California Bar Exam; introduction

I’ve decided to sit the California bar next year! I thought it might be a good idea to keep a written record of my experiences, thoughts, predictions, and study strategy: these posts will be marked by the “California Bar Exam” category tag.

Why become dual-qualified? And why California? Although I’ve lived in London for nearly seven years and am licensed to practice law in England, I’m still an American citizen. I earned my Bachelors’ degree in the USA, and after studying law and politics fully intended to go to law school in the States. My original plans to spend one year in London to do a Masters degree changed when I met my now-husband!

It consider it something special to be qualified to practice law in your “home” jurisdiction. The American Constitution is very much a part of my professional and personal DNA: as I’ve become more and more involved in English and European law (especially in matters concerning media, expression, and privacy) the more interested I am in American jurisprudence.

Maybe it’s the academic in me, but I’m genuinely passionate and curious about legal theory and the practice of law. I also think being dual-qualified will make me a better lawyer, not least because the majority of my clients have some sort of international aspects which routinely touch on US law.

Currently, only a few states allow foreign-qualified lawyers to bypass American law school and sit the bar as “attorney applicants” – New York and California are two of the most popular. For boring administrative reasons* I’m not eligible to sit the bar in New York without doing an LL.M. in the States. California on the other hand only cares about the fact that I’m currently a lawyer in good standing in my home jurisdiction. So California it is!

Even if I was eligible to sit the NY bar, I do honestly think that I’d prefer to do it in California. My practice is focused on media, internet companies, telecoms, creative content, defamation, publicity, and privacy: so many interesting cases on those matters come out of California. Furthermore, I come across contracts subject to Californian law on a weekly basis. It would be great to be able to advise on those contracts, and not need to defer to US counsel! Plus, as a girl originally from the West Coast of the US, I’ve always believed known West Coast, Best Coast. 

There are three key components of the exam process:

1.  The Multi-state Professional Responsibility Exam, or “ethics exam” (MRPE). This exam can be taken in any one of 300 test centers around the USA, and is offered three times each year. I’m taking the exam in November, in New York City. My test results will be “uploaded” to California.

In July 2019, I’ll be off to Los Angeles to sit the California Bar Exam, which occurs over a two-day period:

2.  The California Bar Exam. Day 1 consists of five separate one-hour essays on a variety of legal topics, and one 90-minute practice test in which candidates are expected to work through a series of documents and produce some sort of memorandum or client letter. I’m still trying to figure out which points of California law specifically will be testable.

3.  The Multi-State Bar Exam. Day 2 is the MBE, which consists of 200 multiple-choice questions on seven subjects, based upon principles of common law and Article 2 of the Uniform Commercial Code (covering sales of goods). The questions are not broken down into sections and the seven topics are distributed more or less evenly throughout the exam. Candidates receive three hours during the morning session to complete the first 100 questions, and another three hours during the afternoon session to complete the second 100 questions.

The topics covered are:
• Business Associations
• Civil Procedure – topic on both Day 1 and Day 2
• Community Property
• Constitutional Law – topic on both Day 1 and Day 2
• Contracts – topic on both Day 1 and Day 2
• Criminal Law and Procedure – topic on both Day 1 and Day 2
• Evidence – topic on both Day 1 and Day 2
• Professional Responsibility
• Real Property – topic on both Day 1 and Day 2
• Remedies
• Torts – topic on both Day 1 and Day 2
• Trusts
• Wills and Succession


*Why not New York? According to Section 520.6 of the Rules of the Court of Appeals for the Admission of Attorneys and Counselors at Law, foreign lawyers must satisfy certain requirements to be admitted to the New York bar. In addition to passing the bar exam itself, applicants must have a “qualifying degree” that satisfies the educational requirements to practice law in a foreign country.

The normal route in England for aspiring lawyers is to do an undergraduate degree in law: the LL.B. They then do a year of law school (LPC) and two years of clerking (the training contract).

For students who don’t do the LL.B (for example. if they do history or chemistry and later decide to go into law) they can do a one-year “conversion” course known as the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) before doing the LPC. This was the route I chose, as – like many others – I did not do an undergraduate degree in law.

Unfortunately, despite being a qualified solicitor in England, the New York State Bar does not recognise the GDL as being a full “qualifying degree.” I can “cure” this by completing a 2-year LL.M. (a Masters’ degree in law) in the USA, but… nah. That’s not happening.

10 thoughts on “California Bar Exam; introduction

  1. Hi Kelsey,

    I’m going through the daunting process of trying to qualify in the US after moving from the UK and New York have deemed me ineligible to sit because I did the GDL and LPC, even though I am currently doing an LLM at an ABA-approved law school in the US. I was under the impression that the LLM would “cure” the durational equivalency issue but have been told by BOLE that they also don’t think my degree is the “substantial equivalent” which I find extremely strange because that requires the program of study be based on the principles of English Common Law. They have told me I can eventually become eligible by doing a two year training contract. However, I am American and had a very hard time getting a training contract in London. Are you aware of anyone who has been able to sit the NY bar exam after doing the GDL, LPC and an LLM at an ABA-approved law school?


