While ScotBarNY aims to connect lawyers and law students of Scottish descent or interest in Scottish culture, we also do our best to help ease the transition of Scottish legal professionals moving into the New York area. Here we provide some information to help make your move painless. If you have any questions that are not answered here, please feel free to contact any member of the Board. We would like to help you in any way we can.
What do I need to practice in New York?
Contrary to what you might think, you do not need a US law degree to practice in New York, as long as your degree is from a common law jurisdiction, is based on three years of full-time or four years of part-time law study abroad, and the New York State Bar Association considers the University at which you studied to be of sufficient caliber. A US law degree (called a Juris Doctor or J.D.) can help in a competitive job market, but is not required (although some firms may only hire those with US degrees). Unfortunately, if your law degree only involved two years of law study, you will need to take a 20-credit program in American law from an American law school. In addition, anyone who wishes to practice in New York must pass the New York State Bar Exam, which will test you in nearly every area of the law. Information on the exam can be found at its official website. It is recommended that you take a review course and follow a rigorous study schedule, as the Bar is a very difficult exam.
What types of Work Visa exist, and how do I obtain one?
There are a variety of visas you can get, each with different qualifications and features:
J-1: A J-1 visa is not difficult to acquire and it permits you to work for any employer for up to four months, or for a qualified employer for up to 18 months. They are given to “exchange students” or “exchange visitors”, and to obtain one you need to apply to one of several programs. The Council on International Educational Exchange provides this service, for more information you can go their official website.
F-1: An F-1 visa is exclusively for students, so if you are attending an American university then the university will usually help prepare it for you. You must be a full time student in order to make use of this visa. This type of visa sometimes offers a post-study work period called OPT to allow the graduate some US work experience.
H-1B: If you have already secured a job, you can get an H-1B visa, which requires sponsorship from your employer. This visa makes you a “non-immigrant specialty worker”, and can be granted for up to three years (renewable one time for a maximum of six years). You must stay with your sponsored employer unless a new employer fills out transfer forms.
These are the visa types you will likely be interested in; there are others (for example, the E and L visas are possible to obtain), but for an aspiring New York attorney, the visas listed above are the best option.
What is the best way to find a job?
There are a number of ways to find a job in New York, but without US legal experience or a US law degree, word of mouth will be your best bet. Any connections you have could help you greatly here. Consider taking a job as a paralegal just to get yourself started, make visits to New York before you move to scout out positions, and make sure to give out your résumé.
As a US legal résumé may be formatted differently from what you are used to, here are some guidelines:
• Make sure your name is at the top, so that anyone reading the résumé will be more likely to remember it.
• List your most important qualifications; especially the ones that could make you stand out. Employers will not spend long looking at your résumé, so you will need to make your qualifications clear and relevant.
• Put your most recent experience at the top and remember to be concise throughout the entire résumé.
• Keep all information accurate and make sure that there are no typos, spelling errors, or grammatical mistakes.
• Keep the resume to one page unless your work experience truly justifies a longer document.
Some employers will also want some kind of a writing sample (usually 5 to 10 pages in length) and references. You will also want to make sure that you know your résumé inside and out – it won’t look good if a potential employer mentions something from your résumé during an interview which you cannot explain.
Do I need to have work experience in Scotland before coming to New York?
Work experience could help you secure a job, but is not required. Having experience will make you a better candidate for positions and help close the age gap between younger, recent graduates and the rest of the contenders. It is also possible to get work experience in New York before you start a full job. Some firms offer short-term internships, some even paid. Firms also may have summer positions available, or short-term associate programs in which the law firms will hire the best associates for permanent positions. You can still be successful without prior work experience, but it will certainly help in New York’s job market.