Plight Of Foreign Attorneys In America

I will like to open this article with the words of the American Bar Association on its website with the following caption DIVERSITY MATTERS AT THE ABA- A GUIDE TO ABA DIVERSITY RESOURCES” where it stated inter alia:

Those of us in the legal profession share a common calling. We also must acknowledge that each one of us brings an individual background and perspective to our work. This diversity benefits the profession and the public we serve. Our challenge is to recognize that barriers still remain to the advancement of lawyers of color. In today’s world, public confidence in our profession—and the justice system as a whole—is largely tied to whether law firms and the judicial system reflect the full diversity of our society.
The ABA strongly believes that the full participation of all racial and ethnic groups in the legal profession is a compelling interest. It preserves the legitimacy of our legal system, and safeguards the integrity of our democratic government.”

These words are apposite to my position that people of color, especially the so called “Foreign Attorneys” are being discriminated against when it comes to filling open Attorney positions in different establishments, including governmental.

It was my dream as a young boy of about four years old to be a lawyer; it seemed like a tall dream at the time since both my parents were illiterates. My dad was a barber and my mom sells all sorts of petty stuff like soda, ice cream, candies and so on.

The Lagos State High Court was behind my house on Lagos Island where I grew up. I attended Elementary and High School on the Island, I grew up seeing lawyers everyday except Saturdays and Sundays when the courts were not sitting.

Nigeria inherited its legal system from the British, everything including mode of dressing, which a politician and one of the topmost Nigerian lawyers decried as ridiculous. Ridiculous or not it stands them out from everyone else. Nigerian lawyers are a beauty to behold in their wigs and gowns which admittedly is not appropriate for the climate.

I went in search of my dream of becoming a lawyer and will not settle for less, I later got admitted to the prestigious Obafemi Awolowo University (formerly University of Ife) where I was awarded my bachelors of law, LL.B as it is known in most, if not all, Commonwealth countries.

The Commonwealth (also known as The Commonwealth of Nations or British Commonwealth) are former British Colonies. Presently the body is made up of 53 Countries; Nigeria inclusive.

Britain did not only give us its language, it gave us the Parliamentary System of Government which we later jettisoned for the American Presidential System of Government, it also gave us Federalism and our legal system with the exception of the Customary Law which is the only area of law that I know to be indigenous to Nigeria.

Most Nigerian Case Law Precedents were from United Kingdom, there is no Nigerian Lawyer that is not familiar with the pronouncements of Lord Denning, especially in the case of Central London Property Trust Ltd v. High Trees House Ltd popularly known as the High Trees case. This case is the locus classicus for promissory estoppels and since Criminal Law is compulsory Nigerian Lawyers are familiar with the insanity defense as espoused in the M’Naghten case.

Some State Bar Associations in the United States recognize the fact that there are other countries out there whose legal systems were fashioned after the British Common Law, a look at the requirements qualifying a candidate to take the Bar Examinations of these states support this assertion.

A cursory look at the conditions precedent to taking the bar examinations in four of the states that allow foreign attorneys to take the bar examination will make this point clearer.

WASHINGTON STATE:

The requirements qualifying a candidate to take the bar examination are stated in APR 3 which requires the applicant, inter alia, to be of good moral character and to present satisfactory proof of:

(iii) admission to the practice of law by examination, together with current good standing, in any state or territory of the U.S. or in Washington, D.C., or any jurisdiction where the common law of England is the basis of its jurisprudence, and active legal experience for at least 3 of the 5 years immediately preceding the filing of the application.

http://www.wsba.org/lawyers/licensing/bar_exam_app_info.htm

STATE OF NEW YORK

SUBCHAPTER B Rules for Admission of Attorneys and Counselors at Law states:

An applicant who has studied in a foreign country may qualify to take the New York State bar examination by submitting to the New York State Board of Law Examiners satisfactory proof of the legal education required by this section.

(b) Legal education.
(1) The applicant shall show fulfillment of the educational requirements for admission to the practice of law in a country other than the United States by successful completion of a period of law study at least substantially equivalent in duration to that required under subdivisions (d) and (e) of section 520.3 of this Part, in a law school or schools each of which, throughout the period of the applicant’s study therein, was recognized by the competent accrediting agency of the government of such other country, or of a political subdivision thereof, as qualified and approved; and

(i) that such other country is one whose jurisprudence is based upon the principles of the English Common Law, and that the program and course of law study successfully completed by the applicant were the substantial equivalent of the legal education provided by an approved law school in the United States;

http://www.nybarexam.org/court.htm#520.6%20Study%20of%20law%20in%20foreign%20country;%20required%20legal%20education

Both states require that jurisprudence of country where the Attorney was admitted and practicing must be based on the principles of the English Common Law.

TEXAS

In Texas the conditions that a Foreign Attorney must fulfill in order to sit for the Bar Examination can be found in Rule XIII of the Rules Governing Admission to the Bar of Texas.

The relevant provisions are as follows:

A foreign nation attorney who has not completed the law study required under these Rules is eligible for an exemption from the law study requirement for admission to take the Texas Bar Examination without holding a J.D. degree from an approved law school if the attorney:

(A) has been actively and substantially engaged in the lawful practice of law of said foreign nation in that nation or elsewhere as his/her principal business or occupation for at least five of the last seven years immediately preceding the filing of the most recent application or re-application

(B) has been licensed for at least five years to practice law in the highest court of the foreign nation;

(C) holds the equivalent of a J.D. degree, not based on study by correspondence, from a law school accredited in the jurisdiction where it exists and which requires the equivalent of a three-year course of study that is the substantial equivalent of the legal education provided by an approved law school

(D) meets one of the following criteria:

(i) demonstrates to the Board that the law of such foreign nation is sufficiently comparable to the law of Texas that, in the judgment of the Board, it enables the foreign attorney to become a competent attorney in Texas without additional formal legal education; or

(ii) holds an L.L.M. from an approved law school.

http://www.ble.state.tx.us/Rules/NewRules/rulexiii.htm

Written by
Michael Ewetuga
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5 comments
  • Hmm everyone with his/her own problem in America. Na wa o. Anyway, what most professional educated Nigerians do is that they go back to school, humble themselves, do the required coursework to qualify and that will remove all discrimination. Doctors (surgeons) teachers, nurses etc working in reputable institutions in the USA today have passed through this stages. Just humble yourself, take the student loan and get your certification/license. Good luck

    SMJ

    Virginia, USA