Passing the bar exam is the biggest hurdle in your journey to becoming a lawyer, and once you’re licensed in your state, you may never want to think about the bar again. But what do you do if you need to move? Or what if you discover a whole pool of potential clients just across the state border? Can you practice law in multiple states?
It is possible to become a multi-state lawyer, and best of all, you may not even have to take more than one bar exam. Read on to learn more about how to practice law in multiple states and the benefits it can offer you.
Can Lawyers Practice in Any State?
The short answer to this question is no – just because you are licensed to practice law in one state does not mean you can practice law in any state.
Most areas of the law, such as personal injury law or family law, have state-specific rules and requirements. If you want to practice law in these areas, you need a license from the bar in the state you want to practice in.
There are a few practice areas that are more national in scope, but even these may require certain state licenses. There has been considerable debate about whether lawyers can work on immigration or bankruptcy cases, for instance, if they’re only licensed in one state.
We’ll talk more about this issue and the best ways to handle it later in the article.
Why Become a Multi-State Lawyer?
Taking the bar exam in one state is grueling enough, so why would you want to go through the hassle of getting licensed in multiple states? Many lawyers find that being licensed in more than one state gives them more freedom and opportunity for growth in their practice.
More Geographical Freedom
One of the downsides of being a lawyer is that your license can limit your options on where you live and work.
Let’s say, for instance, that you pass the bar exam in California, but then your spouse gets a job in Colorado. Your California license isn’t going to help you in Boulder, so how are you going to make a living there?
Being licensed in multiple states can allow you to move around as needed without worrying about how you’ll work. This is a big advantage of taking the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE), which may qualify you to seek a license in up to thirty-nine states. You can live and work coast to coast without having to pass fifty different bar exams.
Wider Practice Area
Even if you don’t move around a lot, being licensed in multiple states can help you to expand your practice area. If you live near a state border or in a smaller state, you may not be far away from potential clients who live outside your license area. If you’re only licensed in one state, you could be seriously limiting your potential client pool.
Being a multi-state lawyer will allow you to work with clients on both sides of the border as far out as you care to travel. You’ll have a lot more opportunities to grow your practice with this extra range.
This can also be helpful if you work in a more niche practice area that doesn’t have as many lawyers covering it in the regions around you. You can become the go-to attorney for this practice area across multiple surrounding states.
Remote Work for Multi-State Lawyers
Remote work for attorneys has become more common for lawyers due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, there was confusion about whether lawyers could work remotely from states where they were not licensed.
The American Bar Association (ABA) provided an answer to this question in December 2020. The ABA issued guidance stating that attorneys may practice law remotely — if they are practicing the law of a jurisdiction where they are licensed.
However, if you work remotely in a jurisdiction you are not licensed, you must ensure that the remote jurisdiction allows this arrangement. Moreover, you must not advertise that you are authorized to practice law in a remote jurisdiction.
Pro Hac Vice – Practice Law in Another State On a Limited Basis
Most states allow attorneys who are not licensed in their jurisdiction to practice law in the jurisdiction on a limited basis through a practice known as pro hac vice. Typically, attorneys must submit an application for pro hac vice to the state bar before they can represent a client in a particular case or controversy in the state.
Pro hac vice privileges usually last for a specific duration of time; they will not allow the attorney to practice law indefinitely in a state where they are not licensed. Most states and jurisdictions require attorneys who practice pro hac vice to collaborate with a local lawyer serving as local counsel.
Challenges of Practicing Law in Multiple States
While practicing law in multiple states can come with a lot of benefits, it has its drawbacks, too. Being a multi-state lawyer can be more expensive, pose marketing challenges, and potentially cause confusion with legal statutes.
Time and Costs of Seeking Licensure in Each State
Maintaining a law license can be an expensive prospect in even one state. You’ll need to pay your license fees, which can range between $200 and $500, depending on where you’re licensed. You may also need to complete a certain number of Continuing Legal Education hours each year to maintain your license, and those courses can cost hundreds of dollars, too.
These costs are high enough and CLE requirements take plenty of time if you’re maintaining just one state license. But if you’re licensed in multiple states, you’ll need to keep up with all those licenses. You can wind up shelling out a lot of money and spending lots of time in CLE seminars to maintain your license in each state.
