The three long and seemingly unending years you'll spend in law school learning legal jargon and countless rules and statutes are just the beginning of the arduous journey to practice law. After you graduate, you must complete the final test—passing the bar exam in the jurisdiction where you want to practice. Only by passing the bar exam can you be admitted to that jurisdiction's bar, giving you the legal licensure required to practice as an attorney.
But what if you want to practice in another state where you didn't attend law school? What if you've been practicing as an attorney for several years in one state and want to relocate to practice in another? Do you have to take the bar exam for each jurisdiction where you wish to pursue a legal career? The good news is that you don't have to, thanks to bar reciprocity. This article will explain what bar reciprocity is and how it works.
What is the Bar Reciprocity?
Bar reciprocity is a legal concept that allows attorneys who are licensed to practice law in one jurisdiction to be admitted to the bar and practice law in another state without having to take that state's bar exam. While reciprocity agreements between states allow attorneys to bypass the usual requirements for admission to the bar, jurisdictions may still require transfers to jump through additional hoops, like sitting for a state specific component, undergoing a character and fitness investigation, or taking an additional course.
How does it work?
Reciprocity agreements vary between states and may require attorneys to meet certain criteria, such as practicing law for a certain number of years, completing continuing legal education courses, or passing a background check. The purpose of bar reciprocity is to facilitate the movement of attorneys between states and promote the efficient delivery of legal services across state lines.
It’s important to note that bar reciprocity does not apply to all states, and the rules and requirements for reciprocity can vary widely between states. Attorneys who wish to practice law in another state should carefully review the rules and requirements for reciprocity in that state to ensure they meet the necessary criteria.
Importance of Bar Reciprocity for Lawyers
Bar reciprocity promotes a number of important benefits for lawyers who may want to practice law in more than one jurisdiction. These benefits include:
- Mobility: Lawyers can practice law in multiple states without having to take the bar in each state.
- Expansion: The ability for lawyers to practice law in multiple states promotes greater access to legal services.
- Cost Savings: Bar exam fees are expensive, but bar reciprocity allows lawyers to circumvent these fees.
- Flexibility: Working in multiple jurisdictions allows lawyers to seamlessly serve all of their clients and expand access to legal services.
- Professional Development: Working in various jurisdictions promotes professional development by exposing lawyers to a diversity of legal systems, improving legal knowledge and enhancing lawyering skills.
Requirements for bar reciprocity or admission on motion
Admission on motion and reciprocity are often used interchangeably, because they both refer to the rules and procedures governing an attorney's ability to practice law in another jurisdiction (where they are not yet a bar member) without examination.
Eligibility provisions for licensure in a jurisdiction without taking that jurisdiction's bar exam vary, but typically require candidates to demonstrate that they:
- Have a JD from an ABA-accredited US law school or satisfy each element of a jurisdiction's exemption from the law study requirement;
- Have obtained a license to practice law in another state; and
- Have been actively and substantially engaged in the lawful practice of law as their principal business or occupation for at least five of the seven years immediately preceding their application.
Possible additional requirements include:
- Meeting the jurisdiction's minimum passing score or higher on the MPRE;
- Satisfying the provisions of the jurisdiction's rule governing good moral character and fitness;
- Being willing to take the required Attorney's Oath; and
- Completing the jurisdiction-specific component (where applicable).
Types of Bar Reciprocity
"Bar Reciprocity" is an umbrella term for transfer agreements between states and is also commonly used interchangeably with "Admission on Motion.” For example, "pure reciprocity" indicates that a state allows reciprocity based on the rules of the transferring jurisdiction. That typically means the jurisdictions have a “reciprocal” relationship with each other. They agree to let attorneys from each other's jurisdictions transfer admission based on similar rules. For example, states that have adopted the Uniform Bar Exam® (UBE®) have effectively agreed to admit attorneys to their jurisdictions based on similar standards.
While reciprocity agreements make it possible to practice law in jurisdictions where you didn't sit for the bar exam, admission rules vary by jurisdiction, so it's always a good idea to check with your jurisdiction for updated rules. Generally, states fall into one of the following bar reciprocity categories:
- Admission on Motion Based on Criteria: allows attorneys from any state to be admitted as long as they meet the set criteria.
- Admission on Motion Based on Reciprocity: allows attorneys to be admitted if their transferring jurisdiction also allows attorneys from the admitting jurisdiction to be admitted under similar rules.
- Semi-Pure Reciprocity: allows attorneys to be admitted if their transferring jurisdiction also allows attorneys from the admitting jurisdiction to be admitted under similar rules. However, attorneys face stricter procedures and potential transfer fees.
- Pure Reciprocity: allows attorneys to be admitted according to the rules of the transferring jurisdiction.
- No Admission on Motion: attorneys aren't allowed to be admitted into the jurisdiction without examination.
Admission by Exam
Admission by exam refers to transferring your bar exam score from one jurisdiction to another. This option is available to attorneys who aren't eligible for admission on motion as described above. In this scenario, attorneys may transfer their bar exam score to the new jurisdiction, exempting them from taking the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE) or allowing them to use their previously obtained MBE score.
In effect, it enables attorneys to skip the MBE® component and only take the written portions of the new jurisdiction's bar exam, which are the Multistate Performance Test (MPT®) and Multistate Essay Exam (MEE®). This form of bar reciprocity may also allow you to transfer your previous bar exam score (and not just the MBE portion) to a new jurisdiction. Of course, this ability to transfer your "uniform" score from one jurisdiction to another only applies to jurisdictions that have adopted the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE).
How to Apply for a Bar Reciprocity?
Applying for bar reciprocity typically requires you to submit proof that you have met a jurisdiction’s requirements (i.e., character and fitness, passing Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE®), years of practice, submit fees, etc.). Candidates who have passed the UBE will typically have an easier time transferring to other UBE jurisdictions because the National Conference of Bar Examiners® (NCBE®) has standardized much of the process. However, even non-UBE states may use NCBE services. The following resources may be useful if you’re applying for reciprocity:
- Character and Fitness — Many jurisdictions use NCBE services to conduct their investigations on applicants. Simply select your jurisdictions to start the process.
- MBE Score Services — Even if you aren’t transferring from, or to, a UBE jurisdiction, most states use the MBE and may require a MBE score transfer via the NCBE.
- UBE Score Services — If you’re transferring between UBE jurisdictions, you’ll use the UBE Score services.
- MPRE Score Services — Nearly all states require that you have an MPRE score that meets their criteria (only meeting your jurisdiction’s criteria does not matter).
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Frequently Answered Questions (FAQs)
The requirement for the MPRE in the admission on motion process varies by jurisdiction.
The requirement for admission on motion applicants to be graduates of an ABA-approved law school varies by jurisdiction.