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Australian lawyer Hung Ta hungered to litigate cases where the stakes were higher, the pay better, and the pressure more intense than the work he tackled in Sydney. Upon finishing up his clerkship with the High Court of Australia (the equivalent of the U.S. Supreme Court) in February, Ta made the 20-hour flight to the Big Apple, took the New York bar exam, and streamlined his resum� to fit the American model. By September, he was a practicing lawyer with Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy. Ta makes it look easy to pick up and start over in a new jurisdiction. “The reason I was quite familiar with the procedure is I had three or four friends [who came here] three or four years ago,” Ta, 27, explains. “At the time, there was merely a trickle [of Australian lawyers landing jobs in New York],” he says. “I understand it’s becoming almost like an exodus.” Well, maybe not an exodus. But the number of foreign-educated lawyers practicing in the United States has exploded since the early 1990s due to the intense competition among firms to find top talent in a tight job market and the increasingly global nature of business. The bulk of them are in New York because, aside from being the epicenter of international, high-powered business, the Empire state has the most liberal laws for allowing foreigners to practice, says Nancy Carpenter, executive director of the New York Board of Law Examiners. Of the 8,900 applicants who sat for the New York bar exam in July 2000, approximately 1,800 had obtained degrees from foreign law schools, Carpenter says. In 1996, the earliest year for which such records were compiled, about 1,000 of 8,000 applicants were educated elsewhere. About half of the applicants come to the exam after completing graduate course work, including classes in American law. But their passing rates aren’t so hot. Less than 50 percent of foreign New York candidates passed the bar exam, compared to 67 percent of all candidates. “It’s growing all of the time,” she says. “The huge bulk of mail we get is foreign-educated applicants requesting evaluations [of their transcripts.]“ NOT A PIECE OF CAKE Still, be warned. The hurdles facing foreign-trained non-U.S. citizens who wish to practice here are vast, including severe restrictions on where you can practice and, naturally, Visa issues. To follow Ta’s path — taking the bar exam without first completing graduate-level law classes — lawyers trained elsewhere must come from schools of good standing in countries with English common-law traditions, such as Australia, Canada, Great Britain, or Ireland, considered “substantially equivalent” to the legal education available at U.S. schools. And besides New York, only California has such a fast track to sitting for the bar exam. Because each U.S. state or territory sets its own rules on bar admission, the rules vary widely. More than half of the states — including Georgia and Florida — ban foreign-trained lawyers from even sitting for the bar exam before first going back to law school to obtain a J.D. degree at a U.S. school. This angers partners at many of the larger firms in such states who feel they are losing business opportunities because of the restrictions. Only eight states allow graduates of foreign law schools to sit for the bar exam if they’ve received a graduate degree in law, known as an LL.M, from an American Bar Association-approved school. This includes Arizona, Connecticut, Kentucky, Michigan, Montana, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Texas, according to the American Bar Association, or ABA. At least four other jurisdictions allow graduates of foreign law programs to sit for the bar if they have the equivalent of one year of study at an ABA-approved American or foreign law school. They are Alaska, the District of Columbia, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. New York recently changed its rules, allowing most foreign-trained lawyers to sit for the bar if they’ve had at least 20 credits of graduate law classes, including basic courses in American law. Some foreigners will enroll in LL.M courses thinking that a degree from a prestigious program will be enough of a resum�-enhancer to win the favor of top firms. But it’s no guarantee, warns Kenneth Kleinrock Assistant Dean for Admissions for New York University Law School. “There’s no shortage of lawyers and no particular preference for foreign lawyers,” Kleinrock says. THE LL.M — NOT A FREE RIDE While NYU’s program enrolls the largest number of foreign-trained lawyers pursuing graduate degrees of any U.S. law school, it’s by no means a program dedicated to helping foreigners find gainful employment here, Kleinrock says. The NYU class of 2001 consists of 325 students from all over the world, including large numbers from China, Japan, Latin America, Germany, and Israel. Many grad students are foreign lawyers sponsored by their home firms to gain an international specialty and U.S. connections. Some graduates are employed by U.S. firms but will practice in their home countries, says Kleinrock. And while many LL.M graduates will sit for the New York bar exam, that does not necessarily mean that they will be long-termers. Many will become foreign associates in U.S. firms and will not seek permanent U.S. visa status. Instead, they will work in the U.S. for a few years before returning to their home countries to practice. Some firms, including Manhattan-based Shearman & Sterling, actively recruit lawyers from Canada and Australia. “My impression is opportunities for foreign-trained lawyers have increased, particularly in the last two or three years because of overall demand and competition among firms,” says Stephen Fishbein, Shearman & Sterling spokesman. Shearman sends recruiters to the University of Toronto, McGill University in Montreal, and the Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto in the fall season but also welcomes resum�s from top students at other schools. In addition, the company hired more than 10 Australian lawyers from a job fair in Australia last year. The hires were both recent graduates and attorneys with some solid experience, he says. “The criteria is the same as in recruiting in the United States,” he says. “We want lawyers who have distinguished themselves, have strong academic backgrounds, attended a good law school, and if they’ve already been working, are people who have done good work at good firms.” PAPERWORK Although San Francisco-based Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison does not recruit outside the United States, the firm is receptive to international resum�s and has seen an influx of them in recent years. When considering foreign-trained candidates, the firm considers the hassle factor of the paperwork involved in sponsoring a foreign employee. Foreign-born lawyers typically receive employer-sponsored visas. The H-1B visa, which allows professional aliens to work for three years before renewing their visas for another three years, is most popular. Because the process is complicated, larger firms typically hire lawyers to do the paperwork, which could cost between $2,500 to $5,000, according