Moving Your Practice Between Jurisdictions

Moving to a new state can inspire fear and dread in even the most seasoned attorney—particularly if that practitioner’s years of practice carry no weight with the state bar licensing committee in their new jurisdiction. However, not every interstate move requires starting fresh with a new bar exam, or even a new practice. Keep in mind the following points when weighing your next cross-jurisdictional move.

Is another bar exam required?

If you’re committed to moving to a new jurisdiction but would like to keep your practice and clients from your former jurisdiction, consider whether opening a “virtual” law practice is an option. A virtual law practice allows an attorney to practice under the law of their former jurisdiction while being physically located elsewhere. While many attorneys are familiar with completing their own projects and assignments remotely, advances in technology like interactive web conferencing, cloud computing, and virtual administrative assistants have also made communicating with clients from afar simple and seamless. But before launching your virtual practice, be sure that both your former jurisdiction and your new jurisdiction (wherever you will be physically practicing) permit it. New York, for example, requires out-of-state attorneys practicing New York law to retain a physical office, and not merely a “virtual” office, within New York state. (See, for example, Schoenefeld v. State, 25 N.Y.3d 22, 27-28 (2015); see also Mar. Dist. Dev. Co. v Toledano, 60 Misc 3d 1203[A], 2018 NY Slip Op 50926[U] [Sup Ct, NY County 2018)

If a virtual law practice is not a viable option, certain corporate in-house roles may not require an attorney to have passed the bar in the jurisdiction in which he or she works, so long as that attorney meets the criteria to work as in-house counsel in that state. For example, an attorney living in California who is licensed to practice law in at least one other state jurisdiction may register with the state bar to provide legal services as in-house counsel for a “Qualifying Institution” (a corporation, partnership, association, or other legal entity that either employs at least 10 employees full-time in California, or employs in California an attorney who is an active member in good standing of California’s State Bar) without becoming a member of California’s State Bar. For jurisdictions like California that are known for having difficult bar exams, this option can provide relief from onerous testing and ease an attorney’s transition to their new state.

Reciprocity and licensing

If you are required to be admitted to the bar in your new state, you’ll need to determine whether you must take another bar exam, or if you can be licensed to practice under the new state’s bar through your bar admission in your old state via admission on motion. If your new state permits admission on motion, the process of being admitted varies according to that state’s bar. Some states, for example, permit bar admission based on reciprocity: if an attorney has been previously admitted to the bar in a jurisdiction that reciprocally recognizes attorneys from that attorney’s new jurisdiction, then that attorney may be admitted on motion to their new jurisdiction’s bar. However, even if a state permits reciprocal admission, an attorney will generally still be required to be in good standing with their current state bar association(s) and to have some experience in practicing law (most commonly, five years) before applying for reciprocal bar admission.

If you do not qualify for bar admission on motion, consider whether your scores from previous Multistate and/or Uniform Bar Exams fall within the new jurisdiction’s window of time for transferability. The broader adoption of the Uniform Bar Exam—30 states now administer the UBE in place of individual state exams—affords lawyers greater mobility across multiple jurisdictions with the same test score. If your scores are no longer transferrable, however, you will more than likely need to take another bar exam to be admitted to the bar in your new jurisdiction. Note that some states (including California, Georgia, Idaho, Maryland, and Rhode Island) offer an abbreviated “attorneys’ exam” for applicants who have already been licensed to practice law in another jurisdiction for a particular length of time, which can alleviate some of the burdens of having to study for another exam.

Notifying clients of your move

If you are moving to a new job in your new jurisdiction, you must wind up your practice in your old jurisdiction in an ethically responsible manner. Model Rule of Professional Conduct 1.4 requires that a lawyer “keep the client reasonably informed” about the status of their case, which includes prompt client notification if an attorney must withdraw their representation due to their relocation. Prompt notice of your departure from the state will allow the client time to find and hire new counsel—a process made easier if you are able to recommend attorneys you trust as potential replacements.

If you are winding up your work at a law firm, ABA Formal Opinion 99-414 provides guidance for keeping clients informed when an attorney departs: “The departing lawyer and responsible members of the law firm who remain have an ethical obligation to assure that prompt notice is given to clients on whose active matters [the departing attorney]currently is working.” Note that this requirement generally applies only to “clients for whom the lawyer has performed significant professional services while at the firm” (emphasis added). In other words, a junior associate’s departure may not necessitate client notification, depending on the scope of services that associate provided, but a more senior associate or partner who has performed significant professional services for that client would require notice to that client of the attorney’s departure. Notice can be made by the departing lawyer, the responsible members of the firm, or the lawyer and those members jointly. Joint notice is preferred, but if the departure is not amicable, it is incumbent on the lawyer to notify their clients of the change in their representation, ideally with written confirmation of the discussion.

Conclusion

Moving to a new jurisdiction as an attorney can be daunting, but need not involve starting fresh with a new bar exam—or even a new practice, if you can continue virtually representing your clients from your former jurisdiction. You will, however, need to promptly notify your clients of your move if you are not able to continue to represent them. Keep these considerations in mind as you weigh your options for legal employment in your new state, and refer to the ABA’s Comprehensive Guide to Bar Admission Requirements for additional information on the requirements for admission to the bar in your new jurisdiction.

About the Author

Katherine Kunz is an associate with Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, LLP, practicing commercial civil litigation in state and federal court. Contact her at katherinekunz@quinnemanuel.com.

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