We get this question a lot: “If I take and pass the Uniform Bar Examination (“UBE”), does that mean that I can practice in any state that adopts the UBE?” I’m sorry to tell you, but the short answer is no.
The long answer is also no, but it will likely make it easier for you to gain admission to other jurisdictions. In this post, we’ll explain what the UBE is and how portable it is.
What is the UBE?
One result of the United States’ byzantine, tiered federalism is that each state and the District of Columbia has its own, distinct, and independent legal system. Each jurisdiction sets its own requirements for admission to practice law in that jurisdiction. In the past, this meant that each state administered its own bar examination and, usually, a lawyer could not practice in a given state without taking that state’s bar exam. This is one reason why it has historically been difficult for lawyers to move or practice across state lines.
The UBE is an attempt to create more uniformity across states by creating one portable bar exam score.
The UBE has three components:
In order to get a fully portable UBE score, the applicant must take the entire UBE, in the same jurisdiction, and during the same administration. So you can’t take the MEE in Maryland and the MBE in North Carolina. Once you have taken the UBE, you get a score that will be recognized by every jurisdiction that has adopted the UBE.
But remember that there are still 50+ individual jurisdictions and each state sets its own admissions standards and administers its own admission process. That means that, even in the jurisdictions that have adopted the UBE, there may be further requirements or slightly different requirements for admission to practice law.
What States have Adopted the UBE?
With the recent addition of North Carolina, twenty-nine states now accept the UBE, as do the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Those states are:
Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, and Wyoming.
If your goal is to practice law in any of these states, you will have to take the UBE.
There are a few notable holdouts from that list, though. California, Texas, Pennsylvania, and Florida were the large, populous states that have not yet adopted the UBE (although Texas recently announced they plan to adopt the UBE). These states might eventually get on board with the UBE but, in the meantime, the UBE won’t help you get into practice in those states.
So How Portable is a UBE Score?
Well, here’s where the rubber meets the road for the UBE: Although a UBE score is portable, it does not, by itself, entitle a lawyer admission to practice law.
A UBE score can be transferred between and among the jurisdictions that have adopted the UBE. However, each jurisdiction determines its own minimum score. For example, the minimum score acceptable in the state of Missouri is 260, but North Carolina requires a 270. The state requiring the highest minimum UBE score is Alaska, at 280.
Additionally, each jurisdiction sets its own standard for how long a UBE score is good. For example, Alaska will recognize UBE scores that reach its minimum score for up to 5 years, but Rhode Island will only recognize scores that are less than 2 years old.
Additionally, jurisdictions may require additional testing components, either before or after admission. For example, a state may require an additional day of testing on purely local legal issues in addition to the UBE. To transfer into such a jurisdiction, an applicant with an existing, passing UBE score might still be required to sit for the local portion of testing.
What Do States Do Differently?
In addition to minimum score requirements and UBE score age requirements, each jurisdiction sets its own admissions standards including, but not limited to, minimum educational requirements, character and fitness standards, and how many times a person may retake the bar exam.
The Bottom Line
If you plan to practice in a non-UBE jurisdiction like California or Pennsylvania, then you aren’t going to be facing the UBE any time soon. If you know for sure that you plan to practice in California and only California, or Pennsylvania and only Pennsylvania, or in any of the states that have not yet adopted the UBE, then you will have to prepare for those states’ bar exams on a state-by-state basis.
But if you intend to practice in a UBE jurisdiction, or if you aren’t sure where you’ll end up but it will probably be in a UBE jurisdiction, then you should definitely plan to take the UBE. By itself, the UBE does not entitle you to practice law anywhere, but it is a much more flexible bar examination system than what preceded it.
But no matter where you intend to practice, you will have to check with that jurisdiction’s bar admission agency for its current admission requirements.
And no matter whether you’re preparing for the UBE or for a bar exam in a non-UBE jurisdiction (hello, California!), the Bar Exam Toolbox can help you with study resources, study schedule help, and tutoring from experienced bar tutors. Let us know how we can help!
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