Chapter 8: Getting Admitted to Practice Law in Other States

Chapter 8

 Practice Law in Other States

 practice law in other states


 

Options for Nontraditional Law Graduates to Practice law in Other States

If you have persevered and earned your law degree by an alternative method of study, it’s a good indication that you have what it takes to be a lawyer. You will have worked hard and learned that alternative legal education does not mean watered down and that you can therefore proudly stand side-by-side with your colleagues. But now comes the time to prepare to sit for the bar examination. Because you earned your degree by non-traditional means, that is, by attending a foreign law school or U.S. unaccredited law school or by distance learning, you will not be able to take the bar exam in every state, however, you still have many options.

Options for Foreign Law School Graduates to Practice Law in other States

Many U.S. states will permit foreign law graduates to sit for their bar exam after meeting certain prerequisites. This can vary from state to state, with some states granting full recognition to foreign law degrees (often after a petition and evaluation), to requiring the candidate to earn an LL.M degree from an ABA-approved law school. Even where you choose to apply to a state that requires you to obtain an LL.M, before sitting for their bar examination, you will find that this is not as overwhelming as it might first seem. First of all, many ABA law schools now offer LL.M programs and a few of them may be earned completely online. Moreover, there is generally very little competition to get admitted to LL.M programs and there are no LSATs, standardized tests or other barriers to admission as there are with the J.D. degree. Finally, if you obtain this prestigious degree you will be among an elite 3% of American lawyers who hold such an advanced law degree and, depending on the school you choose, your overall tuition costs will generally be much lower than the cost of a full J.D. degree.

The key to the whole process is to get admitted in one state, any state, even if it’s not the actual state you ultimately wish to practice in. Why? Because once you’re admitted in one state other states may permit you to be admitted by reciprocity, petition or by virtue of your being admitted in another state for a period of time, typically three to five years. Oddly enough, many lawyers are admitted in one state while working as a lawyer for a law firm in a completely different state. This often takes place in interstate law firms with the “local” attorney acting in a supervisory role. You’ll want to check on any particular restrictions in your desired jurisdiction, but this multi-jurisdictional practice is actually quite common.

 

    The following states offer the most reasonable admissions and reciprocity policies for foreign law graduates:

Alaska

Alaska will permit many foreign law school graduates from common law countries to sit for its bar examination if they complete one academic year at an ABA-approved law school including courses in U.S. Constitution Law and Federal Civil Procedure.

Alabama

Foreign law school graduates may petition the Alabama Supreme Court to take the bar examination.

California

The State Bar of California will require you to have an evaluation of your foreign law school transcript(s) before considering your appli­cation to sit for the general bar exam (See Chapter II). Generally this will result in your being credited with some applicable credit that may permit you to bypass the baby bar exam. It is more likely, however, that you will have to take some additional credits and possibly pass the baby bar exam prior to taking the general bar exam. This is not as bad as it might seem. The additional credits you need can be acquired by distance learning from a State Bar registered online or correspondence law school and taking the baby bar can actually be good practice for the “real thing”—think of it as a form of bar review.

Connecticut

Connecticut may, (but check for  current policy) permit foreign law graduates to sit for their bar exam upon earning an LL.M degree at an ABA law school. The good news is that many ABA law schools offer LL.M programs and there is very little competition for placement in these programs (and no LSAT or similar entrance examinations.) (See Appendix C for a list of ABA-approved law schools offering LL.M programs.) Also, Connecticut requires that the foreign law degree be obtained from a law school in a common law country. (Such as the foreign law schools listed in this book).

District of Columbia

Applicants with foreign law degrees may sit for the D.C. bar exam upon successful completion of 26 semester hours at an ABA law school. This can be an LL.M, but the subjects studied must be those subjects tested on the D.C. bar exam.

Louisiana

Foreign law school graduates may have their law school transcript(s) evaluated and, if found to be equivalent, will be issued a certificate of equivalency authorizing them to sit for the bar exam.

Massachusetts

Massachusetts may permit foreign law school graduates depending on the particular content of the legal study undertaken.

