Celia Lerman, Intellectual Property Lawyer in California & Argentina.

Sitting for the California Bar as a Foreigner – How can I sit for the Bar Even If I Have Not Taken an LLM in the US?

(This is a continuation of Sitting for the California Bar as a Foreigner – Part 1.)

Sitting for the California Bar as a Foreigner – How can I sit for the Bar Even If I Have Not Taken an LLM in the US?

I have received wonderful messages from foreign colleagues around the world who want to sit for the California bar, many of those who have an LLM abroad and are considering not pursuing a new degree in the US. Their core question is: Can you sit for the bar even if you have not taken an LLM in the US?

My answer is: YES. You are smart and have accomplished a lot in your home country, and many times, in other countries as well. California does not require a law degree prior to the bar, and there are many successful people who have passed the bar even without having a law degree at all (most notably, one of the LegalZoom founders, Edward Hartman)

Nevertheless, preparing for the bar is very different than a Master’s degree. As a foreigner, you will need to dedicatedly study the California laws, and for that, here is my advice:

(1) Keep your motivation high – Belie that you will be a California lawyer and that this will be key in your career.

Are you planning to live in the US and take a job there? It may sound cheesy but it is really true: you need to be highly motivated, and in particular, you need to believe that the Bar will be the necessary key to the life you want. You must treat the bar in your mind like the US work visa – it is a necessary mandatory step. Studying for the bar as a foreigner is a huge effort, and I know so many people who in their minds believed that passing the bar was “optional” (that there would be other jobs for them in the US or elsewhere, even if they didn’t pass) and I think that played against them. My suggestion is to trick yourself to believe that the bar is your Plan A, Plan B and Plan C.

If you can convince yourself, inside you, that is is what you need to do and that you absolutely need this for the life you want to lead, then you will be in the right mindset to face the preparation and the exam itself.

In my case, while I wasn’t sure that I was going to live in the US right after the bar (and in fact, I didn’t), I was always convinced that at some point I will come back to live in California, and at that time the bar will be as important as the US visa to access the professional and personal life that my family and I need. And indeed, having passed the bar has been so enriching for my professional career, even living outside the US for now.

(2) Find your “retreat” (if possible, in California) before the exam

I think one of the things that helped me the most was studying for the bar at the university library, during the US summer. There were many other classmates studying for the bar and the energy, silence and mindset was very helpful to keep a studying routine. Note that I was still working part time for Argentina, I had an 18-month old baby and was 6 months pregnant with my second, so there were a lot of opportunities for distractions. However, being in the library and seeing my highly-motivated classmates was very helpful to help me put aside many other activities; warning family, friends and clients that I will be slow to respond (and even setting the out-of-the-office notice in my email) and postponing fun meetings and events for after the bar. The library was my retreat.

I feel that if you study for the bar while keeping your normal routine, your environment (bosses, friends, family) won’t understand why you need to take time off and why you need no interruptions to study. Having

Your retreat could be 1-2 weeks at a time, or a weekend, or maybe “every day after 3pm”. You need to find the schedule that works for you, but keep that time blocked to prioritize studying and memorizing.

I suggest going to California because there is something indeed special about California, and being there will be an extra motivation. But I think that your retreat could be anywhere – as long as you take it as a real retreat, just the bar prep and yourself.

I hope this is helpful! Feel free to contact me with your experiences.


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