What Is Bar Reciprocity?

An attorney looking forward to taking advantage of bar exam reciprocity

The three long and seemingly unending years you’ll spend buried in law school learning legal jargon and countless rules and statutes is 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 (or state) where you want to practice. Only by passing the bar exam can you be admitted into 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.

Types of Bar Reciprocity

Generally, bar reciprocity or bar exam reciprocity refers to the process by which attorneys licensed in other jurisdictions may be admitted to the bar of another jurisdiction without having to sit for the latter’s bar exam or via a transfer of scores from another jurisdiction’s bar exam.

Admission on Motion

This refers to the rules and procedures governing an attorney’s ability to practice law in a foreign jurisdiction (where they are not yet a bar member) without examination. Eligibility provisions to be licensed in a jurisdiction without taking that jurisdictions’ bar exam vary from one jurisdiction to another but typically require candidates to demonstrate that they:

  • Hold a J.D. from an ABA-approved U.S. 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
  • 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

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 (see example)
  • Completing the jurisdiction-specific component (where applicable)

Source: Texas Board of Law Examiners – Admission Without Examination Information

Attorney’s Exam

This type of bar reciprocity 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 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).

Different Rules for Different Jurisdictions

Different states have different bar reciprocity categories, including:

  • Admission on Motion Based on Criteria: allows attorneys from any state to be admitted.
  • 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 transferring 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

So, there you have it. It is, in fact, possible to practice law in jurisdictions where you didn’t sit for the bar exam, thanks to the different types of bar reciprocity. That said, since the rules change based on the jurisdiction, it’s always a good idea to check with your jurisdiction’s bar to get the updated rules.

We wish you the best of luck in studying for the bar exam and in your career as a licensed attorney!


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