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There has been much talk in recent years about the so-called “brain drain” that causes some of the Delaware Valley’s top college and graduate school students to flee to other American cities after receiving their diplomas. And it appears no different for foreign law students who wish to remain in the United States after earning advanced legal degrees at area schools. Because there are stricter requirements to sit for its bar exam than jurisdictions such as New York, California and Washington, D.C., Pennsylvania winds up losing foreign students to those locales. According to the Pennsylvania Board of Law Examiners, foreign law school graduates need the following to sit for the bar exam: Be admitted and in good standing at the bar of a foreign jurisdiction, practice law in the jurisdiction for five out of the past eight years, and complete 30 credit hours at an American Bar Association-approved law school in specified subjects — constitutional law, contracts, criminal law, estates, evidence, civil procedure, professional responsibility, real property and torts. In contrast, New York requires that an applicant must have a law degree from an accredited program in his or her own country and have school transcripts reviewed by the state board of law examiners to determine if further study is required. In all, 10 states — Arizona, California, Connecticut, Michigan, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Tennessee and Virginia — allow foreign law school graduates with LL.M. or other graduate law degrees from an ABA-approved school to sit for their bar exam. Many local lawyers that practice international law believe the more stringent requirements have contributed to Philadelphia’s low profile in the global economic community and have eliminated its chance to tap into foreign lawyers’ overseas business connections. In addition, there is also a perception that Philadelphia firms are less open to hiring foreign lawyers even if they invest the time and money in acquiring a J.D. Both the University of Pennsylvania Law School and Temple University’s Beasley School of Law have international law LL.M. programs geared toward foreign students. Penn’s enrollment is at roughly 80, while Temple’s is around 50. Most students return to their native country after obtaining their degree, but a small number decide to stay in the United States. And when they do, they usually leave Philadelphia. One who soon will be grappling with leaving Philadelphia is Pasha L. Hsieh, who completed his LL.M. at Penn Law last May but has since decided he wants to practice in the United States. So even though he earned a law degree in his native Taiwan, he has enrolled in his first year at Penn Law to obtain his J.D. He would prefer to live in Philadelphia but said he still might have to move to New York or Washington after graduation. “I thought about going to New York [after receiving his LL.M.] because they let a lot of foreigners take the bar,” Hsieh said. “But I prefer Philadelphia. New York’s too crowded. I’m just concerned that there aren’t a lot of firms in Philadelphia that do international work.” A native of Great Britain, Emily Barlow came to the United States to acquire her LL.M. from the University of Pennsylvania in 2000. Though she originally intended to return home, after spending a year working as an associate at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom — an option not available in Philadelphia — Barlow decided she wanted to stay in the United States. But instead of continuing to practice in New York, she returned to Penn Law and acquired her J.D. in two years — Penn waived some course requirements because of her common law education in Britain. And when it came to looking for a job after graduating in 2003, she interviewed with both New York and Philadelphia firms and found a striking difference in the tenor of the questions asked. “Firms in New York, I think they expect people to just pass through for a few years and leave,” said Barlow, who now works in the New York office of Cozen O’Connor. “But the Philadelphia firms kept asking how long I planned to stay and whether or not I was committed to live in Philadelphia long term.” While she enjoyed Philadelphia, Barlow thinks the city’s legal community needs to change its perception of foreign students if it wants more of them to stay. She said easing restrictions for taking the bar exam would help. “I don’t think Philadelphia is particularly open to foreigners [practicing law at local firms],” Barlow said. “And that’s a shame because it’s a wonderful city. It’s close to New York and it’s much cheaper. I have a lot of affection for Philadelphia. But it’s just more provincial than New York. It’s not used to opening its doors. “And ultimately, it should be about hiring the best person for the job. If you have someone who has five years’ experience in their own country, they would more than likely bring in business and provide something that a domestic J.D. graduate cannot.” Robert Reinstein, dean of Temple University’s Beasley School of Law, said New York firms view hiring foreign LL.M. graduates as an investment. Students spend a year as a visiting foreign attorney before returning to their own country with a mutually beneficial relationship with the New York firm. Others move to New York permanently. “It’s always been my belief that if foreign LL.M. students could take the bar here, it would be a good thing for Philadelphia,” Reinstein said. “Some people might look at it as taking jobs away from American law students. But that’s a very parochial way of looking at