With the American legal system deeply rooted in the Common Law world and the Lebanese legal system founded on Civil Law, we will be tackling the differences between both countries when it comes to becoming an attorney, especially with the increasing demand of lawyers well-versed in either system.
The Lawyer’s Origins
Greece and Rome established the foundations of the legal profession, even though it was considered a crime in the Hellenic cities to perform legal services in exchange for payment. Thankfully, the latter rule was flouted, and since the reign of Roman Emperor Claudius, people that were knowledgeable in law were allowed to practice openly in exchange for remuneration.
The legal profession as we know it today has its origins in the Roman Empire, Beirut, for example, was the world’s first law school. Practitioners were divided between notaries and attorneys. Although the profession significantly declined after the fall of the Western empire, the emergence of canon law starting with the twelfth century – essentially, ecclesiastical law has helped shaped the profession.
In the following article, we will be tackling the differences between the American legal system and the Lebanese legal system when it comes to becoming an attorney. Having the U.S as a main chess player in the Common Law world, and Lebanon a very Civil Law country, we will be able to analyze the differences that both systems have.
To become an attorney in the USA, you must:
- Complete a Bachelor’s Degree
- Pass the LSATs
- Identify and apply to a Law School
- Earn a Juris Doctor degree (JD)
- Pass the Bar
In Lebanon, it’s a bit different. To become a lawyer in Lebanon you must:
- Be Lebanese for at least 10 years
- Be able to enjoy your civil rights and be between the ages of 20 and 65
- Hold the necessary degrees, including a Lebanese degree in law
- Behave in a way that inspires trust and respect
- Never have been convicted for a criminal or disciplinary act that prejudices honor or dignity, nor have been dismissed from a previous profession or public service for reasons contrary to honor and dignity
- Pass the bar
Becoming an Attorney in the USA
Completing a Bachelor’s Degree
From the middle Latin word “baccalaureus”, a bachelor’s degree is an undergraduate academic degree proposed to high school students that wish to pursue higher education in a college or university. A typical bachelor’s degree can last from three years of study to up to seven years in total.
Back in the twelfth century, the term “bachelor” had a different connotation, since it was commonly used to refer to a knight bachelor that was young or poor and could not gather vassals. However, entering the thirteenth century, the term was used to refer to junior members of universities or even guilds. Subsequently, and weirdly enough, Laurel Berry was awarded for academic success, and in some way, somehow, the term “baccalaureus” started to be associated with her name, i.e “Bacca Lauri” for “Laurel Berry”.
Presently, in order to enter the legal professional, one must be admitted to law school, which requires a bachelor’s degree, or, in other terms, four years of education after finishing a high school degree. The American Bar Association, founded in 1878, regroups attorneys and law students.1 The ABA does not recommend any specific field of study to apply to before attempting law school: students (or bachelor’s holders) are invited to apply from all majors: political science, economy, philosophy, business, and so on.
Passing the Law School Admission Test (LSATs)
In order to allow law schools to use a factor that is not the GPA,2 the Law School Admission Council had to come up in 1948 with a standardized half-day test that tackles many aspects. The test is given seven times every year and it examines logical reasoning, verbal reasoning, and reading comprehension. A test taker could attempt to score all 180 points on the multiple choice test, however, the lowest that person could get is 120, bearing in mind that the median score is currently 150.
When applicants submit their portfolios to law schools, all LSAT scores for the past five years starting from the day of application are taken into consideration: the law school would either choose the highest score, or the average score. The score is an objective measure used to determine whether or not the applicant is ready to join the law school, for it specifically tackles information management skills, analysis, reading comprehension, argumentation and critical reasoning. It is worth noting that the LSAT exam does not access the test taker’s knowledge on law issues, since it does not ask any legal question: one is not expected to know the answer of when the USA Constitution was promulgated.
