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Pass the Bar in One State, Work in Another

published September 27, 2004

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For any attorney, the cost of entry into the profession is high, which means that once in, they’re most likely hungry to succeed and stay in the industry for decades. Law school can cost anywhere from $50,000 to $200,000, and taking the bar exam to get a law license is a mind-busting task. So once an attorney is able to finally practice, it makes sense for them to want to earn as much income as possible—which usually means expanding the number of jurisdictions that they can serve. But what options exist that will allow an attorney to pass the bar in one state, but work in another?

 
Pass the Bar in One State, Work in Another

TAKE THE UNIFORM BAR EXAM

 

Within the legal community, it's generally an accepted fact that some states' bar exams are more difficult or easier than others. Thankfully, some of those states realized they needed to combat their reputations, and they began to administer the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE). One example is New York, which had one of the most difficult bar exams in the country but began to enact the UBE starting in 2016. After the UBE was adopted, New York saw an uptick in their bar passage rates, and lawyers from other UBE states were allowed to practice in the highly-desired market.


The UBE is coordinated by the National Conference of Bar Examiners, and it consists of the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE), Multistate Essay Examination (MEE), and Multistate Performance Test (MPT). The test is uniformly administered, graded, and scored; and the those who pass the UBE in one state can practice law in any other state that allows the use of UBE scoring as part of the licensing process.

The Multistate Bar Exam (MBE) is a six-hour test that has 200 multiple choice questions. It tests core legal subjects taught during the first and second years of law school. The Multistate Essay Examination (MEE) has six essay questions that take 30 minutes a piece to answer. The purpose of this section is to gauge the examinee’s ability to identify legal issues in hypothetical situations, separate useful material from waste, and present a well-written reasoned analysis. The Multistate Performance Test (MPT) has two 90-minute portions that test lawyering skills in a realistic situation.

Almost half of the country has adopted the UBE, and the number of states willing to participate appears to keep growing.

 

RESEARCH A STATE’S BAR RECIPROCITY POLICY

 

If you're licensed in one state and do wish to move and practice law in another, then that's where the complicated reciprocity rules come into play. There are about 25 states that allow lawyers from other states to come in and practice without having to pass their bar exams. But this provision usually only applies if the first state also has the same arrangement. It's definitely a tit-for-tat situation.

Only a few states waive these reciprocity agreements altogether and allow out-of-state attorneys to come in and practice law without regard to mutual agreements with other states. The remaining states require that out-of-state lawyers pass their bar exam. Most of these remaining states, however, give out-of-state lawyers an option of taking a slightly shorter attorney's exam, which is basically the exam minus the multistate part. Of course, deciding whether you want to take the full test or the attorney's exam is an entirely different issue. For a complete charge on bar reciprocity for every state, go here: Bar Reciprocity by State Chart.

 

PRACTICE FEDERAL LAW

 

Attorneys who practice federal law are allowed to appear in federal court outside of the state where they passed the bar exam. Before this can happen, however, the attorney must look into the district court’s rules and apply for admission. While the rules vary for the nearly 94 district courts around the country, most of the time the application involves a fee and an oath.

 

TAKE THE BAR EXAM IN MULTIPLE STATES

 

For recent graduates who know they want to practice in multiple jurisdictions, they may hit the ground running and take the bar in multiple states right off the bat. On the other hand, some J.D.s who know they don’t want to litigate may choose to work at corporate jobs that don’t require a license. While this is an option, not getting a license in at least one state is a mistake.

People have been padding their resumes for as long as resumes have been in existence. It looks great that you have a J.D. listed under your education heading on your resume, but it looks even better if you can add ''Admitted to the ___ Bar.'' Sometimes people fail the bar exam multiple times, but when they do pass, they realize that when they pass does not really matter, as long as they eventually pass. This is because without bar admission into at least one state, your resume can work against you. A potential employer, even one at a job that does not require a license, will see that you're a J.D. but that you have not passed the bar anywhere. Their first question will be why this is so.

Were you bright enough to earn your J.D. but you keep failing the bar exam in your state? Sometimes, people graduate from top law schools, and still cannot pass the bar exam. For example, UC Irvine Law School’s first class had a 90 percent passage rate. In November 2012, UC Irvine announced during the California exam's July 2012 administration, 46 out of 51 members of the law school’s inaugural class passed on the first try. This means 5 people failed or did not take the bar exam. For the 5 people, a potential employer will be asking - Did you not take the bar exam yet? If not, why not? Why would you invest so much time and money and hard work in earning your J.D. and then decide to go into a corporate or otherwise non-legal job?

