As you think about your future legal career, do you find yourself daydreaming about the possibility of having one client? Have you been intrigued by the tales of schedule flexibility and avoiding the arduous task of tracking your billable hours? If so, the in-house counsel path may be the career track for you. However, before you can jump on this path, much like your law firm bound colleagues, you must sit for a state bar exam. Also, much like your colleagues, you must decide which bar exam you would like to complete. However, if you’re on the in-house track, the world is your oyster! You by far have the most options at your fingertips regarding which exam to take, because as an in-house lawyer you have further reach to practice outside of your licensed state, so long as you comply with ABA rules or the in-house counsel registration rules of your employer’s state. As a result, deciding which bar exam to take has less long term repercussions for transferability than working in a law firm. Therefore, you can make this decision with far less pressure! Nevertheless, I’ve still provided the below guidance as you muddle through this crossroad.
So what makes the bar exam decision a bit different for in-house attorneys? These attorneys have more flexibility under the ABA rule 5.5 (d) to complete multijurisdictional practice of the law. These attorneys typically work for just one client, their employer, and under these ABA rules, unless you are representing your client in court, you are essentially in the clear to practice in any state regardless of the state that you were barred in. Now, despite these rules, there are some states that require in-house attorneys to register with them if they plan to practice in that state on a long term basis. However, the registration requirements appear to be way less of a hurdle than re-sitting for another bar exam.
So now that we have that understanding, let’s jump into making a decision! Some things to consider as you decide, are the location of your future employer or whether you’re tied to a particular state.
1. Where is your future employer located?
If you already have a job offer, a prospective offer on the horizon, or a strong desire to work for a specific employer, their location could have a strong bearing on your decision. Having a location in mind could be the trigger that makes your decision a lot easier. If you already know where your future employer is located or where you would like your future employer to be located, you could certainly take the bar exam in that state. However, if this isn’t a UBE state you should consider your long term ties. Working in-house means that there is a very strong possibility that you may work throughout several different offices in different states throughout the life of your career with that organization. Therefore, before committing to a specific state bar exam in a non-UBE state, I would recommend looking into all the locations of your future employer and determining what the requirements are for doing in-house work in that state. If these requirements are reasonable, then taking a state specific bar exam should be just fine.
Alternatively, if you have no idea who your future employer will be, but you know that you are committed to in-house work, I would recommend taking the UBE bar exam. This option will give you far more flexibility in the future. Although you would be in the clear regardless for multijurisdictional practice under the ABA rules, if you are barred in a UBE state, you would have the option of transferring your score to another state and also being licensed there.
2. Are you tied to a particular state?
Another factor to consider is whether you are tied to a particular state. This could be for a variety of reasons, whether because it’s your home state or because it may be a state where you have a large network. Regardless of your ties, if this is a state that you would like to have the option to practice in traditionally, consider taking the bar exam for this state even though your in-house dreams may take you elsewhere. By traditional practice, I mean representing a variety of clients, not just your employer. This could include friends or family from your home state etc. Although you may hold an in-house job as your regular 9 to 5, I can assure you that once you are barred, your friends or family may start turning to you for legal advice or possibly representation. If having this flexibility to also practice in said state is important to you, then taking the bar exam in that state may be worth it, regardless of whether this is a UBE state or not. At the end of the day, in-house transferability has very little requirements, therefore it may just be worth it to be barred in your tied state if you know traditional practice is something you may also want to do there.
I hope these pointers have offered you some help as you try to make this decision!