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The NY Bar exam - first we take Manhattan, then we take Burnley

Author: Alex Aldridge

18 Mar 2010 | 18:04

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The College of Law's newly-launched ‘US JD-style' course - which enables its graduates to sit the New York Bar exam - will doubtless hold an allure to the increasing numbers of law students completing their studies without training contracts or pupillages to go to.

"It means that if [our graduates] cannot secure one of the ever-decreasing training contract places or pupillages, they still have the option to take the New York Bar exam," said CoL chief executive Nigel Savage as he unveiled the course last week.

It may cost a fair whack (the CoL has yet to publish prices), but, so the logic goes, a US legal qualification followed by a New York Bar exam pass looks better on a CV than the alternative: if you're lucky, paralegal work; if you're not, bar work. Plus it means you'll join an elite group of individuals with a dual understanding of the world's twin legal frameworks for business. All music to the ears of graduates with a taste for further education and a bit of spare cash who find themselves caught out by the credit crunch - provided, that is, they turn a blind eye to a few uncomfortable truths.

First uncomfortable truth first: if you've finished an LPC and don't have a training contract, it's very unlikely you're going to get one at the kind of high-paying City law firm that does work with a New York element - almost all of which recruit two years in advance. Individuals who've managed to drift through several years of expensive legal education without lining up a job are, unsurprisingly, not the sort of characters such institutions find themselves drawn to. Even when that individual has a New York Bar qualification.

A graduate recruitment partner at a leading UK law firm comments: "While studying US law and then completing the NY Bar would probably be looked on more favourably than 12 months spent travelling around South America, it ultimately wouldn't mean a lot to us. There are several reasons for this - one of which is that we don't see the New York Bar exam as a particularly useful qualification for our trainees to have. But probably more important is that we do the overwhelming majority of our graduate recruitment at a much earlier stage."

Okay, so the big UK firms might be unimpressed, but surely that New York Bar expertise would have some traction with US law firms in London hungry for lawyers with transatlantic expertise? Well, probably not because: 1) US firms in London also recruit two years in advance on a fairly rigid basis, and 2) they aren't hungry for lawyers with transatlantic expertise.

Neel Sachdev, a UK-qualified partner with US outfit Kirkland & Ellis in London, who spent a year and a half working at the firm's New York office (and has no New York Bar qualification), comments: "It is not useful for our UK lawyers to have the New York Bar qualification. Would we choose someone because they had it? No. Listen, to be an expert in a particular jurisdiction's company law requires the accumulation of a great deal of experience. We have lawyers in the US who have that expertise; we're here for our UK expertise and broader knowledge of the general concepts surrounding contracts."

Which leaves the smaller law firms and, for BVC graduates, barristers' chambers - many of which don't recruit far in advance. But then they also don't do much New York law as their practices tend to be almost wholly domestic. Still, an eye-catching international qualification can make a candidate stand out. A BVC graduate who went on to secure a training contract at a high street firm after completing the New York Bar exam told Legal Week: "My NY bar exam pass played a big part in me getting my current job. Okay, I'll never use it here, but they saw it on my CV and were clearly impressed."

So it can work. But probably not in quite the way that many of those signing up to do the course anticipate. And however you look at it, the NY Bar route seems a pretty bizarre way of getting an English legal job.

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