For these reasons—in order that these questions don't come up—it's a good idea to have the Admitted-to-the-Bar stamp on your resume. A law school graduate should try to take the bar exam as soon as possible after graduation. The longer a person waits, the harder it will be to study because a person may get married, have kids, and get into a full-time job where he or she cannot take time off from work to study.

  See the following articles for more information about the bar exam:
   

WORST CASE SCENARIO: YOU CAN’T PASS THE BAR IN YOUR STATE

 

What if you've taken the Bar Exam and failed it in a difficult state like California? There are still ways around this issue. The first way, of course, is to study harder and prepare yourself better for the next Bar Exam. You obviously know that you're not the first nor last person to fail the exam, so there is no shame in having to take it more than one time in order to pass. Unfortunate experiences happen to everyone, and sometimes failing a bar exam is one of those situations. However, failing the bar exam is an obstacle that can be overcome. The bar exam is a passable exam, and not as impossible as some people make it appear. One great positive about the bar exam in many jurisdictions in the United States is that it can be retaken as many times as necessary to pass. This is unlike some other professional exams where a person is limited to a certain amount of attempts. Another positive is that the bar exam is given 2 times a year in most jurisdictions in the United States. This is unlike an Olympic athlete who has to wait 4 years for another shot at the gold.

Besides studying harder after failing a bar exam, there is another way to avoid retaking the bar exam that has gained some popularity among J.D.s. Let's say you resigned yourself to the fact that you cannot or will not pass your state's bar exam. (We encourage you not to take this attitude, but if you already have it, then we figure that you know yourself better than anyone and maybe you're being realistic.) You can still have Admitted to the Bar on your resume. The key is to take another state's bar exam—a state with a much easier exam and a much higher pass rate.

You can do the studies on your own of states with high-pass bar exams. Compare it to your own state's exam. You'll have to study for that particular state's exam and arrange for your own travel and accommodations at your own cost, of course. All the research must be done on your own as well. So with all this extra work and expense, what are the benefits?

Remember our point earlier about padding your resume? That's where it can pay off. If you're in California applying for a job and you have Admitted to the Nevada Bar on your resume, for example, that looks infinitely better than just having J.D. in your education section. At an interview, you'll doubtless be asked about this situation, and this too can work to your advantage.

You obviously don't want to say, ''I took the Nevada Bar Exam because the California exam was far too difficult'' or ''I took the Nevada Exam just for the sake of having a Bar Admission on my resume,'' even though that may be exactly what you did. Instead, you can come up with creative reasons. Perhaps you can say that you once aspired to practice law in Nevada but later opted against it. Or you can say that you found that Nevada law interested you in the past because you thought about living there.

In any event, this may not work if you're applying for a California job that requires a California license. But for a corporate-type job where bar admission is not required, your resume will look more complete with a Bar Admission on it, as opposed to just a J.D. Competition is fierce for employment, especially for legal jobs. Many of your competitors will have Bar Admissions on their resumes, so you cannot afford to be without one.
 

Frequently Asked Questions
 

Can You Live In One State And Practice Law In Another?


The advent of cars, trains, and airplanes has simplified travel between states, causing many people to become involved in legal matters away from home. We often receive questions from our readers about whether an attorney can practice in any state.

The simple answer is no: Every state requires that attorneys hold a license to practice. A lawyer from one state is usually not allowed to practice in another state because the law is complicated, but there are exceptions.

If your case is out-of-state, how can you tell if you need a local lawyer or an out-of-state one?
 

Each State Has Its Own Bar, Requirements



Most lawyers are only allowed to practice law in the state in which they have taken and passed the bar exam. Exceptions do exist, however. Here are a few examples:
 
  • Practicing Federal Law: Federal courts can be visited by attorneys who have been licensed in another state. Nevertheless, each district court requires the attorney to obtain admission in advance. A district court attorney who is admitted does not need to take the state bar exam in the state where he or she practices.
  • The Uniform Bar Exam: Uniform bar examinations (UBE) are standardized, unlike individual bar examinations administered by each state. The UBE is currently administered by 13 states. UBE passers can transfer their scores to another UBE state to be admitted to the bar there. Applicants for admission to practice law in the second state must have a UBE score high enough to qualify for admission in the second state.
  • Reciprocity: It is possible to practice in two states if states have an agreement with each other. Those lawyers who have at least five years of experience in any state can practice law in the District of Columbia without having to go through the bar exam.
 