 

Michigan

Michigan will permit foreign law graduates to sit for the bar exam if they obtain an LL.M. from an ABA law school (but check current policy). (See Appendix C)

 

New Hampshire

New Hampshire will permit foreign law graduates to sit for the bar exam if they obtain an LL.M. from an ABA law school.(See Appendix C)

 

New York

New York will permit many foreign law school graduates from common law countries to sit for its bar examination. Candidates who do not qualify or whose law degree was earned in a non-common law country may sit for the bar exam after obtaining 20 semester credits from an ABA-approved law school. Note, however, that if your degree was earned by distance leaning, New York may still deny you based on the curious wording under Rule 520. Notwithstanding, you can petition the New York State Court of Appeals to take the exam. (See Appendix C)

 

North Carolina

North Carolina will permit foreign law graduates to sit for the bar exam if they obtain an LL.M. from an ABA law approved school by August 2005. (See Appendix C)

 

Ohio

Ohio will permit foreign law school graduates to sit for the bar examination after their law school transcript(s) are evaluated and determined by the Ohio Supreme Court to be substantially equivalent to an ABA-approved law school education. In the event that it is not, you will generally be required to take some additional subjects at an ABA-approved law school.

 

Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico may permit a foreign law graduate to sit for its bar exam if the applicant petitions the court and takes four additional subjects at an ABA-approved law school.

Rhode Island

Rhode Island will permit foreign law graduates to sit for the bar exam if they obtain an LL.M. from an ABA law school. See Appendix C

Tennessee

Foreign law school graduates may take the Tennessee bar exam if their foreign law study is determined to be substantially equivalent to legal study at an ABA-approved law school.

Texas

Foreign law school graduates may take the Texas bar exam if they obtain an LL.M degree from an ABA law school. However, this applies only if the foreign degree was not earned by distance learning. (See Appendix C)

Virginia

Virginia will permit foreign law graduates to sit for the bar exam if they obtain an LL.M. from an ABA law school. (See Appendix C)

Washington

    Washington will permit a foreign law graduate to sit for the bar exam if they participate in a three-year apprenticeship program.

WARNING:  All Bar Rules are subject to Change without notice. For a current detailed list of rules check with the particular state in which you are seeking to be admitted. (See Appendix A)

Options for Graduates of Unaccredited U.S. Law Schools

If you obtained your law degree from a non-ABA approved law school in the United States, such as from a law school in Alabama, Massachusetts, Tennessee, or even from a California distance-learning law school, you can be admitted in that particular state if you successfully pass the bar examination and meet the administrative and moral character prerequisites. If you want to practice in a different state you have several options:

 Apply for admission on motion to states that have liberal reciprocity agreements.

Apply for admission by examination to states that permit attorneys licensed in other states to sit for their bar examination.

Practice for a period of time (normally 3 to 5 years) and then apply to be admitted by motion to another state.

Practice for a period of time (normally 3 to 5 years) and then apply to be admitted by examination to another state.

Once you are admitted in one state, other states will permit you be admitted in their states by reciprocity agreement, by petition or by fulfilling a waiting period, commonly three to five years. As indicated above, many lawyers are admitted in one state while working as a lawyer for a law firm in a completely different state. Most states will even permit lawyers licensed in one state to be partners in a law firm in their states. Again, you’ll want to check on any particular restrictions in your jurisdiction as the regulations can change and vary from state to state. (See Appendix A) for a list of State Bar Associations)

 

Reciprocity

Some states have very liberal reciprocity policies and will admit any lawyer if they are licensed in any other U.S. state or territory (e.g., Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia). Many other states also have liberal reciprocity agreements but require that the state you are licensed in also permit its lawyers full reciprocity. Depending on the state you would ultimately wish to practice law in, you may wish to be admitted in a jurisdiction that has an “open” reciprocity policy. Utilizing this strategy you would first be admitted in a state that permits graduates of non-ABA approved law schools to sit for the bar examination and then apply for admission in a jurisdiction such as the District of Columbia, which has a large number of reciprocity agreements. Once this is achieved you will have many more options to be admitted in other states. Again, you will need to check with the state bar authorities to determine the current reciprocity agreements and for any particular rules that may apply (See Appendix A)

 

Practice Requirements

Some states, in addition to or in place of full reciprocity policies will require that you be licensed and in the practice of law for a period of time before applying for admission. The usual practice period is three to five years depending on the particular state, but can be longer.

 

Listed below are states that require a specific waiting period for graduates of non-ABA approved law schools:

Alaska
Five years of active practice in another jurisdiction.


Arizona
Five years of active practice in another jurisdiction.

 

California

If you are admitted in another state you should be permitted to sit for the bar in California.

 

Colorado

Five years of active practice in another jurisdiction and your law degree must be from a state approved/accredited law school.


