Lawyer Career Changer Profile

Charles O'Brien

American Bar

Charles O'Brien

Legal Career

MTA Solicitors, Personal Injury/ Shipping, London

New Career(s)

US Attorney - American Bar

Career Change Story

I am now a US attorney, having passed the Washington State Bar exam.

We decided to live in Seattle which meant for me that I needed to requalify in the US. I had quite a few months notice ahead of our move, so I began researching the relevant bar qualification, of Washington State, via their website and by telephone. As a UK lawyer, coming from a common law jurisdiction with more than 5 years PQE, I was allowed to turn up and sit the Bar Exam without having to attend 3 years at a US Law School. I found out that Washington State Bar exams can be taken biannually in February and July, so I signed up for a Bar Review course with a view to sitting the July 2008 exam. The application itself was quite complicated as the US are much hotter on ethics and professional responsibility then we are and so I had to be vetted as an alien, produce a certificate of Good Character from the UK Law Society and obtain affidavits of my suitability to join the profession from attorneys who have known me for 3 years or more. This was difficult from 6,000 miles away when I had just 2 weeks to get the originals and fortunately I got away with just a late fee.

Career Change Reflections

Requalifying in the States should not present a problem for anyone qualified in the UK, so long as you have the requisite PQE (at least that was the requirement in the State of Washington) and still have the application for an intense course. It cost me about US$2,400 in fees to register with a Bar Review Course and another £1,500 or so in fees to the Washington State Bar Association. Bear in mind you are not automatically enrolled for the end of course exams, you have to register for the exams separately. Obviously, that is very different from the UK, and don't want to find you are prevented from doing the exams at the end of the course. Some State qualifications afford you reciprocal qualifications with neighbouring states, for example, I am now qualified to work in Oregon, Alaska and Washington DC. It's a tough market in the States at the moment with a lot of law firms laying people off, and I would say that it should perhaps only be undertaken if you are going that way in any event, like I was, rather than on a whim or for lifestyle reasons, particularly since you cannot simply turn up and work in the US without the necessary immigration visa to do so.