things. These people could create business for the region. You’re talking about people who already have good contacts in their home countries.” Michael Scullin, co-chairman of the Philadelphia Bar Association’s international law committee, said local law firms have seen positive effects in participating in a six-year-old lawyer exchange program with Lyons, France. He said his committee, which consists of roughly 120 lawyers out of 13,000 Philadelphia Bar members, has begun to look at the possibility of easing restrictions on foreign lawyers. Any kind of change would start and end with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which determines who is eligible to sit for the state bar exam. Piper Rudnick partner Peter Tucci, the other co-chairman of the international law committee, said New York has other advantages in attracting foreign lawyers and business. New York holds an annual job fair for LL.M. students. And by registering as “foreign legal consultants,” foreign law firms can open law offices in New York and practice the domestic law of their home country. Tucci said implementing a similar rule in Pennsylvania would also be up to the state Supreme Court. “If Pennsylvania established a similar procedure, you could potentially have a number of international firms here bringing in new business,” Tucci said. Mark Dows, executive director of the Pennsylvania Board of Law Examiners, said the board will consider whether to adopt the foreign legal consultant concept at its next scheduled meeting on March 12. Duane Morris partner Yves Quintin knows a thing or two about roadblocks to sitting for the bar. A member of the Paris bar, Quintin came to the United States and acquired his LL.M. from the University of Michigan Law School in 1981. He got a job for a Cleveland firm but was denied the opportunity to sit for the Ohio bar exam. He appealed all the way to the Ohio Supreme Court, which ruled in his favor in 1985. Quintin believes the Pennsylvania requirements for sitting for the bar smack of protectionism and tarnishes the state’s global economic standing. “Fundamentally, it does hurt Pennsylvania,” Quintin said. “Foreign lawyers who wish to stay here often have [business] connections in their own countries that they could bring here but instead it goes to other states. I think Pennsylvania’s shooting itself in the foot. I think people might believe that [letting LL.M. graduates sit for the state bar exam] would decrease their slice of the pie when it will actually increase the size of the pie, which is what we really need here.” Stradley Ronon Stevens & Young chairman William Sasso serves on the state board of law examiners. He said he favors the current requirements. “I’ll risk losing those quality individuals to other states because the primary responsibility of a law firm is to make sure a client has received the best possible advice,” Sasso said. “And I’d be suspect of certain degrees in specific countries. And it shouldn’t be the responsibility of the board of law examiners to investigate all of these countries with whom they are not familiar. And I just don’t think that requiring 30 hours is too onerous if you are not familiar with [Pennsylvania's] rules.” Alessandro Barzaghi practiced for five years in Milan, Italy, before his boss informed him of the virtues of Penn’s LL.M. program. He received his degree last year and is working at Pepper Hamilton — one of the few Philadelphia firms to employ visiting foreign attorneys — before returning home. “I will take with me the degree and my relationships with the people at Pepper,” Barzaghi said. “I can serve as a bridge [between the firm and its business interests in Italy] in the future. I know how [Pepper's lawyers] think and it’s beneficial for both sides.” If he had known he wasn’t eligible to sit for the bar with his LL.M. degree, Barzaghi said he might have chose the J.D. route and then stayed in Philadelphia. But he believes foreign lawyers should have to acquire an American J.D. if they want to practice here. “If I had decided to stay, I would have gone to school at night and picked up that degree,” Barzaghi said. “An LL.M. gives you a basis but not everything you need to know. In order to be a real American lawyer, I think you need a J.D. If you don’t, you’re still missing two years of law school and there’s no way to compensate for that and it’s much harder to find a job in New York.” Maxim Voltchenko shares the same opinion, despite the fact that he received his law degree more than a decade ago in his native Russia, holds LL.M. degrees in international law and taxation from Temple and spent three years practicing as an associate in the Moscow office of Coudert Brothers, specializing in representing corporate clients in U.S.-Russia cross-border transactions. Notwithstanding that impressive resume, Voltchenko has decided to acquire his J.D. from Rutgers University School of Law-Camden while working as a visiting foreign attorney at Duane Morris. His ultimate goal would be to stay in Philadelphia and serve as a legal counselor to companies from Russia and other countries that wish to conduct business in the United States. “I like Philadelphia because it fits into my goals to provide help to Russian businesses at rates that aren’t as high [as New York firms],” Voltchenko said. “And Duane Morris has an expanding international practice. But I just believe if you want to practice U.S. law, you need to get a full-fledged U.S. law degree. And even if the rules were changed in Pennsylvania, most firms would still require a J.D. before they hire you.”

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