Is it time to rethink the licensing of lawyers?

New York state announced Tuesday that it will abandon its state-specific Bar exam and adopt the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE) beginning July 2016. New York will become the 16th state to adopt a national test to license new attorneys and by far the largest jurisdiction to join the national trend of changing to a broader bar exam.

The UBE is composed of three parts, the ubiquitous Multistate Bar Exam (MBE), the almost-as-familiar Multistate Performance Test (MPT), and the lesser-known Multistate Essay Examination (MEE). The purpose of moving to the UBE, as described by New York Court of Appeals Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, is obvious.

“We recognize it’s a global world and there has to be portability with the law license around the country,” Lippman told the New York Times. “We think we would be sticking our heads in the sand if we don’t realize the practice of law doesn’t stop at state lines.”

It is no secret that the difficulty in relocating is one of the major hurdles attorneys face in the professional world. Unlike many other professions with national accrediting and licensing bodies, lawyers are required to be bared by each jurisdiction in which they seek to practice and often have to take a new bar exam in each of those states. While many states have reciprocal admission requirements that do not require a new-resident attorney to take that state’s Bar exam, admission on motion is not guaranteed.

Maryland, for instance, does not grant any admission on motion, instead requiring qualifying attorneys to take a modified version of the Maryland Bar Exam dubbed “the lawyers Bar.” Virginia’s rule permits admission without examination only from a person who has been admitted to practice before the court of last resort of a jurisdiction (i.e., a state or territory of the United States, or the District of Columbia) that permits lawyers licensed in Virginia to be admitted to practice without examination in such jurisdiction.

Lippman predicts a domino effect will occur now that New York has adopted the UBE and called a national, uniform Bar exam “not only desirable but necessary for the mobile, interconnected society in which we live.” The policy reasons for adopting a nationalized and standardized Bar exam are sound. Maybe it’s time to remove the territorial barriers that often prevent attorneys from relocating or accepting new jobs. Furthermore, I think it’s time for Maryland to reexamine its policy of reciprocal admission.

Finally, I would be remiss in discussing the Bar exam if I forgot to congratulate those who found out last week that they passed Maryland’s February Bar exam and to wish luck to those soon-to-be-law graduates and lawyers getting ready to begin the arduous process of studying for the July test. If I can offer one piece of advice for studying, it is this: This summer will suck, so just accept it.

However, if you put in the time and effort, do the hard work, spend the hours, apologize to your friends and family for always being busy doing sample tests, study like you’ve never studied before, and go through the inevitable emotional roller coaster that comes with the delicate balance of being confident and having doubt, you will pass the test on the first try and NEVER HAVE TO DO THIS AGAIN!

(Unless, of course, you move to state without reciprocal admission.)

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