Marketing Can Be Tricky
Marketing your law firm is important, but it can become more complicated when you practice in multiple states. You want to make sure clients can find your law firm in local searches and that they know where you practice. A potential client in Vermont could get confused if they visit your website and see that you also practice law in Connecticut.
Keeping your site ranking high in local search engine results can also draw in more clients. But how do you develop an SEO strategy that’s targeted to each of the regions you practice in?
If you plan to practice in multiple states, you need to differentiate which regions you cover on your website. You may even need multiple websites to avoid confusion and optimize your SEO strategy.
A legal marketing agency can help you manage marketing across multiple location sites. We can even help you tailor your SEO strategy to keep you ranking in the top of local search results in all your practice regions.
Different Laws To Keep Track Of
Of course, one of the biggest challenges of practicing law in multiple states is keeping up with the different laws. State laws can vary widely, and you’ll have to keep up with which regulations apply in which cases.
This can mean double-checking your research, maintaining extra levels of organization in your case files, and learning an entire new set of rulings to use in your work.
Multi-State Litigation Is More Complex
Practicing law in multiple states can differ depending on whether you’re a transactional lawyer or a litigator.
For transactional lawyers, practicing in multiple states is fairly simple. They don’t spend much time in courtrooms, so as long as they’ve passed the bar for that state, they’re good to go.
Litigators, however, also have to be familiar with courtroom procedures, which vary from state to state. And remote work is obviously impractical if you have to appear in a courtroom. Often, litigators avoid becoming multi-state lawyers because of these hurdles.
How to Become a Multi-State Lawyer
So you’ve decided you want to become a multi-state lawyer – now how do you go about doing it? You’ll want to start by checking on reciprocity in the states you want to practice in and then, if needed, take the appropriate bar exam for that state.
Check on Reciprocity
In some cases, you may not need to take another bar exam to get licensed in multiple states. Some states maintain reciprocity, meaning that, under certain conditions, they will accept a lawyer’s existing credentials as proof of their capability. Rather than depending on an exam to prove the attorney is qualified to practice law in their state, they’ll rely on the lawyer’s existing license and practical experience.
Most states require you to practice law for a certain amount of time (usually at least five years) before you can apply for reciprocity. And it’s important to note that not all states offer reciprocity with all other states.
You’ll need to check on reciprocity regulations within each state you want to practice in.
Take the Uniform Bar Exam
If you aren’t eligible for reciprocity in a particular state, your next move in becoming a multi-state lawyer should be to take the Uniform Bar Exam. The UBE includes test material that covers multiple states and is accepted in thirty-nine states.
If you pass the UBE, you may seek licensure in the following states:
- District of Columbia
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- West Virginia
- The Virgin Islands
It is important to note that just because you pass the UBE in one state doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll pass it in another.
Although the test is the same for all states, each state has different score requirements. And you may have to meet some additional requirements or character and fitness procedures to get licensed in some states. It’s a good idea to check the requirements in each state you plan to practice in.
Take the Bar Exam for Multiple States
Unfortunately, the UBE still isn’t accepted in several states and territories. Jurisdictions that don’t accept the UBE as of this writing include:
- South Dakota
- Northern Mariana Islands
- Puerto Rico
If you want to get licensed in these areas (or if you are already licensed in one of these states and haven’t taken the UBE), you’ll need to take another bar exam.
For many lawyers, taking a second bar exam sounds about as much fun as having teeth pulled. But most multi-state lawyers find that taking the bar the second time isn’t nearly as bad as the first. You’ll have a better idea of what to expect, and you’ll have the confidence of knowing you’ve already passed the bar once.
LawRank Can Help You Grow Your Online Presence in Multiple States
Getting licensed to practice law in multiple states can give you more professional freedom and a broader scope of clients. Reciprocity and the Uniform Bar Exam can be fantastic ways to extend your practice without taking multiple bar exams. But whether or not you have to take another bar, it’s best to check the licensing requirements for each state you plan to practice in.
Once you’re licensed in multiple states, you’ll need to extend your marketing campaign to cover those new areas. Marketing in different states can be challenging. But digital marketing and SEO can help you make the most of your multi-state practice.
LawRank has a demonstrated track record of helping multi-state law firms grow their presence online and become leading legal authorities in their target markets. We’ve helped countless firms rank on the first pages of search engines. Contact us today to learn more about SEO and how LawRank can help you achieve your legal marketing goals.