Should Attorneys Need to Work Full-time to Receive Bar Admission Reciprocity?
|Topics:||Professional Responsibility & Legal Education|
|Sponsors:||Professional Responsibility & Legal Education Practice Group|
Nationwide, 42 states and the District of Columbia allow an avenue for admission to practice law without examination for attorneys who are licensed to practice in another jurisdiction. Only five states require attorneys seeking admission on motion to practice full-time (i.e., 40 hours per week) for a requisite number of years preceding their application: Maine, Maryland, Missouri, Ohio, and Tennessee.
The Tennessee Supreme Court requires applicants seeking to be admitted without taking the bar exam to have practiced full-time for five of the seven previous years. The Network of enlightened Women (of which I serve as president) petitioned the Tennessee Supreme Court to change its rule. The Tennessee Supreme Court published an order soliciting comments. All comments submitted on the issue support removing the full-time requirement, including comments submitted by the Tennessee Board of Law Examiners and the Tennessee Bar Association. The comment period is now over.
While Tennessee has joined the majority of states that allow admission on motion for attorneys licensed elsewhere, it remains in the distinct minority of states that do not permit attorneys who have reduced their practice load to fewer than 40 hours per week admission on motion.
Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have not mandated a minimum number of yearly practice hours to be admitted on motion: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, North Dakota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. Many of these states’ rules require an attorney seeking admission on motion to have engaged in the “active” practice of law elsewhere for a certain number of years preceding the attorney’s application for admission.
Of the remaining 19 states that require a minimum number of yearly hours of practice, two states require fewer than 20 hours of practice per week: Alaska (approximately 15 hours/week) and Wyoming (approximately 6 hours/week); eight states require approximately 20 hours of practice per week: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, and Utah; and four states require more than 20 hours but fewer than 40 hours per week: Pennsylvania (more than 20 hours/week), Texas (30 hours/week), Vermont (25 hours/week), and Virginia (32 hours/week). New Mexico and Utah require full-time work, but those states define full-time as less than 40 hours a week.
The ABA Model Rule on Admission by Motion doesn’t require full-time work. The Model Rule requires that an applicant has “been primarily engaged in the active practice of law in one or more states, territories or the District of Columbia for three of the five years immediately preceding the date upon which the application is filed.” The “active practice of law” includes “representation of one or more clients in the private practice of law.”
Many attorneys who reduce their workload to fewer than 40 hours per week do so to meet familial obligations.
Women earn half (or more) of law degrees each year. Of the 6.2% of lawyers at law firms working part-time, more than 70% are women. Overall, women make up two-thirds of voluntary part-time workers. About 1 in 5 working women worked part-time voluntarily in 2016.
For five states, a mother who reduces her hours for caretaking responsibilities is no longer eligible for reciprocity. This policy does not protect consumers of legal services because working full-time doesn’t equate to competence. Rather, it burdens attorneys who prioritize caretaking responsibilities.
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