Can You Take the Bar Exam Without Going to Law School?


If you do not go to law school, you may be able to take the bar examination. A person who was interested in a career in law often trained under a lawyer who was already established. Since then, most lawyers have gone to law school to gain their education to practice law. However, law school is not a requirement to become a lawyer.

Here are the steps you need to follow if you plan on taking the bar exam without completing law school:
 

1. Choose Your Location


You must choose a state where you can take the bar exam without having to complete law school before you can practice law. Washington, Vermont, California, and Virginia are the only four states that permit this process. Attorneys have the option of practicing without earning a J.D degree in Wyoming, New York, and Maine, although they must have some law school experience. Legal apprenticeships may be able to replace one or two years of school. As a lawyer, you must complete law school in any other state where you plan to reside.
 

2. Find a Legal Apprenticeship


Taking a legal apprentice position is the next step, which will allow you to acquire real-world experience. An apprentice must work a set number of hours every week and be supervised by a practicing lawyer for a set period. Additionally, participants in this type of apprenticeship are typically required to complete a certain number of study hours. Depending on the state, the level of experience of the supervising attorney may range from three to ten years.
 

3. Pass the First-Year Law Students' Examination


Your legal apprenticeship includes passing the First-Year Law Students' Examination if you live and plan to practice in California. Those who attend unaccredited law schools also need to take this exam, which is known as the Baby Bar. This is only required in California, as the bar exam is the most difficult between 1995 and 2014, resulting in the lowest pass rate of all 50 states.

The First-Year Law Students' Examination is a one-day exam covering:
 
  • Community property
  • Business associations
  • Contracts
  • Professional responsibility
  • Civil procedure
  • Evidence
  • Remedies
  • Wills
  • Torts
  • Criminal law and procedure
  • Real property
  • Trusts
  • The first two articles of the Uniform Commercial Code
 

4. Prepare for the Bar Exam


To take the bar exam, you will need to complete your legal apprenticeship requirements. Exams and pass rates vary by state. As a law apprentice, you will pass approximately one-third as many exams as a law school graduate, so preparing as much as you can is extremely important. You can increase your chances of passing by studying online, using practice tests, and limiting other activities.
 

Benefits of Taking the Bar Exam Without Attending Law School


A major advantage of not going to law school is the cost savings. Students must repay student loans after completing law school, which can be quite costly. Additionally, this path allows you to gain firsthand experience in the community in which you plan to practice law. Programs like legal apprenticeships encourage local students to operate in rural parts of the country so they can support their community.
As a result of working with practicing lawyers and seeing a range of cases, legal apprentices have a higher likelihood of graduating with extensive experience. The experience they gain by preparing legal documents and researching cases for their employers can be valuable for students in law school, who may not get such experiences through a solely educational experience.
 

Disadvantages of Taking the Bar Exam Without Going to Law School


You run the risk of not passing the bar exam if you take it before having completed law school. Without experience, passing the bar exam is not easy. Although you may gain some knowledge as a legal apprentice, you will need to study the course materials carefully, which can be time-consuming. Students in law schools are often taught material related to the bar exam and given exams associated with it, so they may be better prepared for the bar exam after graduating.

It might be more difficult to find a job for a lawyer without a law degree if clients are hesitant to hire someone with no law school background. Moreover, only a few states permit attorneys to practice law without a graduate degree, so those who choose this path will only be able to work in certain areas of the country. In states with this requirement, a lawyer without a J.D. cannot practice law.
 

What Is The Hardest State To Pass The Bar In?


If you want to practice law in your state, you will probably need to pass the bar exam. Passing the bar exam in one state does not allow you to practice law in another.

Taking the bar exam in one state does not necessarily guarantee success in another. The bar exams in different states differ greatly. If a state's bar exam is challenging, its bar passage rate will give you an idea of how difficult it is.

The following states require an aggressive approach to passing the bar exam:
 
  • California — 44 percent pass rate

California is universally regarded as the toughest state for taking the bar exam. This notion is not dissuaded by the state's low bar-pass rate. In addition to the performance test, five essay questions, and the Multistate Bar Exam.
 
  • Delaware — 68 percent pass rate

Delaware's bar exam is especially challenging because of its minimum passing score, not the bar-pass rate. Delaware requires exam takers to score 145 on the exam to pass, as opposed to many other states that only require a 132 score.
 
