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Practicing Law in Multiple Jurisdictions: It's Possible, but not Easy

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on June 19, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Every lawyer knows that their practice is generally limited to states where they are members of the bar. Want to move across state lines to lay out a new shingle? Pray that your new state bar has a reciprocal recognition agreement with your old one, or get ready to sit for the bar exam again.

But what about cases that simply reach across jurisdiction, like advising a client who is buying a vacation home out of state or expanding their business in multiple jurisdictions? Those situations can prove a bit trickier.

You're Not From Around Here, Are Ya?

Lawyers should think twice before jumping in to cross-jurisdictional matters. Seventeen years ago, California ruled that a New York lawyer who handled a simple contract dispute for a California client had violated the Golden State's unauthorized practice law. California has never been friendly to out of state lawyers, but the court's conclusion that advising a client "by telephone, fax, computer, or other modern technological means" was prohibited shocked many.

California may be an extreme case, but many states zealously guard against outside practice. Of course, each state has its own rules -- which is the logic behind preventing lawyers from practicing everywhere in the first place. Generally speaking, to practice in a new jurisdiction, a lawyer must meet the "educational and qualitative competence requirements" of the jurisdiction. If a lawyer isn't seeking admission to a new bar, every state will have specific rules governing practice. Most will require you to partner with a state-barred lawyer or seek admission pro hac vice.

Of course, plenty of lawyers and legal commentators have spoken out against this fragmented system. The Uniform Bar Exam, for example, is accepted in 13 different states, making applying admission to the bar in both Arkansas and Alaska much easier. Similarly, D.C. lets in any state licensed lawyer who has practiced for more than five years. New York and Illinois allow anyone to engage in arbitration, since they don't consider that the practice of law, and some states don't require bar admission for "of counsel" practitioners whose work is limited to research and drafting, without directly consulting clients.

Working across state lines isn't impossible, it's simply a hassle. For the dedicated lawyer, however, practice in multiple jurisdictions can pay off -- after all, each new jurisdiction is another state full of potential clients.

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