Florida
Ten years of active practice in another jurisdiction.


Hawaii

Five years of active practice in another jurisdiction.


Kentucky

No specific practice period but you must submit your law school transcripts/records for an evaluation.


Maine

Three years of active practice in another jurisdiction.


Missouri

Five years of active practice in another jurisdiction.

New York
Five years of active practice in another jurisdiction.


New Mexico
Four years of active practice in another jurisdiction.

Oregon
Three years of active practice in another jurisdiction.

 

Pennsylvania
Five years of active practice in another jurisdiction.


Texas

Three years of active practice in another jurisdiction. However, Texas will not permit graduates of correspondence law schools.

 

WARNING: All Bar Rules are subject to Change without notice. For a current detailed list of rules check with the particular state in which you are seeking to be admitted. (See Appendix A)

 

Other Strategies


There are many lawyers who are licensed in one jurisdiction and are working as attorneys for law firms in states that they are not actually licensed in. This is true irrespective of whether they graduated from an ABA approved law school or an unaccredited school. Lawyers from different states sometimes form law firms with partners licensed in different states. Attorneys in these situations are working in their profession every day and even represent clients, make appearances and do pretty much everything any other lawyer does on a daily basis. Some states have a limitation on the number of years they will permit you to work (practice) in their state before requiring you to get a license there.

 

Federal Practice

Additionally, some lawyers limit their practice to certain areas of federal law such as Immigration Law, Taxation, Social Security, Patent and Trademark Law, etc. State Bar Associations should take the posi­tion that federal supremacy provides for U.S. government regulation of practice in these areas and that lawyers from other states should be permitted to practice in these areas notwithstanding that they are not members of the Bar in the particular state they are actually practicing. Still, you should check with the appropriate State authorities to be sure you comply with the laws and rules governing such practice. (See Appendix A)

Earning A LL.M Degree

Some students prefer to earn an LL.M degree after obtaining their J.D. from an unaccredited law school. The LL.M is a Master of Laws degree and is offered in many legal specializations or in a general legal discipline. The reasons for obtaining a LL.M degree vary from person to person, however, some feel that their degree is tainted by the fact that it is “unaccredited,” notwithstanding the actual high quality of their course of legal education—it’s a matter of perception. Whatever the reasoning, there can be a great deal of value in earning a LL.M after a J.D. degree. For one thing only 3 % of all U.S. lawyers have an LL.M degree. This can be particularly useful in broadening your employment options, particularly if you choose a specialization such as tax law, medical malpractice, intellectual property or many other areas where specialized legal knowledge is important.

Another advantage is that you can actually accelerate your legal education. For example, if you choose to enroll in a California correspondence law school and wish to comply with Rule 20 you will follow a course of study for four years, which would include taking the difficult baby bar exam after your first year of study. However, although California offers the most liberal legal study options, it also has the most difficult bar examination in the country and, not everyone wants to practice law in California anyway. As such, some students elect to accelerate their studies and complete their J.D. by distance learning in three and in some cases two years and then enroll in an ABA-approved LL.M program for one or two years. This provides them with three distinct advantages:

 

1) They earn a joint degree (JD/LL.M) in three to four years

 

2) They save thousands of dollars over the cost of a traditional law degree

 

3) They can take the bar exam in several states other than California

 

Of course, if a student does not initially comply with California’s Rule 20, it means that they cannot sit for the California bar exam after earning their J.D. degree, however, they may later apply to sit for the general bar exam after obtaining their LL.M degree.

 

In addition, many states do not have a published policy of permitting holders of ABA-approved LL.M degrees to sit for their exam, however, in practice, they will often permit such applicants to sit for their bar exam after filing a petition. My advice is to apply, and if you’re turned down, file a petition to be admitted or to be permitted to sit for the general bar examination.

 

Obtaining an LL.M cannot only increase your marketability and employability in the profession, but it often constitutes an integral part of your strategy to being admitted to the bar. To assist you in selecting the appropriate LL.M program, should you decide this is necessary or desirable, I have listed ABA-approved law schools offering such programs in Appendix C.

 

Can you practice law without being admitted to the bar?

