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Should You Take the New York Bar Exam? – Whiteboard Wednesday

Transcipt – Should you Take the New York Bar Exam?

Hi, my name is James Webber.

I am the Shearman & Sterling graduate recruitment partner, and welcome to this week’s Whiteboard Wednesday, where we’re going to talk about whether you should take the New York Bar.

So, we are increasingly asked whether we encourage people to take the New York Bar exam.

And often, we’re also then asked whether or not we’ll pay for the New York Bar exam.

We’ll perhaps answer that question at the end, when we’ve talked about what the pros and cons of doing it might be.


So, the central reason why you might take the New York Bar exam is that New York is the largest and most profitable legal market in the world, by quite a significant distance.

So that is an intuitive and fairly obvious reason as to why you might want to be a New York qualified lawyer, you can take part in that large and profitable legal market.

The next point, which is in the way of corroborating the first, is that the vast majority of high-end, or elite sort of transactions and disputes, capital raising, etc., in the world is under either New York or English law.

So to be qualified in one or the other, or maybe even both of those, surely must be an advantage in your, again, your marketability, your ability to be able to advise clients on their leading transactions, fundraisings, disputes, etc.

The third big reason is that U.S. firms, some UK firms, but U.S. firms in particular, mainly hire New York and English qualified lawyers. So Shearman & Sterling, example, we have an English law track, and we have a New York law track, right?

I’m responsible for the graduate recruitment into the English law track, there is another part of the business which hires people into the New York practice. So, the two types of lawyers that work at firms like Shearman & Sterling are overwhelmingly New York qualified and English qualified.

Again, a corollary of the first two points, in a way, there’s demand and opportunity for New York qualified lawyers. And a more parochial issue is that under the QLTS system, you can sidestep the training contract as a New York qualified lawyer, so you can cross-qualify into becoming an English solicitor, having first qualified as a New York lawyer.

So that might be an advantage.

This might be one of the reasons why someone who might not have a training contract, qualify in New York and then become cross-qualified as an English solicitor. So, those are some of the reasons that are discussed frequently, pointed to as to why you might do it.

Why not?

Why would you not?

Because I think it’s fair to say that the vast majority of lawyers who work for U.S. law firms do not cross-qualify into New York, so there must be a reason why lots of people don’t do it.

Well, top of the list is expense, time and energy. If you’re doing any legal qualification, it takes expense, time and energy.

The New York Bar is a difficult exam, the training, to be able to put yourself in a position to be able to take the exam, is expensive and intense. And you have to travel to New York and sit a public examination, which is stressful and difficult, right? So those are good reasons, sort of, not to do something, or at least to be very thoughtful about why you’re doing it before you choose to do so.

The second, which again, is quite practical, I suppose, is whether or not you can work in the U.S., right, what’s your immigration status in the United States? The United States does not have a very liberal regime for professional immigration, particularly from people who are, you know, looking for work, sort of aren’t moving within their existing employer.

And so if you don’t have a green card or U.S. citizenship, you might find it quite difficult, even if you’ve got the New York bar qualification, to get a job at a New York firm. The third reason is that U.S. firms, although they do obviously, mainly hire New York and English qualified lawyers, the New York half of that is overwhelmingly hired from U.S. law school JD programs.

So the pool of people from whom New York, the pool of students from whom the New York firms are hiring is the JD pool at U.S. law schools. And if you’re sat in London or Paris, or somewhere else in the world, and you’re doing a course and then sitting the exam, you’re not in that pool. You’re not in that group of people from whom the vast majority of the hiring occurs.

And lastly, and this is the most significant reason for the phenomenon I mentioned a minute ago, why is it, just practically, the case that there are not many U.S. qualified lawyers sitting in this firm or similar firms – lots of people choose not to do it. And the reason for that is that it adds very little to your career, once you have an English qualification.

So, once you have an English qualification as an English qualified solicitor, there are some areas, particularly in capital markets, you know, for our business, where being New York qualified would be a significant additional help, or may even end up being a necessity. But for the vast areas of our practice, once you have an English qualification, it just doesn’t add much in practice.

So that’s really the reason why most of us haven’t trained as New York qualified lawyers. So, it’s quite a nuanced decision. There are big, macro reasons that suggest that New York qualification might be a great idea, but a lot of practical barriers and things to consider before you decide to go ahead.

Thanks very much.

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