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Studying Law in the U.S.

Law as a career has extraordinary durability. A law degree opens doors to private practice in big law firms, the government and business. But life at a law firm can be arduous. And yet the rewards are deeply satisfying whether in terms of fighting for justice or receiving a fat pay packet.
BY Braingain Staff Writer |   01-11-2010

Law Introduction

Lawyers fight for justice and resolve their client’s problems. Our global economy hinges on a robust legal culture that recognizes contracts, protects human rights and is overseen by an independent judiciary. Lawyers work on everything from the most significant financial transactions, international disputes to the most contentious child-custody fights.

Law can be a very paying profession whether you are a well respected judge, lawyer in a private firm, legal counsel for a business, or a law consultant.

Some law students have aspired to be advocates since they were children propelled by the need to right the wrongs they have witnessed; others happen to do well on the law entrance tests taken on a whim and find it their natural calling.

Law school will train you towrite, and to read legal opinions and statutes with great care, but legal work requires long hours of painstaking research. Pouring over hundreds of documents, e-mails, transcripts, photos, voicemails and deposition videos to find strong witnesses entails hard work.

Every lawyer will tell you that he has often “watched the sun go down and come back up” not even realizing the time had passed as he worked all night to finish a memo. At LeBoeuf, Lamb, Greene & MacRae, a legal clerk recalled sending an e-mail to an associate past 1 am to get a reply in less than two minutes!

Lawyers Make Good Money

Law school in the US is not cheap. You will end up spending roughly $50,000 per year on tuition, books, laptop, health insurance and rent. If you are thinking of getting a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree, multiply that by three years of law school and the price balloons to $150,000. Frightened out of your wits at the thought of being stuck with student loans?

New York and California are the only two states that allow foreign students to take the bar exam after the successful completion of an LL.M. degree

On the flip side, law can be a very paying profession whether you are a well respected judge, lawyer in a private firm, legal counsel for a business, or a law consultant.The median for law school graduates in public or private practice is about $65,000, but the high-achievers from top schools like Yale have opportunities to land jobs that pay $135,000 a year plus bonuses right out of law school. Associates in America’s top law firms start at $150,000 to $180,000 a year and partners easily earn over $1 million annually.

Law School: The Long Haul

Would-be lawyers have to first get a law degree from a university called the Juris Doctor (JD). The Juris Doctor replaced the bachelor of law as the first degree conferred by a law school in 1969. It is the lowest degree conferred by an American law school usually after three years of full-time study. In some US schools word has it that specialization is the trend of the future. At certain schools you may receive your JD with an official emphasis in, say copyright, taxation or environmental law.

The majority of foreign lawyers pursue an LL.M program in the US to return to their home countries where they put to good use the knowledge, skills and huge network of contacts they have built across the globe

Just to put it into context, the LL.B. is the first law degree that students get in India whereas it is the JD in the United States. After graduating from American law schools, most students complete their JD and take the state bar exam before practicing law. If you have your heart fixed on wanting to be a practicing attorney in the US you should consider taking the JD route.

Typically, most foreign students pursue an LL.M. degree in the US which is a nine month long graduate program designed primarily for foreign lawyers. LL.M. students generally take classes alongside their JD counterparts. For most foreign students, including those from India, the LL.M. degree is also a license to take the bar exam in order to practice law in the US.

At least two American states mention the JD or LL.B. specifically as requirements for admission to the bar. It is worth keeping in mind that New York and California are the only two states that allow foreign students to take the bar exam after the successful completion of an LL.M. degreefrom an accredited American Bar Association (“ABA”) law school. Thereafter foreign students may become eligible to take the bar exam or waive into a few other state bars.

A majority of foreign students return to their home countries after the completion of their LLM program, but an increasing number of them seek to remain in the US to practice law.

Getting Into Law School

The application process is rigorous and there are some clearly spelled out eligibility criterions.

For admission to a JD program you need to have the following:

  1. An undergraduate degree in any stream of education with a high Grade Point Average (GPA) score.

  2. You also need a good Law School Admission Test (LSAT) score. They range across law schools from 120 to 180, with an average LSAT score of 150. For the most part, a top-draw law school like Yale doesn’t see very many applicants who got a 140 on the LSAT.

  3. The Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) test scores are required for most foreign students including students from India and the rest of South Asia.

For admission to an LL.M. program you need to have the following:

  1. An undergraduate degree in law. Foreign students have to have completed a legal study equivalent to the American JD, i.e., have received a degree in law sufficient to allow one to sit for a bar examination and/or practice as a lawyer within the applicant’s home country. Work experience is not always required though some schools give preference to those applicants with full-time legal work experience after the completion of studies.

  2. TOEFL test scores are required for most foreign students including students from India.

The typical application process involves filling up the application forms available on the law school websites. Most applications also require a statement of purpose referred to colloquially as the “SOP”, letters of recommendation, submission of transcripts and in some cases an interview.

Nearly all ABA-approved law schools and many non-ABA approved schools require the use of LSAC's Credential Assembly Service (LSDAS).