    1. Hi and thanks for your comment – although I’m sorry for the frustrating situation!

      I understand the problem with the New York Bar. I also completed the GDL, and was likewise told that this was not a substantial equivalent, much to my annoyance. I also thought about what it would take to “cure” my educational deficiency, but as I already have an MSc and my life is in London now, I couldn’t be bothered with doing an LLM back in the States! 😉

      For the avoidance of doubt, this is my understanding of your current problem. Let me know if I’ve misunderstood anything!
      1) you did the GDL, which is “inadequate” for the NY bar’s purposes
      2) you’re being told the LLM is not a sufficient “cure”
      3) you’re being told that maybe you can become eligible by doing a training contract, but due to your circumstances this is unlikely to secure.

      I find 2) really surprising. That was *totally* my understanding as well, so I don’t know where BOLE are coming up with this. Have you tried putting everything on a plate for them – printing out the NY bar guidance/rules, a timeline, a description of what the GDL and LPC are, your LLM enrollment, etc – and talked to someone in person?

      As for 3) I’m doubtful of their argument. Even though I’ve already completed the training contract and am now qualified, I’m *still* ineligible to sit the NY bar because I didn’t do the educational “cure.” Plus, getting a TC is outrageously difficult, regardless of nationality.

      To answer your question about knowing anyone who has sat the NY bar exam after doing the GDL, LPC and an LLM, the answer is unfortunately no. The only GDL and LPC grad I know who went back to the states to practice actually just went to law school in the States rather than do an LLM.

      Did you know that the LPC is being scrapped? As is the training contract I think, from 2020. As such, you might be able to reconsider qualifying here in England.

      I hope this helps!


  2. Hi Kelsey,
    Thanks so much for your reply!
    Yes, you’ve completely understood my issue.I have spoken to someone at BOLE twice and he has repeated that they do not deem conversion courses to be substantially equivalent. I explained that BOLE’s website clearly describes the requirement of “Substantial Equivalence” and states that the program of study must be based on the jurisprudence of the English Common Law. He then told me that the rest of the sentence of that requirement says that it must be substantially similar to programs of study at ABA-approved law schools in the US. I asked if he could define what is substantial and he just said the GDL is not the same and said they don’t like the word “conversion”! I explained that I am taking the same courses at BU with JD students that I have already taken two years ago in London which is clear evidence that they are substantially the same. What is frustrating me even more is that I spoke with a Barbri representative in London who has told me that she knows of students with a GDL and LPC, who haven’t done a training contract, who have taken the New York bar but she can’t share their personal details with me. BOLE have said that they have never accepted anyone from England without an LLB. The person I spoke with at BOLE even suggested I appeal the decision, which I definitely plan on doing. It is extremely frustrating because going back to London is unfortunately not an option for me. As much as I would love to work there, I was having a very hard time getting a training contract and my visa eventually expired and I had to move back to the states. To be deprived of the ability to practice law here simply because they don’t like the word “conversion” is infuriating.
    I do know the LPC is being scrapped and replaced but two years of work experience will still be required. I was having a hard enough time trying to find someone to sponsor me for a TC, let alone sponsor me for a paralegal position. I had so many interviews and one legal recruiter in London wanted to place me in a paralegal role at a top firm right away until she found out I need a visa and said she couldn’t help me and that I would be hard pressed to find anyone willing to sponsor a paralegal. That is also not set to go into effect until 2020 which leaves me with almost a year with absolutely no options. In addition to appealing the NY decision, I will be trying to apply for the DC and California bar exams.
    Thanks so much for your response and please let me know if you think of any other ways I may be able to sort this out!


    1. Hi Tala,
      That might be an option but I don’t think so. Look into it (if you’ve not already) at:

      Rule 4.26 Legal education
      General applicants for the California Bar Examination must
      (A) have received a juris doctor (J.D.) or bachelor of laws (LL.B) degree from a law
      school approved by the American Bar Association or accredited by the
      Committee; or
      (B) demonstrate that in accordance with these rules and the requirements of
      Business & Professions Code §6060(e)(2) they have
      (1) studied law diligently and in good faith for at least four years in a law
      school registered with the Committee; in a law office; in a judge’s
      chambers; or by some combination of these methods; or
      (2) met the requirements of these rules for legal education in a foreign state
      or country; and
      (C) have passed or established exemption from the First-Year Law Students’


  3. I Wish You well in You studies. I’m not going to Wish You Luck, because We make Our Luck and I Trust Your efforts and determination Will redeem You. 😉
    I Will be looking forward to an update after July 2019 to hear how You made out.
    Love and Blessings,


  4. Hi Kelsey and Tala,

    I had the same problem with the BOLE too. I completed a three-year part-time course of GDL/LLB plus a year of full time LLM in the US. I was also rejected to take the NY Bar exam. I wonder if I am qualified to take the Cali bar.



    1. Hi G – apologies for the very, very late reply to this! My understanding is that you will be able to take the California bar if you have a US-recognized LLM *or* you’re a qualified foreign lawyer. I fall into the latter category, but you may fall into the former. Double check – worth a shot!


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