Identifying and applying to Law Schools
After successfully obtaining an undergraduate degree, or a four-year bachelor’s, applicants might choose to go into law school directly, or gain some field experience prior hand. For that reason, this step is sometimes delayed for a year or two, since fresh graduates often try to work in a law firm as paralegals or clerks, to see whether or not they would want to join law school.
When that decision is made, these fresh graduates usually choose law schools that have received accreditation from the ABA (the reason being that these schools are the only schools that will allow them to appear for a bar examination later in their careers).
The choice of law school is highly impacted by the undergraduate GPA that the candidate possesses, the undergraduate course load, and the LSAT score. The top fourteen schools in the United States (the T-14) have one of the harshest admission requirements, with an admission rate of under ten percent on average. Other factors can impact an applicant’s portfolio in a law school: pro bono work, recommendation letters, organizational affiliations, Curriculum Vitae, and so on.
Earning your Juris Doctor
The Juris Doctor degree, abbreviated as JD, is a degree earned from a professional school in the United States of America, after finishing a four-year bachelor’s degree. The Juris Doctor degree was awarded in the United States of America as early as the twentieth century. It initially found its origins in the nineteenth century at the Harvard movement, where the LL.B, or bachelors of laws, was abrogated.
Two hundred and five law schools, accredited by the American Bar Association, currently offer the Juris Doctor program. However, when choosing a law school, applicants should consider the ranking and cost of tuition, since it tends to be on the higher scale.
Among the areas of specialties that students can choose from during their Juris Doctor degree study, we name a few: civil law, criminal law, business law, intellectual property law, real estate law, tax law, family law, international law, and so on.
Passing the Bar
In the United States of America, earning a Juris Doctor degree after studying law for three years in a professional law school does not guarantee a place on the market place. In fact, the holder of Juris Doctor degree is considered a ‘’lawyer’’, but not an ‘’attorney’’. As such, that person must pass the bar examination respective to the state in which that candidate wishes to practice to become an “attorney at law”.
In order to appear to a bar examination, most states require the candidate to be the holder of a Juris Doctor degree from an ABA-accredited law school in the United States of America. An applicant must also pass the MPRE- the multistate professional responsibility examination, which tries out test takers on topics related to ethics. The ABA is very keen on who practices law, for the admission to practice is not only subject to the intellect that the test taker will be able to demonstrate on examination day, but will also focus on the fitness and character of the applicant to determine whether or not that person is capable of handling client issues, and being trusted with those matters.
Each state has its own guidelines for the bar exam, but some norms are concurrent and common. The process is made out of two days: during the first calendar day, lawyers are examined on multistate matters, while the second day covers various legal issues.
The following link displays the the bar passage rate ranked from highest to lowest for every state in the USA.
The BLS or the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the USA issued a report in 2014 implying that the median wage for lawyers in the USA is $114,970 per year, before tax. However, the same report implies that the 10th percentile of lawyer’s cash in $187,199 per year, before tax.
When it comes to areas of law, usually lawyers that specialize in tax law, insurance law or intellectual property law tend to earn more than lawyers that work in local governance or state governance. Lawyers in California tend to make more than in any other state, followed by the State of New York, while lawyers in Colorado do not make as much.
Job Growth, Prospects, and Outlook
The BLS has projected a ten percent growth in employment when it comes to legal careers, before the year of 2022. That growth means that 74,800 additional positions are going to be created in that industry.
BLS has highlighted the five practices that are the most in demand up until 2022. Firstly, litigation, which is “the act, process, or practice of settling a dispute in a court of law:the act or process of litigating”. The growth in the demand for litigation professional is explained by the growth of proceedings taken before a tribunal by litigants.
Secondly, we have business and corporate law. These lawyers are typically consulted by companies, banks and other business practitioners either on a case-by-case fee or a lump sum fee.
Thirdly, the American Care Act, insurance companies and government organizations have driven growth when it comes to healthcare lawyers that typically work hand in hand with these companies to meet the needs of the customers.
Fourthly, as the business sector grows, so does the intellectual property law sector since patent registration, trademark registration and copyrighting became the interest of every major company worldwide in order to protect its products.
