Foreign Lawyer on desk

Veröffentlicht am 12.06.2023

How to become a lawyer in Germany - Rules and requirements

What does it need to be legally recognized as a foreign lawyer in Germany?

(German Version / Deutsche Version)


Getting the legal qualifications that you have obtained overseas recognised in Germany is often portrayed as something of a bureaucratic hurdle: information is scant and you often have to also pore through countless norms and the websites of different public agencies. And even once you've overcome all of these hurdles, your qualification still might not be recognised. Below, we have put together a few hints and tips for you in order to give a bit of structure to this rather complicated issue and to clear up a few common misconceptions. We will reveal what the actual problem is with getting overseas legal qualifications recognised and how you can still work as a lawyer in Germany, plus a few other things you should be aware of!

Why is it so difficult to get qualifications recognised?

Law studies in Germany are divided into two bar exams or the First and Second State Exams. Preparations for the First State Exam are intended to provide students with in-depth knowledge of civil law, criminal law and public law, as well as the relevant procedural codes. Graduates who successfully pass the First State Exam, consisting of six written exams and one oral exam, can apply for the academic title of "Diplom-Jurist Univ./Diplom-Juristin Univ", which roughly translates as "University-Qualified Lawyer".

Graduates who have passed the First State Exam can also apply for the Second State Exam or the associated legal practice course – frequently referred to in Germany as a "Referendariat" – with the relevant courts.

This legal practice course (or Referendariat) differs from one Bundesland (or State) to the next but generally lasts around 18 months and ends with the Second State Exam. During the legal practice course, students have to pass through a number of different (practical) seats – such as working at the court or in law offices – in order to prepare for life as a fully qualified lawyer.

If they successfully pass the Second State Exam, these young lawyers can then apply for admission to the bar (via a so-called Anwaltszulassung).

"Classic" law studies in Germany are therefore substantially different to the popular Bachelor's-Master's model. Another difference is that students are not awarded credits. Instead, their individual examinations are scored on a scale of 0-18 points. According to Sec 5 German Judiciary Act (Deutsches Richtergesetz – DRiG), in order to qualify for a judicial office a candidate must first complete the legal practice course and pass the Second State Exam. The focus, therefore, is on the legal practice course and the Second State Exam.

The result of this particular feature of law studies in Germany is that becoming a legally recognized lawyer is a difficult and time-consuming process.

So how can I become a lawyer in Germany despite my overseas training?

There is light at the end of the tunnel! In some cases, special rules apply, meaning that lawyers with an overseas qualification can indeed work in Germany or at least get some of their law studies to count against equivalent studies here.

1. Getting your overseas qualification to count as the "First State Exam"

There are two cases where qualifications you have already obtained can be counted towards the First State Exam:

Case 1: Recognition for "Spätaussiedler:innen"

According to Sec. 10 German Act on Matters concerning Displaced Persons and Refugees (Gesetz über die Angelegenheiten der Vertriebenen und Flüchtlinge – BVFG), overseas qualifications can be recognised for so-called "Spätaussiedler:innen" (or "late repatriates"). 

The term "Spätaussiedler:innen" refers to the descendants of Germans from the former Soviet Union and other Eastern European states whose residency in Germany is based on a special admissions procedure (see Sec. 1 BVFG).

For example, if you obtained your law degree in present-day Latvia and you are of German descent, you would fall under Sec. 1 BVFG.

According to this special rule, therefore, this qualification can count as your First State Exam, meaning that you are able to apply for the legal practice course.


Case 2: Recognition through a legal studies diploma from a university

If you have obtained a law degree in a Member State of the European Union, another state party to the European Economic Area Treaty, or Switzerland, you can also have this qualification count towards your First State Exam according to Sec. 112a German Judiciary Act.

To do this, you need the following:

  1. A legal studies diploma from a university

    This diploma must entitle you to undertake post-graduate education in another state. That is, you must fulfil all the requirements that apply in that state for embarking on the legal practice course – in some countries, it is enough to hold a Master's degree, but this can vary.
  2. Evidence of skills and knowledge

    You must also demonstrate that your legal skills and knowledge cover the mandatory subjects covered by the First State Exam. The mandatory subjects comprise parts of:

    → Civil law
    → Public law
    → Criminal law
    → Labour law
    → Commercial and business law
    → European law
    → Procedural law

    The exact parts of these subjects that are required vary from one Bundesland to another and can be found in the examination regulations of each Bundesland. For Bavaria, for example, the mandatory subjects are set out in detail in Sec. 18 JAPO (Education and Examination Directive for Lawyers); for North-Rhine Westphalia you will find them in Sec. 11 JAG NRW (North-Rhine Westphalia Act on Legal Education) and for Berlin in Sec. 3 JAG (Berlin Act on Legal Education).

    Once you have this evidence, you can submit an application to the relevant authorities to have your qualifications recognised. If it is determined that your current knowledge is insufficient, you must undergo an additional aptitude or equivalence assessment.
  3. Additional aptitude or equivalence assessment

    You must take this examination in those areas, in which your skills and knowledge were insufficient. These comprise written examinations only, not oral. The prerequisites and requirements that apply to each written examination depend on the examinations regulation of the respective Bundesland. But be careful: while the mandatory subjects are very similar, there are significant differences in terms of the aids permitted. So always make sure you check what these are beforehand – using aids that are not permitted will result in your work being marked with a score of 0!

