During the career of a lawyer, or any professional, there may come a time when changing jobs across geographic markets becomes desirable.

In some instances, the desire to change geographic markets may be premised on an individual’s professional dissatisfaction with their current employment. In other instances, an individual may be professionally satisfied by their current employment and the desire to change jobs across geographic markets may be premised on personal reasons, such as a relocation of a spouse’s job, a desire to be closer to family or simply a desire for a fresh start.

However, unlike other professionals, a lawyer’s job search across geographic markets brings a unique set of challenges, particularly when the job search crosses jurisdictional, i.e. state, boundaries.

Following the Law of the Land

Since lawyers are generally licensed to practice law on a jurisdictional basis, such as within a given state, a lawyer looking to relocate to a new geographic market outside of the jurisdiction in which the lawyer is admitted to practice may need to consider when and how to pursue admission to practice law in the new jurisdiction.

In this regard, most prospective employers may require, or strongly suggest, that job applicants be admitted to practice law in the jurisdiction in which the prospective employers are located. Thus, a lawyer looking to change jobs to a new geographic market may increase their access to prospective jobs in the geographic market by obtaining admission to practice in the associated jurisdiction as early as possible.

The process of being admitted to practice law in another jurisdiction may conjure memories of multi-day bar examinations that may seem intimidating to experienced lawyers who are many years removed from law school. However, there are a variety of bar admission procedures available to experienced lawyers in good standing, on a jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction basis, that can ease the admission process. For example, some jurisdictions may offer admission on motion for experienced lawyers in good standing where no bar examination is required, and/or some jurisdictions may offer an attorneys’ examination, typically a reduced or compressed version of the standard bar examination, for experienced lawyers in good standing.

Admission on motion and/or an attorneys’ examination may be available to lawyers who have been practicing law in good standing for a given period of time in another jurisdiction, for example, from three to five years. Some jurisdictions may also allow a lawyer to transfer a passing uniform bar examination (UBE) score obtained in another jurisdiction for a given period of time after the score was obtained, for example, from 18 months to five years after the score was obtained.

In some jurisdictions, alternative procedures may be available to lawyers pursuing corporate counsel positions or legal service positions. Some jurisdictions may license, register or certify corporate counsel and/or legal service lawyers without requiring passage of the bar examination for the jurisdiction. In some instances, one or more of these procedures may only be available when specific requirements are met, such as a requirement that the lawyer has not previously failed the bar examination for the jurisdiction. Thus, a lawyer pursuing corporate counsel and/or legal service positions may benefit from postponing the process of obtaining admission in the associated jurisdiction until after they have secured a corporate counsel or legal service position in the geographic market.

Time (Might Be) on Your Side

A commonality across the aforementioned admission procedures is a period of time component that can vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and/or from procedure to procedure.

In some instances, the period of time component may favor a lawyer with more years of experience, such as with respect to qualifying for admission on motion or qualifying for an attorneys’ examination. However, in other instances the period of time component may favor a lawyer with fewer years of experience and ostensibly fewer years removed from having taken a bar examination in another jurisdiction, such as with respect to transferring a passing UBE score obtained in another jurisdiction.

Thus, a lawyer looking to change jobs across geographic markets may benefit from identifying the available bar admission procedures and associated period of time components as early in the job changing process as possible. In this manner, the lawyer may leave him or herself the option of expediting their job changing timeframe to benefit from a passing UBE score that may soon expire, delay their job changing timeframe or from admission on motion or attorneys’ exam procedures that the lawyer may soon qualify for.

The process of changing jobs to a new geographic market may pose additional challenges and/or complications for a lawyer beyond being admitted to practice in the associated jurisdiction. However, the job changing process as a whole may be simplified by an up-front understanding of the available procedures for being admitted to practice in the associated jurisdiction, and by incorporating any period of time components of the available procedures into the lawyer’s job changing timeframe.

Michael G. Dreznes is a partner at McDermott Will & Emery LLP, based in the firm’s Orange County office. His practice focuses on patent prosecution in the computer and electrical arts. He can be reached at mdreznes@mwe.com.