Finally, the growth in the housing market naturally increased demand for real estate lawyers that could cover transactions for property management issues and commercial development.
Becoming an Attorney in Lebanon
Article 5 of the Law regulating the legal profession (amended by Law No.42, issued on February 19th, 1991) states that six conditions must be fulfilled by whoever intends to practice the legal profession in Lebanon.
Each of the six conditions will be examined in order to explain what the legislator intended while imposing them on future attorneys in Lebanon.
Be A Lebanese for at Least 10 Years
Wanting to protect the Lebanese job market from foreigners and perhaps from the consequences of the influx of asylum seekers from various surrounding countries, a ten-year timeframe was imposed by the legislator, indicating a desire to preserve the opportunities for Lebanese professionals. As such, the first condition, which could be regarded as rigid by some regards, could be justified by the socio-economic objectives and nationalist ideals in preserving the legal job market for the Lebanese.
Therefore, in order to be admitted in the Beirut Bar Association or the Tripoli Bar Association, the candidate must be Lebanese for at least ten years at the moment of registration.
Enjoys Civil Rights and is between 20-65 Years Old
This condition is subdivided into two main components: firstly, the enjoyment of civil capacity, and secondly, the age requirement.
What the legislator really meant by the civil capacity clause is that any applicant should not be convicted of a crime or felony, and should hot have served a sentence. In fact, in Lebanon, any felon convicted for a crime loses their civil capacity during their time in prison, and for a period that varies between one year and ten years after their release. Therefore, the legislator made the legal profession inaccessible to candidates that do not enjoy their civil capacity.
Moreover, a person can also lose their civil capacity by simply developing mental health conditions that need constant hospitalization and that do not allow the person to exercise their basic day-to-day life, a category taken into account by said requirement.
Finally, it seems that the legislator wanted to add an age requirement for the practice of law in Lebanon. It could be observed that this component is not essential, since no person can possibly obtain a bachelor’s in Law before the age of 20, therefore, no person can possibly apply to the bar examination under the age of 20.
Holds the Necessary Degrees, Including a Lebanese Degree in Law
In order to be qualified to appear for the bar examination in the Beirut Bar Association or the Tripoli Bar Association, the candidate must be a holder of a bachelor’s in law (LL.B).
The candidate must attend law school full time for four years after college to be able to earn the LL.B. Law schools in Lebanon follow the French system mainly (as a result of the massive French influence on Lebanon across the centuries), where students do not have the freedom to choose their courses or their curriculum: it is assigned by the faculty.
Not only that, but the Lebanese University also supervises all law school examination that happens at any private Lebanese law school such as USJ, La Sagesse, or USEK. Each examination is corrected by a professor from the private sector and the public sector. The Lebanese University imposes subjects to be taught by private schools.
Students learn from a plethora of courses that overlook the majority of problems that can arise in the Lebanese society. Learners attempt corporate law where they learn about business start-up and joint ventures incorporation, due diligence, sales, M&A, corporate restructuring and amalgamations, banking and debt financing, director’s duties, corporate governance, internal audits, investigations, investment business, shareholders’ General Assembly, representation, legal assistance, drafting and reviewing contracts.
Students also learn about business start-up and joint ventures litigation, partnerships and Memorandums of Understanding, agreements, merchandising and franchising, product liability legislation, personal data protection, terms and conditions, contract law, debt problems, unfair competition and anti-trust law, international trade and commercial law, insurance law, banking and finance law
When it comes to intellectual property law, learners are taught about copyright Registration, electronic Commerce, franchising, Licensing & Distribution, IP Infringement Litigation, intellectual property audits, mergers, acquisition of IP Rights, patent, trademark registration, protection, enforcement of IP rights, publishing rights, trade labeling, false advertising litigation, software and hardware protection.