The individual examinations are scored on a scale of 0-18 points. A score of at least 4.00 points is required to pass an exam. You must pass at least half of the examinations you take, regardless of your actual points score. You will not receive a grade for the aptitude or equivalence assessment, they are simply pass/fail examinations.

Aptitude or equivalence assessments are coordinated by the higher regional courts in each administrative district.

If your university diploma was recognised and your skills and knowledge are sufficient – or you have passed the necessary additional examination – you will be considered to have passed the "First German bar exam" (First State Exam) and can apply for the legal practice course and then sit the Second State Exam!

2. Getting your overseas qualification recognised as a "Rechtsanwält:in"

In order to be permitted to use the title "Rechtsanwält:in" (roughly equivalent to "lawyer") in Germany, and therefore in order to take up the profession, you must already be entitled to practise law in an overseas state.

Again, there are several different ways to get your qualification recognised using this option:

a) Applying and being admitted to the relevant bar association

If you are already entitled to practise law in an overseas state, you can submit an application to the relevant bar association in order to pursue the profession of lawyer under the corresponding professional title.

To do this, you must provide evidence that you are permitted to use the title in the corresponding country – the exact terms are governed in Sec. 1 German Act on Employment of European lawyers in Germany (Gesetz über die Tätigkeit europäischer Rechtsanwälte in Deutschland – EuRAG) and its Annex.

Which bar association you must apply to depends on where you will be practising law. You can find a complete overview of all bar associations in Germany on the German Federal Bar website. We advise contacting the relevant associations to find out what additional documentation and evidence you will need to submit.

If your application is approved, following a comprehensive review, then according to Sec. 1 - Sec. 3 Federal Code for Lawyers (Bundesrechtsanwaltsordnung – BRAO) you may practise law in Germany using the title "Rechtsanwält:in".

Be careful:

Your professional title is determined according to the title that applies in the state, where you obtained your law qualification! For example, if you are entitled to practice as a lawyer in Bulgaria, you must use the exact wording "AДBOKAT (Advocate)".

You must also indicate the professional organisation you belong to. In Austria, lawyers can also be referred to using the title "Rechtsanwält:in", so it is always necessary to indicate the state or professional organisation in brackets (Rechtsanwält:in (Austria/Österreich)).

If you are admitted to the bar association as a german in-house lawyer/legal counsel (Syndikusrechtsanwält:in), you must add the title "Syndikus" in brackets.

b) Recognition without further (extensive) examination

There is another way to have your overseas legal qualification recognised: if you have been practising as a European lawyer in Germany for at least three years, you can apply to be admitted to the relevant bar association. You must be practising in the regions that are subject to German law – including EU law.

Here, too, you must ensure that you include the professional title applicable in the state in which you obtained your law degree, in your title.

c) Application for assessment of equivalent professional qualification

There is also the option of applying for assessment of an equivalent professional qualification (see Sec. 16 EuRAG).

While this process does not require you to demonstrate three years of legal practice as a European lawyer, it does generally require you to pass so-called aptitude examinations.

The aptitude examinations are coordinated by:

  • Landesjustizprüfungsamt Baden-Württemberg/State Judicial Assessment Office of Baden-Württemberg as general assessment office for the State of Baden-Württemberg and the Free States of Bavaria and Saxony
  • Gemeinsames Prüfungsamt der Länder Hessen, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Rheinland-Pfalz, Saarland und Thüringen/General Assessment Office of the States of Hessen, North-Rhine Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate and Thuringia
  • Gemeinsames Prüfungsamt der Länder Berlin, Brandenburg, Freie Hansestadt Bremen, Freie und Hansestadt Hamburg, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Niedersachsen, Sachsen-Anhalt und Schleswig-Holstein/General Assessment Office of the States of Berlin, Brandenburg, the Free Hanseatic City of Bremen, the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Lower Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Schleswig-Holstein

💡 NB: If you did not…

  • predominantly obtain your diploma in a Member State of the European Union or another state party of the European Economic Area or Switzerland; or
  • receive your diploma from a Member State of the European Union or another state party of the European Economic Area or Switzerland;

... you must practise as a European lawyer for three years in the state, in which your diploma was issued or recognised, before you can apply for assessment of an equivalent professional qualification.

NB: Special prerequisites apply for working in the public sector. You should always contact the relevant employment agency in this case!

Good to know: Assessing your level of qualification and important links


If you want to assess your law studies and level of qualification yourself before taking any next steps, there are plenty of places that can help:

  • The Central Office for Foreign Education (ZAB): The so-called Lisbon Recognition Procedure assesses a qualification obtained overseas and subsequently provides certification of which qualification in Germany this overseas qualification is equivalent to.
  • Anabin (German-language link): This database provides information on the recognition of overseas diplomas and degrees.

To get an overview of what documents you need, you can either visit the websites of the relevant authorities in the Bundesland in question or take a look at the documents required by the Bundesland of Berlin.

There is also the option of obtaining an LL.M. in German law at a number of different universities. This Master of Laws is aimed specifically at lawyers who have graduated overseas – e.g. at the University of Cologne.

NB: FAQs on the recognition of overseas professional qualifications – such as how much such a process costs – can also be found here.

Getting recognised a foreign lawyer in Germany is not an easy undertaking. Law degrees that were not obtained in a Member State of the European Union or another state party of the European Economic Area or Switzerland, in particular, cannot be recognised. This does not mean, however, that recognition is impossible: the most important thing is that you properly familiarise yourself with the requirements beforehand, don't get put off by the bureaucratic hurdles and get going!