By Michael G. Jenkins.
As Utah lawyers, we are acutely aware that unfair laws and unjust circumstances force millions of refugees around the world to flee their home countries. Today more than 60,000 people who are refugees make their home in Utah, according to data gathered by the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute.1 Most people who are refugees not only survive in Utah, but they thrive – aided by Utahns and Utah institutions who generously give their time, money, and other resources to help refugee populations. And many Utah employers hire people who are refugees so they can earn their own way in their new home country.
Of particular interest to Utah lawyers, however, is a certain group of refugees who can be overlooked when it comes to meaningful employment. This group includes refugees who were lawyers in their home country but who do not qualify to practice law in Utah.2 So, what do foreign lawyers who are refugees do for jobs in Utah when they cannot work in their chosen legal profession? The answer, of course, is any job they can find – which typically is far removed from their specialized legal training and experience. And that is something members of the Utah State Bar should help change.
Bar Admission Rules
Anyone accepted for admission by the Utah State Bar first must complete certain requirements, including graduating from an approved law school in the United States and passing the bar exam. See R. Governing Utah State Bar 14-704(a). Refugee lawyers who have graduated from a law school outside of the United States, however, must meet other admission requirements. For example, Rule 14-704(d)(1) of the Rules Governing the Utah State Bar states that, to be admitted to the Utah State Bar, a foreign lawyer applicant must have “graduated from a Foreign Law School in a country where principles of English common law form the predominant basis for that country’s system of jurisprudence.” Even if an applicant studied the common law in law school, provisions 14-704(d)(3) and (4) also require that the applicant be “admitted to practice law in an English common law jurisdiction” and “Actively and lawfully engaged in the Full-Time Practice of Law in an English common law jurisdiction for more than two years.”
Unfortunately, the above requirements become an almost impossible hurdle for refugee lawyers in Utah. Refugees come from countries like Somalia, Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, South Sudan, Venezuela, and Bosnia. None of these countries would be considered an “English common law jurisdiction,” so lawyers who were educated or practiced in these countries cannot even hope for admission in Utah as a graduate of a foreign law school.
In addition, there are practical barriers to foreign lawyers who are refugees ever qualifying to practice law in Utah. These barriers are inherent in the application process established under Rule 14-704(a), which states that the “burden of proof is on the Applicant to establish by clear and convincing evidence” that he or she meets the requirements for admission. By definition, refugees have been forced to flee their home countries because of war, government changes, threats to themselves or their families, and other persecution. Many times, refugees escape with only the clothes on their back. And in the chaos of escaping, refugee lawyers typically do not have the luxury to gather educational or professional information in order to meet the burden of proof for admission stated in the Rules Governing the Utah State Bar. Also, the countries from which these refugee lawyers flee often have...