Lawyers Changing States – Tips for Bar Admission

Lawyers admitted to practice in one state can sometimes find themselves considering a move to another for various reasons. This includes having a spouse who is taking a new job, caring for an ailing parent, having a spouse in the military, etc. However, the thought of taking another bar exam is, well, ugh!

Options to avoid taking another bar exam


Some states will allow a lawyer to simply waive in.  In other words, a lawyer who is licensed in one state just needs to apply to the new state.  Not all states have reciprocity. Those that do, often only permit waivers with another participating state.  Typically, a lawyer must also have been practicing law for a certain period (e.g. five years) in the former state.

Freelance legal work

This is a fast-growing area in the legal practice world.  Lawyers are hired as contractors to do a legal project but are not the lawyer on the case. Usually, this type of work includes legal research and writing in support of another attorney’s case. Lawyers are advised to check the rules of the state they moved to make sure they are permitted to do this without being a member of the state bar.

Federal Practice

Some areas of federal law specifically allow lawyers to practice in that area even if they aren’t admitted to the bar in that state, as long as the lawyer is licensed in another state.  These areas include immigration, anti-trust, bankruptcy, patent, and trademark law.  Lawyers interested in this should research the applicable federal and state laws, as well as the state/local bar rules and the local federal court rules.

Uniform Bar Exam (UBE)

Many states now allow admission to their bar if a lawyer has passed the UBE.  The UBE is a standardized bar exam consisting of three parts:  the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE) (weighted 50%), the Multistate Essay Exam (MEE) (weighted 30%) and the Multistate Performance Test (MPT) (weighted 20%).  The MBE consists of 200 multiple choice questions, while the MPT is six questions given in 30-minute segments. 

The UBE covers a dozen of the most common areas of the law.  States can use all or part of the UBE. While the scoring is standardized, states can set their own passing score levels. Keep in mind that some may have additional educational requirements and exams.  According to Kaplan, these locations currently participate in the UBE:

Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio (July 2020), Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, Wyoming.

Taking the exam

When none of the above options is available, and taking another bar exam is the only option, lawyers can take some comfort in knowing that once they have passed one bar exam, it is often easier to study for and pass another!