to Jeffrey Feinbloom, a Manhattan-based immigration lawyer. Canadians and Mexicans have another option. The TN visa, instituted under the NAFTA agreement, requires less paperwork. The visa is available in one-year increments and can be renewed indefinitely, Feinbloom says. Foreigners can apply for a green card to become a permanent resident while working in the U.S. with an H-1B visa or TN visa. But it’s not such an easy task, Feinbloom says. Foreign lawyers typically require a “labor certification,” a time-consuming and complicated process in which the employer must demonstrate that there are no minimally qualified U.S. workers to do their job, he says. Although dealing with immigration paperwork is time-consuming and expensive, it’s not so different than, say, hiring a New York lawyer who isn’t certified in California law for a firm’s Palo Alto office, Brobeck’s Molly Lane points out. Although the scales aren’t tipped against foreigners, they typically have to be standouts to be considered above qualified candidates who know California law, have had experience in California, and don’t need special paperwork in order to practice, she adds. “We factor in all those things in determining whether someone has the qualities that warrant us going through all the hoops to hire him,” she says. “In a lot of cases we say, ‘Yes, we have no problem.’ “ COMPETING FOR TALENT Large firm hiring managers in states where foreign-trained lawyers are barred from practice can only wish they even had the opportunity to consider foreign-trained attorneys. At Atlanta’s Alston & Bird, for example, a German-qualified lawyer who came to the United States with her husband is working as a paralegal. She’d have to go through law school all over again in the U.S. to even apply to take the Georgia bar exam, says international partner Ben Greer, who has been active in trying to change the stringent rules. Foreign-trained lawyers can only tangentially be involved in cases in Georgia, he says. They are able to obtain a special license to advise the firm in cases involving the laws of their home country. “This limits our ability to compete for talent,” says Greer. “We lose it to New York and D.C. firms,” Greer says. “We are an international business law firm, and a very large one. Ideally we’d like to find people who are first-rate U.S. lawyers who also have in their background training in the law of other jurisdictions. These folks are hard to find and when we do find them, we’ve been frustrated because we can’t get them licensed here.” Greer is optimistic that the ban on foreign-trained lawyers could change. At least the all-volunteer law board is more receptive to the idea than when activists brought it up several years ago, he says. Reinaldo Pascual, of Atlanta’s Kilpatrick Stockton, isn’t so optimistic. “This is the kind of [issue] big firms are very interested in,” says Pascual, who practices corporate finance as well as merger and acquisitions law. “The smaller firms probably are going to view this as a threat to their business.” The Georgia state bar is also leery of standards used by law schools in foreign countries, he says. But he suggests there are ways around that, such as requiring foreigners to obtain an LL.M degree. “We do lose out,” he says. “A lot of very deep relationships are built with lawyers from foreign countries who go to New York practices. When they go back to their home countries, they forever have a relationship with the state; they do business for law firms that practice in the U.S. and (New York) as well as those law firms benefit.” SOME SECOND OPINIONS In recent months, Vault users have debated on the Vault Web sitewhether foreigners attending undergraduate colleges in the United States are better off attending law school abroad or in the U.S. if they intend to practice law in the U.S. One person posting to the Vault message boards suggested a Chinese national U.S. college graduate return to China and then come back to the U.S. for an LL.M in order to keep opportunity in both countries open as well as to gain an international expertise. “You might want to think about whether the fact that you speak and write Chinese is sufficiently attractive to the law firms,” the poster wrote. “I found that most law firms have a tendency to hire someone with a foreign legal education license to provide foreign legal expertise.” One poster warns that not having citizenship automatically excludes talented foreigners — even if they went to American law schools — from taking prestigious clerkships and government jobs that citizens can obtain to propel their careers. “I have a friend who graduated in the top 20 percent from Columbia and he also doesn’t have a green card,” the person wrote. “True, he got tons of interviews, but there’s [a] time when he must inform the firm that he would need a working visa. He didn’t get offers eventually.” Canadians, too, have questioned whether it’s best to article (something like a low-paying apprentice year in Canada) first in Canada or to go straight to New York to sit for the bar exam. The trade-offs, say Vault users, are clear: big money and more interesting work in New York versus reasonable hours in Canada. Some site posters suggest articling in Canada and getting some experience before trying to gain entry in the states. “Because of the cross-border business and trade between U.S. and Canada, it may be worthwhile to have BOTH the Ontario Bar and the New York bar. It would make you more marketable both to Canada and U.S. firms,” the poster wrote. LEGAL CULTURE SHOCK For Australian Hung Ta and other lawyers from English common-law countries, the legal systems are similar enough that there’s not too much culture shock in jumping jurisdictions. “A lot of litigation is common sense and thinking strategically,” he says. “I was concerned litigation would be different when I got here, but essentially it’s pretty much the same.” A 1996 graduate of the Law University of New South Wales, Ta worked for one and a half years at a well-respected Sydney firm. It was during his year-long clerkship in Australia’s high court that Ta decided to try his luck with New York firms. He studied BARBRI Bar Review books during his last two months on the clerkship job in preparation for the New York bar exam. Ta passed. Next he cut the fat from his resum�. Australian firms prefer longer two- to three-page resum�s that include everything from legal experience to hobbies. He researched firms before applying to five of them. In September, he chose Milbank Tweed, an international firm with a small litigation department, which affords him more opportunities for high-powered work, he says. Hours aren’t much worse than those a typical Sydney lawyer works, and pay is much better here. But one disappointment: Ta had dreams of getting involved in lots of big, drawn-out trial cases. But like Australia, he says, U.S. lawyers try to settle cases before they go to trial. Otherwise, he says, he loves the “heaps” of opportunity and good mentoring he gets as an associate. “Litigation here has just been a revelation for me,” says Ta. “I’ve had an incredible experience so far.”

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