Foreign attorneys in bind over New York bar exam too

Siddharth Joshi is an Indian attorney who’s in the final stretch of his LL.M. education at Georgetown University Law Center. Like many of his classmates, he had hoped to sit for the New York bar exam in July.

Then came COVID-19 …

That’s killing people … and dreams. 

The New York bar exam has already been postponed until early September, meaning Joshi has to stay in the U.S. even longer than anticipated if he can take it, which is an uncertainty.

The New York State Board of Bar Examiners is restricting the number of test-takers because the outbreak has made some of the larger venues it once used unusable. How it plans to prioritize the candidates is unknown.

“It’s made my life rather complicated,” the 27-year-old said.

Many soon-to-graduate U.S. law school students have had their worlds rocked by the uncertainty regarding the July bar. Jurisdictions are scrambling to find alternatives. However, they are not alone.

Foreign students are also impacted. Many spent nearly a year studying for their LL.M. degrees and paid thousands to do so.

Joshi doesn’t know whether to invest in a bar prep course because he might not be allowed to take the test. His feeling is that U.S. grads — particularly those from New York schools — will get the first crack because this is their home. Yet he could be one of the lucky ones and be eligible to apply. Who knows?

A lot of foreign attorneys sit for the New York bar. Last July, 3,559 did so. They made up 35% of the test-takers. In comparison, 360 foreign attorneys took California’s July bar exam.

Joshi wanted to take it to make him more marketable, particularly for a job in the U.S. or in Europe. Other hopeful bar-exam takers may have greater priorities, he said. They may have a job in New York and need to take the bar to continue working.

If he can’t sit for the September bar, he can’t envision waiting until February, which is when the next exam will be held. He’ll likely be back in India then and hopefully employed. He can’t see both studying for the bar and then making the trip back.

He’s not alone. He figures that 40% of his fellow LL.M. classmates want to sit for the July bar. “They’re holding their breath,” he said.

Foreign students at other schools are too. Indeed, at a number of schools, a considerable amount of LL.M. students hope to take the New York Bar.

At the University of Chicago Law School, as many half do so, according to the school. The school declined to comment on what the delay means for its current LL.M. students or whether it was offering any assistance to the students. The LL.M. program's costs, including living expenses, is just under $100,000.

Those attending Fordham University School of Law in New York dealing with both concern and confusion, said Toni Jaeger-Fine, the assistant dean of international programs.

It is not clear who will be permitted to sit for the New York bar in September or for that matter whether the circumstances will permit the bar to be administered in September, she said.

It’s also unknown if those who have returned to their home countries can return and sit for the bar, she added.

However, the students are resilient, she said. “I have seen our students be incredibly nimble, patient, and understanding during these times of great uncertainty. They have been extremely supportive of each other during this difficult time.”