The advantages of coming to the US from both a personal and professional perspective are many. Obtaining the internationally valuable LLM, bolstering the strength of your resume or simply taking advantage of the renowned compensation structure here in the US are just a few of the benefits. What ever your reasons for coming to the US, making the transition can be a complicated process and the devil, as they say, is forever in the details.
Australian qualified attorneys have proven their ever increasing value in the US markets and EAS has been working with them for years to foster this relationship. The English fluency, similar legal tradition, top notch work ethic and the amazingly flexible E-3 Visa has left Aussie’s in a great position to capitalize on the exploding legal market here in the US. As a result of this need, EAS created the Aussie Initiative to provide for the needs of internationally active laterals. Industry specific research, Visa facilitation and “Aussie friendly” firm identification are examples
of the culture specific services EAS offers their Australian clients.
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There are a few ways to gain entry to the US. The first is to get your Australian firm to arrange a position with a US firm. However, one downside of this approach is that you may be perceived as a short-term prospect by the US firm. This can affect the work assignments and training your given.
Another option is to enroll in a LLM program. The LLM is a worthwhile experience by itself but the required F-1 visa only allows students to remain in the US up to 60 days after their graduation. Students may apply for ‘Optional Practical Training’ to extend their visa to a maximum of twelve months in order to complement their academic work. It must be remembered that this visa is not renewable.
The more traditional approach though is to use a placement agency with US law firm contacts that can also counsel you on the US marketplace, prepare your US resume, introduce you to US firms and handle all the logistical issues inherent in relocation placements.
Like the first approach, this entails getting a US firm to sponsor you for a work visa. This will usually involve obtaining an E-3 visa. Up to 10,500 E-3 visas will be available to Australian professionals each year. Australians on an E-3 visa are initially allowed to stay in the US for up to two years. This period of work authorization may be renewed in two-year increments and E-3 visas are ‘indefinitely renewable.’
While Australians can pursue H-1B visas (and other categories of visas) there are a couple of key benefits that make the E-3 visa attractive (aside from its general availability when the H-1B visa cap is filled). First, E-3 visas can be filed directly at a US consulate in Australia. This means that expensive US Citizenship and Immigration Services filing fees applicable to H-1B visas are not collected. It also means that a visa can be secured in a matter of days as opposed to several months. Another key benefit of the E-3 visa is that spouses can obtain a card granting permission to work for any employer as long as the attorney spouse remains in E-3 visa status.
Legal counsel to EAS can advise Australian2 clients on the necessary documentation and legal requirements necessary for E-3 visa approval.
The LLM (Master of Laws) is an internationally recognized postgraduate law degree. The purpose of acquiring an LLM degree is to enhance the skills and knowledge of individuals having their first degree in law. Most US law firms prefer foreign candidates with a LLM degree because it indicates that the attorney has acquired advanced, specialized legal training and is qualified to work in a multinational legal environment.
Typically, the requirements for an LLM program vary depending on the respective university guidelines, though most LLM courses require students to complete between 20 and 24 credits in one academic year (about nine-months) to obtain the LLM. A credit is equal to one hour of class time and most subjects are three or four hours a week. These programs usually consist of one or more required courses providing an introduction to US law and then a variety of various course topics usually from the courses offered in the JD (the JD is equivalent to the LLB) curriculum.
Choosing a US law school to undertake an LLM should be approached with due care and consideration. For example, while US law schools are ranked annually, they are not ranked on the quality of the LLM program but rather on the JD program. Nonetheless, the rankings, though they do not take into account all the factors that a LLM student may be concerned with, will ensure that the university that will ultimately award you an LLM is recognized as providing quality legal education.
The US law school rankings have been published by U.S. News & World Repor® since 1983. You will be safe with any school in the top 10 or 20. The precise methodology used by the U.S. News & World Report® is not all available to the public so peer review of the rankings is limited. As a result, some scholars of recent have challenged the result and methodology of the rankings. Still, the U.S. News & World Report remains the most tracked rankings for US law schools. The U.S. News & World Report® website has links to each university’s website where you can find detailed information about admission requirements, minimum credits needed and the cost of tuition. In addition, each law school tends to have specialties that may be of particular importance in choosing where to undertake an LLM degree.
Most graduates of top US law schools gravitate towards the larger more ‘prestigious’ US firms. In the US, this generally means firms ranked in the AmLaw 100. The AmLaw rankings are published annually by The American Lawyer® and rank firms on gross revenue, profit per partner and revenue per lawyer amongst other crucial staisitics.
The average salary range for an AmLaw 100 associate in the major metropolitan areas is currently $US160,000 to $US280,000. The salary offered to an Australian lawyer will vary with the firm. Most firms will give credit for experience in Australia but may drop a year or two. Once your class year is determined you will receive the same remuneration as everyone else in that class (known as the ‘lock-step’ remuneration system). In the past, salaries have increased by $US10,000 to $US25,000 each year.
In addition to salaries, associates receive bonuses based on billable hours and a number of discretionary factors. Recent firm announcements have seen bonuses for 2008 as falling in the range of $US17,500 to $US32,500 depending on experience.
For detailed information on US law firm prestige rankings, practice area descriptions and compensation a number of publications, reports and articles are made available through EAS.
An Australian does not need to pass the bar exam in order to be hired by a US firm but you will likely need to eventually pass the requisite state bar to ‘legally’ practice law in that state. Most firms will hire an Australian with the expectation that they will eventually take the appropriate state bar exam (though not favored it is possible to apply for licensure as a ‘foreign qualified lawyer’).
Every state has its own requirements to become a licensed, practicing lawyer in its jurisdictional courts. Most states permit Australian lawyers to sit for the state bar examination, though many require a demonstration that the foreign education is equivalent to a US legal education. Some states are very liberal and are popular locations for Australian lawyers to seek a license such as New York. 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 their legal education.
With respect to the bar examination, The most common testing configuration consists of a two-day bar examination, one day of which is devoted to the Multistate Bar Examination (MBE), a standardized 200-item test covering six areas (Constitutional Law, Contracts, Criminal Law, Evidence, Real Property, and Torts). The second day of testing is typically comprised of state crafted essays from a broad range of subject matters; however, in a growing number of states, two nationally developed tests, the Multistate Essay Examination (MEE) and the Multistate Performance Test (MPT), may be used to round out the test. In addition, almost all jurisdictions require that the applicant present an acceptable score on the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE), which is separately administered three times each year. Although the bar examination requires learning a lot of US law from scratch, most of the common law is the same as in Australia and there are bar courses that teach the entire content of the exam and exam-taking skills.