Students educated in law outside the United States should register with the LSAC LL.M. Credential Assembly Service (http://llm.lsac.org). This service will save students time and money, especially if they intend to apply to a number of US or Canadian graduate law programs.

Finding A Job Is Challenging For LL.M Students

After successfully completing a law study program in the US, students are offered a one-year practical Optional Training Program or “OPT” where the school assists students with getting employment authorization to get a year’s hands-on-training in the US.

Job opportunities for foreign law students in the US are scarce.

Most schools provide career counseling, job search resources, resume writing tips, and prep you for job interviews. Throughout the program schools also arrange job fairs on campus and career enhancement training through seminars. There are events organized during the school year to help students network with law firms and alumni.

All this sounds inviting, but it is important to bear in mind that job opportunities for foreign law students in the US are scarce.This is particularly true for students who pursue a short LL.M program.

According to experts, while JD students score jobs through the on-campus interviewing that occurs each fall, LL.Ms often are excluded from these interviews. There is an explanation for this: law firms in the US hire on the basis of law school reputation and grades, and LL.M students have no grades from their US schools at the time of the busy fall interviewing season. In the United States, Fall officially begins on September 22 and ends on December 21.

Adjustment to a different education style

The nine month LL.M. program can be a grueling experience because of the difference in the basic education style. It becomes a bigger challenge for students who are not completely fluent with English and legal terms.

You will have a better chance of getting a job if you highlight how your legal experience distinguishes you from American JD students

Law is taught in the US with most professors relying on the case method as a means for illustrating legal rules. Professors ask students to read a particular case or cases and the readings from casebooks can easily go up to 26 pages for each class. The professors then use the cases or readings from casebooks to lead classroom discussions. Marked by a distinctly participatory style, the US law school experience is different from the traditional lecture and exam-oriented model followed in countries like India. If students fall behind the reading curve they are unable to follow or even participate in the class discussions. In some law schools class participation is an integral component of the final class grade.

The OPT Runs Out Fast

Even before students are able to finish the rigorous LL.M. program, they are getting ready to prepare for the tough New York or California Bar Exams. These two bar exams are the toughest bar exams in the country. Preparing for these exams is more nightmarish than even the LL.M. program. The preparations for the bar begin within 20 days of having graduated from law school. The first three months of the OPT program are therefore invested in preparing and taking the bar exam. Before you can catch your breath, you find time is ticking and your visa is ready to expire -- you have only eight months before you can find a job with an employer who is willing to take on your H1-B sponsorship. Heaven save you if you find out after three months that you didn’t pass the bar exam and need to re-take the test, which mind you, is very common!

Law Firms Less Interested In LL.M Students

Large law firms prefer hiring JD’s than LL.M’s, unless the LL.M can convince the firm that he will bring in business. However, it is not uncommon for law firms to hire foreign attorneys under a special “foreign attorney program” which is a one year program based on the premise that after a year the attorney will return to his/her native country. Indian lawyers again have it very tough primarily because the market is flooded with Indian attorneys.

You will have a better chance of getting a job if you highlight how your legal experience distinguishes you from American JD students, who generally don’t have significant legal experience when they graduate. For example, an Indian student who has worked for say an Indian international commercial arbitration specialist has experience that may be valued by US law firms with international arbitration interests.

All foreign lawyers in the US agree that the LL.M will never replace a JD. If you intend to practice law in the US with a LL.M degree, know that you are "handicapped" from a job prospect point of view. Having said that, you can think outside-the-box and find jobs in the US by working with industry, non-profit organizations, lobby groups and think-tanks where they look for people who can reason with logic, clarity and consistency like lawyers.

The majority of foreign lawyers pursue an LL.M program in the US to return to their home countries where they put to good use the knowledge, skills and huge network of contacts they have built across the globeto help their clients.

Financial Aid And Support

All students on the F-1 student status are permitted to work only on campus. If there is employment available, work is farmed out for up to 20 hours per week. 

International students are expected to have sufficient funding to finance their entire course of study. Typically, law schools do not offer grants or scholarships to international students. Therefore, international students need to obtain funding through personal resources, government or private funding.

You may want to refer to this link for more information on international financial aid.

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Comments:
Vikas
Iam final year ba,llb student in india, i want to become judge in usa and i dont knowhat kind of exams i have to take to achieve that so kindlt explain me about the procedure and what kind of qualifications should i have to gain that post
06 October 2016


BrainGain Magazine
Hi Vikas, looks like you have already read some of our articles on studying law in the US, but in case you missed this, this, or this, do check them out! To become a judge in the US, you need to be a citizen of that country. You also need a degree from a recognized school, and need to meet the requirements for the bar of the state where you want to practice. Judges are elected or appointed by the President, Congress, state governors, and state legislatures, depending on the type of court.
07 October 2016


harpreet kaur
If i have qualified ba.llb(hons) in india and want to become lawyer at usa ...for this i have to go for bachelor degree of usa i.e juris docter ....or i can continue wid indian law degree ...
25 January 2015


amandeep singh
hi . what can i do to practice an advocate jn usa,,,,my wife is usa citizen ....me law graduate in india.........
07 March 2014


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