going back to LLMs there’s no specific rule in RI’s Article II referring to foreign law degrees or LLMs.  Their rules appear to be limited to:

  • A. US citizenship or legal residency21 years of age or olderGraduated from law school.  No mention of JDs, LLMs or even ABA accreditation.  They seem to really care that you haven’t failed the bar more than 5 times.

So unless there’s something here that we didn’t comprehend, Rhode Island leaves the door open to LLMs.

3. West Virginia.  When you think West Virginia, you think Blue Ridge Mountains,  the Shenandoah River, and Joe Manchin.  Oh, take me home, country roads!  West Virginia’s bar regulations don’t require a JD, which is mighty kind of them.  The Board of Bar examiners will need to make a determination of substantial equivalency.  There are also education requirements, which should be covered by your LLM coursework.  But it’s best to check the rules they have laid out.   

Now we’ve sworn that we saw this at one point, but cannot find it now, that there was a requirement for the individual and law school supporting the individual bar admission to pay a fee to cover the substantial equivalency determination.  At the point we saw this (6+ months ago) the fee was a deposit of about $5,000.  Maybe it was $2,000?  Whatever it was, when we saw it, we knew the cost to be beyond our budgets, so we relegated the WV Bar to the category of, “Never gonna happen.”  So, being that we cannot find this same requirement deposit now, perhaps it was a figment of our imagination.  But we did find this under Rule 30 (b)(4) “Any costs incurred by the Board in the determination of equivalency under this Rule shall be assessed against the applicant.” Knowing how much your bar application will cost BEFORE you submit your materials would be nice.  For more info:

4. Navajo Nation – The Navajo Nation, like many other Native tribes, has historically had a fraught relationship with the United States.  The US Constitution recognizes that tribal nations are sovereign governments, just like Canada or California. As such, they have their own laws, their own, judiciaries as well as their own bar exams. So as there is a Navajo Nation, there is also a Navajo Nation Bar exam.  Native American law is endlessly fascinating.  If you have ever taken a Native American bar exam, you will have spent many hours studying laws and regulations of great importance to Native American people.  You will learn things from a different point of view. This area of law is really intriguing, especially if you have a non-native background.  You don’t have to be Native American to take the NNBE.   

For some Native American bar exams belonging to a tribe will mean that you are subject to less regulations and that it’s easier to get barred. The exam itself is a very reasonable $150 but you will likely need to purchase the study materials as well.  Remember that being barred by the Navajo Nation won’t necessarily mean you can waive into other state bars.   That being said, earlier this year, the Student Education & Admissions to the Bar committee, a part of the Florida Bar, admitted a law school graduate to the Bar on motion / reciprocity.  This graduate was a member of a Native American Bar,  St. Croix Tribal Bar.   In essence, he was able to skip the Florida bar exam completely[1] and be admitted as in-house counsel.  For more info on the Navajo Nation Bar exam: Navajo Nation Bar Association

5. Puerto Rico – You’re really going to have to think if you want to go for Puerto Rico because:

  • They have no reciprocity with any other state.
  • They have not one but two different bar-like exams.  “General Bar Exam” and the “Notarial Law Exam.
  • ”The Notarial Law exam is completely in Spanish – but hey, you can write your answers in English!
  • You need to take 5 credits in Notorial Law Practice in Puerto Rico
  • The good news is that you can throw away that MPRE score because it’s definitely not needed here. Also, the PRBE is given in September and March.  So, if you’re up to taking another jurisdiction’s bar exam in February and having another shot at the bar exam in Puerto Rico in March, here’s your chance.  The Bar Exam application form is extremely streamlined compared to other states.  You’ll also find the $300.00 examination fee to be very easy on the wallet. Compare that to the Virgin Island’s $1,100 fee.
  • Even if you qualify to take the “General Bar Exam” in Puerto Rico doesn’t mean you’ll automatically be admitted to their bar or qualified to take the “Notarial Bar Exam.”  
  • PR is doable but you’re going have to really want it. For more info:

In closing, these are the more obscure routes to passing the bar exam as an LLM.  As you can see, there are no shortcuts, and frequently, there’s a trade-off.  Taking the bar exam in California, DC or New York just might be the best way to go for most of us.

Whether you’re waiting on your bar results or still deciding on what bar exam to take, consider submitting to the 10 List.  We’re now seeking submissions.  Part portfolio, part law journal, the 10 List showcases the 10 best and brightest LLM students in the United States. 

[1] He actually did not completely skip the bar exam.  He took the Florida exam but did not pass.

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