Can a Foreign Lawyer Find a Job in a NY Law Firm?

Q: I am an Irish national who is interested in pursuing a career as a lawyer in New York. I hold a primary law degree and a master's degree in commercial law. I would like to sit for the bar exams next year but I would prefer to do so while working with a NY law firm. Is it common for NY firms to be open to such arrangements?

A: There is a small but growing need for foreign lawyers like you to work in firms in New York. Large New York firms with international practices are trying to position themselves to compete in an increasingly global marketplace. Many of these firms now have special "foreign associate programs" where they accept a select number of foreign lawyers to work in the firms' New York office for one year. In addition, there have been a number of recent mergers of U.S. firms with European firms, such as Clifford Chance and Rogers & Wells, and White & Case with Feddersen Laule. So there is a lot of potential in the job market for foreign lawyers. For law firms such as these your knowledge of foreign law and culture can be compelling reasons to extend a job offer. That's the good news. The bad news is that these programs are extremely competitive and there are many foreign lawyers competing for relatively few spots. Many of the foreign lawyers are also enrolled in LLM programs in United States law schools, which gives them an extra advantage.

I would suggest that you market yourself in particular to U.S. law firms that do business with Ireland. I would also suggest that you consider enrolling in an LLM program for one year in the United States. That way you can participate in special recruitment programs that the law schools have for foreign LLM's seeking employment. You might want to do some research on your own first to see if you could land a foreign associate position on your own. To locate firms that have large international practices, I would try to obtain a directory such as the "National Directory of Legal Employers", which is available through the National Association for Law Placement in Washington, D.C. You could then contact individual firms and inquire as to their plans for hiring foreign associates.

Finally, you should also be aware that any employment in the United States requires employment authorization. Although this is typically easier to acquire for those holding advanced degrees you should familiarize yourself with U.S. immigration laws and practices. Most Irish nationals visit the United States using the Visa Waiver Program, which only offers a limited visit to the United States and forbids employment. Most law firms will not employ a foreign national who lacks the proper employment authorization and even if they did working without the appropriate visa may result in significant consequences including deportation and bars to returning to the United States for years to come. It may be helpful to consult with an American immigration attorney to assist in planning since immigration processes can be time consuming and complex. Even if the firm that ultimately hires you provides immigration assistance consulting with counsel on these matters in advance can help you set reasonable expectations for how quickly you will be able to relocate once an offer is extended.