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How to Become A Multi-State Lawyer

Many people have been wondering about how to be a multi-state lawyer, especially now that so many lawyers are working from home. While it’s difficult, and there are significant costs involved, there are many benefits to being a lawyer and being able to practice law in multiple jurisdictions. As more and more work shifts into the online space, passing the bar in multiple states is becoming easier than it has ever been. 

Particularly when lawyers live near the borders of their home state, or if they travel to and from a specific state often, they may want to explore how to obtain multiple State Bar licenses. Being able to practice law in two or more states is becoming increasingly common, but it is still unusual. Another driving factor is law firms, which are becoming larger, and may serve clients in multiple areas, especially as remote work for lawyers continues to increase. 

Are lawyers allowed to practice law anywhere in the country? 

Not exactly. 

While there has been growing interest in the legalities of requiring a State Bar license, most state laws require a State Bar license specifically for practicing law in their jurisdiction. Even legal cases that are fundamentally federal in nature, such as immigration and bankruptcy, often require a State Bar license for the state in which the court is located. 

Being a multi-state lawyer usually means you’ll have to pass the State Bar exam for each state in which you wish to represent clients. 

There are exceptions to this rule, however. In the District of Columbia (D.C.), for example, you may practice law without passing the D.C. State Bar exam if you have practiced law for at least five years in any state. Or you may be from a state that offers the Uniform Bar Examination (UBE), which is standardized so that your score may be transferred to other participating states in order to practice law. The caveat with transferring UBE scores is that you only have a certain amount of time to do so after taking the exam, and the length of time your UBE scores can transfer varies from state to state. 

Is the process the same for a litigator and a transactional lawyer? 

While the process of passing a State Bar exam is the same for both litigators and transactional lawyers, it is often more beneficial for transactional lawyers to obtain multiple bar cards. This is because transactional lawyers spend much less time inside of the courtroom, especially now that remote work for lawyers has become commonplace. 

Since litigators need to understand the local court procedures of each area in which they intend to practice law, the process is slightly more complex and time consuming. This means that litigators often decide against practicing in multiple states due to the hassle of getting to the point where they are able to work. 

Why do people become multi-state lawyers? 

They need more geographical freedom 

Becoming a lawyer comes with geographical restrictions. It is much easier to practice law in a single jurisdiction for the entirety of your career, but there are often events in life that require relocating. Since states only offer a bar exam biannually and there may be additional requirements that must be met before being able to work in another state, this can delay the process by a considerable amount of time, which can easily extend from months to years. 

They want to increase their practice area 

The most obvious reason to become a multi-state lawyer is to increase the number of potential clients you can represent. This is especially true for attorneys who have a highly specialized practice and may find themselves unable to expand in their current market.

Is remote work for lawyers restricted to certain states? 

Remote work for lawyers has become more common, but that doesn’t mean every state makes it easy to telecommute. 

There are state-specific rulings regarding multi-state lawyers, as well as rulings on what constitutes the unauthorized practice of law. Do your due diligence before attempting to practice law remotely in any area. 

How do I become a multi-state lawyer? 

Check to see if the state offers reciprocity 

Many states offer reciprocity if you meet certain conditions. States that offer reciprocity typically require a certain amount of experience practicing law, and/or may allow you to practice if you have passed the bar in a state they have deemed allowable. 

Take the Uniform Bar Examination (UBE)

The Uniform Bar Exam (UBE) is a standardized version of the Bar Exam that allows you to move your practice between states more easily. However, each state has their own unique requirements regarding the exam, as well as coming from another jurisdiction to practice law. Each state is able to determine what constitutes a passing score, and the length of time your score remains transferable varies state to state as well. 

Take the bar exam for multiple states

Sitting for the Bar Exam in multiple states is the most obvious way to become a multi-state lawyer, but it is not a popular route to take. However, when a state doesn’t offer any reciprocity or accept UBE scores, there may be no alternative option. Many multi-state lawyers consider taking a second state’s bar exam to be much easier and less stressful than the first time they passed. 

Stick to cases in federal courts 

Technically, if you are licensed to practice law in any state, you should be able to practice federal law out of state. However, this is a heated topic among legal professionals, and you could potentially find yourself in a difficult situation, including getting in trouble with the State Bar for the unauthorized practice of law.

Should you get licensed in multiple states?

While it is always going to be easier to simply practice in a single jurisdiction, becoming a multi-state lawyer does have benefits. If you feel as though the advantages are worth the cost and time it would take to obtain multiple bar cards, it could give you increased opportunities and allow you to expand your business.

© Copyright 2021 PracticePantherNational Law Review, Volume XI, Number 144
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About this Author

Kamron Sanders Practice Panther

Kamron Sanders is the Marketing Specialist at PracticePanther, an all-in-one legal practice management software. She is responsible for creating engaging content across multiple channels including social media, articles, videos, and more. Kamron views marketing through a customer-focused lens and equips legal professionals with the information and tools to automate their practice.

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