State Bar Association Reciprocity Laws

You’ve finished law school (congratulations!), perhaps you’ve even taken the bar exam and passed, now you are all set to practice  law in (name your state). That’s great, except for one little detail you may not have given any thought to: reciprocity laws.  Reciprocity laws will define where you practice as an attorney. If you haven’t thought about how the states that surround you deal with who are not licensed to practice law in their states, then now might be the time to learn about the State Bar Associations reciprocity laws

Reciprocity Laws 101
Reciprocity laws when defined refer to the recognition of privileges between states, nations and individuals. In regards to an attorney’s license, reciprocity laws between states either allow or disallow an attorney to practice in other states not documented on state certificates or other applicable documentation.

The tricky part is that current laws vary from state to state. If one state does not have reciprocity with another, then an attorney who takes a case or wishes to take a case in that state would have to take that states bar exam in addition to the one he or she already has.

Some states will allow the multi-state bar exam in combination with years already in practice as a deciding factor.

The beauty of reciprocity between states is location. For example, in 2005 the states of Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont allowed licensed attorneys from either of these three states to practice in all.  Why would they do that?  It makes sense in regards to location and proximity of the states themselves and businesses that also operate in all three.

So who’s in?
States that offer reciprocity without any additional requirements or testing do exist. The “friendliest” states for reciprocity are as follows:

  • Alaska has an agreement with 23 states.  Not surprised are you? When you’re that far removed from the world of corporate America, you’d better have some backup.
  • Illinois offers reciprocity to approximately 31 states. Abe Lincoln probably had a hand in this smart move.
  • Kentucky has reciprocity with 26 other states.
  • New York, North Carolina and Pennsylvania all  have reciprocity with at least 27 other states.

Many states that do automatically offer reciprocity, do offer it under certain conditions. For example, you have been practicing law  for five years and take a shorter version of the bar exam may then practice.

Think Before You Accept
Graduating from an accredited law school, passing the state bar and multi-state bar exams gives an attorney the legal right to be practice law in that state.  Federal courts generally allow attorneys involved in cases to practice, no matter what state they are licensed in.  Perhaps the biggest deal for reciprocity is with corporate law or clients that operate in a state other than the one the attorney is licensed in.

For example, Delaware has does not offer any reciprocity laws and yet, they are a big corporate “hot spot.”  In other words, you must be licensed in the state of Delaware to practice law there. Perhaps another state does offer reciprocity, as in New York (New Jersey is closer, but has no reciprocity),  who does offer reciprocity, but that won’t help you in Delaware.  It is a challenge and can be confusing, not to mention annoying when it comes to where to hang your hat.

The Bottom Line
When it comes to choices for location, go with your gut.  Sure, you may be courted by states in the sun belt or made offers by big firms in very fancy buildings.  You may even decide to step out and open your own shop.  No matter what you do, you’re in it for the long haul.  Down the road you may have to take another state board exam.  So what?  That’s life, you passed the bar exam once, you can certainly pass a half-exam.  Many states allow reciprocity once conditions have been met.  Decisions regarding reciprocity among states that offers none, may be chosen for personal reasons such as family.

Here are the states that currently offer NO reciprocity:

  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Hawaii
  • Kansas
  • Montana
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico

With a little consideration, you can set yourself up for minimum pain down the road.

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