In real estate and construction law which is a prominent field in Lebanon due to the growth in the housing sector for the past decade, learners study about acquisition, sale and other transfers of rights, creation of real estate companies, due diligence, leasing contracts, real estate ownership, ending co-ownership, settlement of claims, and property development.
In criminal law, students experience with general criminal litigation, fraudulent bankruptcy, criminal proceedings related to companies, various corporate crimes, white collar crimes, cybercrimes, personal status criminal proceedings, and intellectual Property rights crimes and infringements.
Finally, when it comes to labor law, students focus on confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements, employment contracts, human relations compliance, employment disputes, employee benefits and rights, and social security issues.
Inspiring Trust and Respect
This provision from the Lebanese law mirrors the ‘’character and fitness’’ that the American Bar Association tests on. There is no Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination in Lebanon, however the bar association singlehandedly studies the portfolio of each and every candidate to determine whether or not they are a good fit to practice law in Lebanon.
Has Compromised Honor or Dignity
This provision very much resembles the second condition which states that the candidate must enjoy the civil capacity and is between the age of 20 years old minimum and 65 years old maximum. However, unlike the second condition, in which a person would lose their capacity due to any crime that does not prejudice honor and dignity, such as driving infraction, the fifth condition does not allow any person to practice law in Lebanon if they have ever been convicted for a crime that prejudices honor or dignity. Such crimes could be attributed to murder, abduction, rape, tax fraud, and so on.
Dismissal from Public Service or Past Professions
The Lebanese legislator wanted to further assure that the legal profession in Lebanon remained a very restrictive sector where only the best and ethically qualified individuals could get a shot. Subsequently, in the event where the candidate was dismissed from practicing another profession or was dismissed from public service, then they would not be able to join the Beirut Bar Association or the Tripoli Bar Association.
Lebanese Bar Exam
The Lebanese bar examination is a two stage process: In the first stage, the candidate sits in front of a panel of experts that ask random questions about Lebanese law in particular, and law in general. In fact, the oral exam is comprised of four sections:
- General Culture/Knowledge
- Translating an Arabic legal text to English/French
- The laws regulating the legal profession
- Two questions regarding either the Code of Obligations and Contracts, Commercial, Penal or Administrative Law.
The Candidate chooses 2/4 of the possible domains (Civil, Commercial, Penal, Administrative), the random questions originating from the specific domains.
In the event where the candidate passes the oral bar exam, they will have to take the written bar exam that involved the aforementioned four sections.
Finally, people that pass the bar have to swear an oath during a ceremony:
“I do solemnly swear, to God, the Almighty, to respect the principle of professional secrecy and to exercise my profession with integrity, to abide by its laws and regulations, to uphold its ethics and norms, not to counsel or plead in a way that violates the ethics or tampers with the State Security, and to respect the Judiciary and to act in a trustworthy and respectful manner”.
After which, the trainee-attorney has to complete a three-year internship at a law firm in Lebanon before being able to become eligible for the second bar exam to officially become an attorney at law, the second exam being similar to the first one but with more procedural aspects of the legal system in mind.
On an ending note, with the crisis-driven Lebanon facing ever challenging circumstances, and the economy further deteriorating, all institutions are facing technical and financial problems, not least of which the Bar Associations, the pandemic having played a crucial role as well. In light of these events, the Beirut and Tripoli Bar Associations had extended the candidacy deadline for the already delayed bar exams, with an ever increasing number of law students applying. It is not unreasonable to assume that the extension could have been spurred due to financial incentives, since a larger “population” of lawyers would translate to more tax-income for the Bar Associations.
One could only hope that the enlargement of the number of lawyers i.e. quantity does not come at the expense of quality.
- ABA History Archived 2007-10-27 at the Wayback Machine; For a historical overview see Matzko, John A., “‘The Best Men of the Bar’: The Founding of the American Bar Association,” in The New High Priests: Lawyers in Post-Civil War America, Gerard W. Gawalt (ed.), (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1984), pp. 75-96.
- The LSATs specifically test for logic and legal reasoning, as well as text comprehension.