New York Bar Exam: How to Apply for Eligibility without a 3-Year Law Degree

By Aoife Keenan, LL.B., LL.M.
Legal Advisor, BARBRI International

I started working with BARBRI in 2015. At the time, I was not aware of the U.S. route to qualification. Naturally, as a law student, I was intrigued. The thought of qualifying in two jurisdictions was really appealing to me. I had always been interested in working at an international level. A qualification from one of the most influential countries in the world was something I thought would increase my employability outside of my home jurisdiction of Ireland.

Upon further research into the eligibility requirements, I was disappointed to discover I did not meet the criteria set out by the New York State Board of Law Examiners. Despite this fact, I was determined to apply anyway.

What I Had vs. What I Needed

A standard, full-time three-year common law degree is required to meet the eligibility requirement set out by the New York Board. I completed my undergraduate degree through law and business so I did not have enough credits in law modules. At first glance, this meant I did not meet the necessary criteria to take the New York Bar Exam.

Combining qualifications to cross the line: I wanted to find out if the New York Board was strict on the three-year law degree, so I began talking with BARBRI students (and there were some) who were deemed eligible even though they didn’t exactly meet the criteria set out by The Board. What I found was whilst my undergraduate degree did not meet the criteria outright, I might be considered eligible if I added my postgraduate law degree to the exam application. This can work for various reasons, but it appears consideration may come on a case-by-case basis.

My application at a glance

Documentation: Feeling a bit more optimistic, I submitted my dual-modular undergraduate degree and my postgraduate law degree to the New York Board, along with evidence that I was studying for my FE1s (Irish solicitor exams).

Employer references: I included two references with my application. The first was an academic reference. This was from my university lecturer and intern advisor. The letter referred to my grades in university and indicated that I was capable of passing the exam. Further, it referred to my legal experience at the law office based in Seattle in which I had interned. The second reference was from my current employer and referenced my legal experience, work ethic, and future ambitions.

Final touches: I submitted my own letter, along with my qualifications and references, and included the following points.

  1. A list of the criteria set by The Board, followed by details of how I met each of the criteria. Here I referenced my qualifications and experience.
  2. All of my legal experience, in particular, my work on U.S.-based cases.
  3. My future ambitions and how I planned to use the qualification upon admittance.
  4. My assumption that I could pass the bar based on my results to date.
  5. Finally, I politely requested that the New York Board grant my eligibility based on the information provided, which evidenced that I did in fact meet the criteria. I emphasised that an affirmative decision would greatly enhance my career opportunities.

I sent off this documentation in one package to ensure my information would be available at once, rather than received at intervals.

The Waiting Game

After nearly six months of waiting, I finally heard back from the New York Board. My eligibility to take the bar exam was confirmed.

As I look back, I can safely say that the extra paperwork I added to my application was certainly worth the effort. I would advise any student in a similar position to get in touch with BARBRI. We can advise on the best route for applying to the New York Board if you lack the exact criteria. A positive result can open many doors for law graduates and qualified practitioners alike.

Just remember, you may have to wait until you hear back from the New York Board of Law Examiners to start studying. So if you want to qualify sooner rather than later, make sure you give yourself plenty of time for the eligibility application.