  • Arkansas — 63 percent pass rate

The Arkansas bar exam is considered to be second only to the California bar exam in terms of difficulty. It takes the same amount of time to complete as the California exam. Taking the test can be challenging because of the high number of state and local laws that are covered, which requires more study than most other states' bar exams.
 
  • Virginia — 66 percent pass rate

The bar exam in Virginia is another tough one. Its grit is due to the wide range of topics covered in the exam, including up to 24 different areas of law. In Virginia, you must also wear a suit to the bar exam.
 
  • Washington — 67 percent pass rate

This state's bar exam takes two days and is brutal. Nevada and California have a lower bar-pass rate, but many other states have a lower rate.
 
  • Nevada — 58 percent pass rate

In Nevada, the bar exam is hard, but the bar pass rate does not inspire a lot of confidence. Aside from being one of the longest bar exams in the country, the Idaho bar exam also requires that you have a thorough understanding of the state's laws. It is also among the highest in the country that the state of Nevada requires a score of 140 on a 200-point scale to pass the bar.
 

Do You Have To Pass The Bar Exam In Every State?


Every aspiring lawyer must take the bar exam before they can practice law. 

According to the United States Bar Association, admission to the bar entitles a lawyer to practice law within a particular jurisdiction and before that jurisdiction's courts. In the United States, every state and similar jurisdiction (e.g. federally controlled territories) has its court system and admission rules, resulting in different bar admission standards among states. The highest court in a jurisdiction usually admits or calls a person to the bar, thus enabling that person to practice law in that courtroom. Even though federal and state courts often share admission requirements, each sets its requirements for practice.
An applicant for admission to a law school must earn a Juris Doctor degree from a law school approved by the jurisdiction, pass the regulating authority's licensing exam, achieve a passing score on a character and fitness examination, and undergo a medical examination. All of these requirements, however, are subject to exceptions.

To practice law in another state, a lawyer must be admitted to their state first. There are reciprocal agreements in some states so that attorneys from other states can practice without sitting for a second full bar exam; these agreements vary substantially between states and between federal courts.
 

What Is The Bar Exam?


Known as the bar exam, the Uniform Bar Examination is a standardized test administered by the National Conference of Bar Examiners. To become licensed to practice law, lawyers must pass the test assessing their skills and knowledge. Three parts make up this exam:
 
  • Multistate Bar Examination: 200 multiple-choice questions
  • Multistate Essay Examination: Six 30-minute essay questions
  • Multistate Performance Test: Two 90-minute exams
 
During UBE administration, two full days are required. In the United States, only 27 states accept the UBE as a standard test of competency to apply for membership in the bar. Although similar in format and content to the UBE, the other 23 states offer their bar exams.

The bar exam covers the following content areas:
 
  • Conflict of laws
  • Real property
  • Family law
  • Contractors
  • Business associations (Partnerships, limited liability companies, and corporations)
  • Criminal law and procedure
  • Torts
  • Uniform Commercial Code, Article 9 (Secured Transactions)
  • Evidence
  • Trusts and estates
 

You need to pass an examination to be admitted to the state bar to practice law. Passing this test shows your understanding of important legal areas.

CONCLUSION


So, as you can see, crossing state boundaries to practice law can be a complicated issue depending on what state you're in and where you want to move to. You'll need to do plenty of research and verification to find out about your specific situation.

Don't just rest with your J.D. Do what it takes to pass the bar in your state. Or another state. Emphasize these preparation tips to overcome failing the bar exam:

  • Conduct a personal assessment
  • Understand the law
  • Memorize the law
  • Read carefully
 

When people fail a bar exam, they usually receive a tally of their scores on each question and receive a copy of their actual answers. For instance, in California, the bar examiners return the graded essays and performance tests to the applicants who fail along with a scorecard showing their multiple choice raw and scaled scores. Find out the reasons for failing, and take action to redress these problems by speaking with a professor, former bar exam grader, or bar exam tutor who knows the law and how the bar exam works.

Try to pass a bar exam in any state. Get it on your resume. It's that important. From there, you'll be able to look into practicing in whatever state you choose.

Bar Reciprocity Chart


See the following articles for more information:
 
 
Please see the following articles for more information about the bar exam and reciprocity:
 
 
Please see the following articles for more information about law school, the bar exam and succeeding in your first year of practice:
 
 
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