Reciprocity: What States Can You Practice Law?

Reciprocity: What States Can You Practice Law?

Legal recruiters explore every best option when searching for a new firm for our attorneys. Looking out-of-state gives your search an edge, and opens up additional financial, lifestyle and several intangibles that are a good fit for you.  There are several states where you may be able to practice law without having to retake the bar exam.

The bar admission process is complicated and varies from state to state.  For those taking the bar, the Uniform Bar Exam gives lawyers the “portability” to practice in several states.

Uniform Bar Exam
Many states are unifying the process of bar admission through the use of the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE). New York is the latest state to adopt at least part of the UBE and joins Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. Missouri and North Dakota were the first states to administer the UBE in February 2011 followed by Alabama in July 2011. New York, Iowa, Kansas and New Mexico will begin administering the UBE in 2016.

The UBE is a set of three testing devices prepared by the National Conference of Bar Examiners. The UBE concentrates on general legal concepts as opposed to intricacies of any particular state’s laws in an effort to provide a uniform way to measure performance across the country.

The UBE is comprised of the Multi-state Bar Exam (MBE), which is a set of 200 multiple-choice questions on Constitutional Law, Contracts, Criminal Law and Procedure, Federal Civil Procedure, Evidence, Real Property, and Torts; the Multi-state Essay Examination; and the Multi-state Performance Test. States can utilize some or all portions of the UBE and set their own scoring criteria. Every state except Louisiana currently administers the MBE portion of the UBE. Some states, like California, administer the MBE together with state specific essay and performance test features.

In theory, the UBE fosters portability of law licenses, especially with respect to states like Minnesota and Idaho that accept passing UBE scores from any state within a certain window of time (between two to five years). But this practice is limited to a select group of states, and even in those states you will need to sit for the bar exam or find another way to get admitted if you apply outside the window of time wherein your UBE score still counts. Moreover, other states that administer or plan to administer the UBE (like New York) require applicants to take a separate course and test on state subjects for admittance.

Reciprocity By State —

Never assume that because a state has reciprocity means you should not contact that state to ensure you are qualified to practice law in that state. The information provided here is to be used directionally.

Please Note: The listing detailed below is up to date, however states may have changed their policies since this chart was last updated. Check with the reciprocity state bar to make sure you are licensed to practice law in any state.

Reciprocity by state

Multiple State Admissions
In order to maximize employability and have the ability to take clients in different states, many attorneys opt to take multiple bar exams right away after law school. This is particularly useful for attorneys who live in metropolitan areas that sprawl into different states (such as New York, New Jersey and Connecticut).

Federal Courts Bar Admissions
Still more varied are rules that govern whether someone can practice federal law in one of the 94 federal district courts spread across the country and U.S. territories. Admission requirements differ from district court to district court, but admission generally involves at the very least paying a fee and taking an oath. Many district courts require an attorney to be admitted to practice before the state courts of the state in which the federal court sits.


Reciprocity by State
By no means uniform, the following details what the states positions are regarding practicing law in their jurisdiction:

Arkansas — Admission by motion went into effect in October 2004.

States that presently do not offer reciprocity: 

  • California — shorter bar examination in other jurisdictions after four years
  • Georgia — shorter bar examination in other jurisdictions after twelve months
  • Idaho — shorter bar examination practicing in jurisdictions five of last seven
  • Louisiana — admits lawyers from other jurisdictions under special criteria
  • Maine — shorter bar examination practicing in jurisdictions three of last five
  • Maryland —  shorter bar examination practicing in jurisdictions five of last ten
  • Mississippi — bar examination practicing in jurisdictions least five years
  • Rhode Island — shorter bar examination in other jurisdictions after five of last ten years
  • Texas — admits lawyers from other jurisdictions under special criteria and bar examination

The following states have no formal reciprocity but provisionally admits lawyers who have practiced law for five years of the seven years immediately preceding their applications for admission without taking and passing the base State’s bar examination:

  • Indiana
  • Iowa

States who admit lawyers without examination if from an accredited ABA law school and obtained certain minimum scores on the Multi-state Bar Examination and the Multi-state Professional Responsibility Examination:

  • District of Columbia
  • Minnesota
  • Nebraska
  • North Dakota

States that have to reciprocate with base States lawyers provisionally without examination:

  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • District of Columbia — from reciprocal states after five years of practice
  • Georgia — from reciprocal states after five years of practice
  • New Hampshire — reciprocates with ME and VT
  • Massachusetts — after five years of practice from ABA law school or authorized by statute
  • Maine — reciprocates with NH and VT
  • Missouri
  • Michigan — actively practiced law for three of the five years preceding
  • Minnesota  — actively practiced law for least five of the seven years
  • North Dakota — actively practiced law for least four of the last five years
  • Ohio — actively practiced law for least five full years of the ten years prior
  • Oregon — reciprocates with ID, UT, WA and WY
  • South Dakota — actively practiced law for least five full years
  • Tennessee — actively practiced law for least five full years
  • Utah — reciprocates with ID, OR, WA and WY
  • Vermont — reciprocates with NH and ME and practiced least five of the preceding ten years
  • Virginia
  • Washington — reciprocates with ID, OR, UT and WY
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming — reciprocates with ID, OR, UT and WA

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Swenson, T. (December 2010 / January 2011). Career Transitions: How to Avoid Taking Another Bar Exam When Relocating. The Young Lawyer, Volume 15, Number 3. American Bar Association.

Retrieved on February 24, 2016 from

Barnes, H. A Comprehensive Guide to Bar Reciprocity, What States Have Reciprocity for Lawyers and Allow Yo to Waive the Bar. retrieved on February 24, 2016 from

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