The answer to this question is a resounding NO! Don’t even think about it, it would be illegal and would likely hamper your future goals of becoming a licensed attorney. In short, don’t do it. That being said, it is not always clear what exactly is meant by the “practice of law.” For example, if you went up to a school crossing guard and asked him if it was legal to cross the street in the middle of the block and he responded “no” (or yes), isn’t he giving legal advice? Now I agree that this is an extreme example, but I do want to make a point that there is a wide range of room to differ about where the practice of law begins and ends. Be aware of this and please refrain from coming near the dividing line between activities that are reserved solely for licensed attorneys and those activities permissible for paraprofessionals.

There are some very lawyer-like activities that are permitted for laypersons and paraprofessionals and you are free to engage in these activities without fear of violating the law. The vast majority of these career options are made available under federal law and some can provide you with a very good standard of living and/or serve as a practical training ground for you while you are pursuing you legal studies. For those of you who are interested in a quasi-legal career, you can “practice” in one of the following special areas, provided that you fully comply with rules and you do not misrepresent your position.

Practice Before the United States Tax Court

 

Title XX of the Tax Court Rules provides for non-attorneys to practice before the U.S. Tax Courts. Many non-attorney practitioners earn a very good living representing others in the complex area of tax law. But, not everyone can do this. You must take a very difficult examination known unofficially as the “Tax Bar Examination.”

And don’t take the exam lightly, it is quite difficult indeed and, you must know not only tax law, but also, contract law, federal rules of civil procedure, and the federal rules of evidence. If you successfully pass the examination and meet the administrative and moral character standards, you can carve out a very rewarding and profitable career as a practitioner—albeit not an attorney. For more information contact the U.S. Tax Court:

U.S. Tax Court
400 Second Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20217
Tel: 202-606-8736
Web: http://www.ustaxcourt.gov/ustcweb.htm&e=747

   

Irrespective of how well you know the subjects tested on the tax bar examination, I urge you to seek the help of good prep course. For the Tax Bar there is only one that I can recommend, Max’s Taxes. Contact Mary Ann at the number below, she is a wealth of informa­tion and unrivaled in her field.

Max’s Taxes
1450 Kingswood Drive, Suite 348
Roseville, CA 95678-7903
Tel: 916-772-7444, Fax: 916-772-7445
E-mail: max@maxstaxes.com
Web: http://www.maxstaxes.com/

 

Practice before the United States Patent and Trademark Office

 

The Rules of Practice for patent and trademark cases is set forth in 37 CFR sections 10.5, 10.6 and 10.7. These rules provide for non-attorney practitioners, called agents, who are permitted to do nearly everything an attorney can with the exception of representing a person before the USPTO tribunal. In the PTO world that means you can do about 95% of everything a PTO attorney can do. Follow the rules and learn your craft well and you can have an extremely lucrative practice. However, just as with the Tax Court, you must know this area well and have a strong academic background in the sciences and mathematics—and you have to pass an exam.

 

For more information about becoming an agent/practitioner contact the USPTO:

 

U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
Crystal Plaza 3, Room 2C02
Washington, DC 20231
Tel: 800-786-9199 or 703-308-4357
E-mail: usptoinfo@uspto.gov
Web: http://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/dcom/olia/oed/


Department of Homeland Security

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Service, an agency of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, also provides for non-attorney practitioners under 8 CFR section 103.2. Under the INS rules, a non attorney practitioner is known as a “representative” and may even represent persons before INS hearings and certain tribunals. Typically, the representative will work for some private organization, for example, immigrant rights organizations. The process of obtaining authorization to appear on behalf of clients is quite simple compared to the stringent rules of the U.S. Tax court and USPTO, but you will want to gain competence in immigration law and law in general before representing clients in matters that are extremely important to them. And yes, you can be sued for malpractice. If you would like more information about being a representative contact the agency:

Department of Homeland Security
U S Citizenship and Immigration Service USCIS
Washington District Office 4420 N. Fairfax Drive
Arlington, VA 22203
Web: http://www.uscis.gov/graphics/index.htm

Social Security Administration

Social Security Disability Advocates: 42 U.S.C. 404.1705(b) provides for non-attorney representation of Social Security disability claimants. So long as you comply with the rules set forth for such representation and do not represent yourself as an attorney you may lawfully establish a Social Security “practice.”

 

Social Security Administration
6401 Security Blvd.
Baltimore, MD 21235-0001
Tel: 800-772-1213
Web: http://www.ssa.gov/oha/inforep.htm

 

Federal Trade Commission
600 Pennsylvania Avenue N.W., Washington,
D.C. 20580
Tel: 202-326-2222
Web: http://www.ftc.gov/

Practice Law in the State of Your Choice


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