Va. Law License Change Encourages Out-of-State Lawyers


A recent rule change on legal licensing in Virginia means more lawyers could cross the Potomac River, or at least take on clients in the state.
Before this year, lawyers from other states who wanted to join the Virginia State Bar without taking the state’s bar exam had to work at a full-time law practice in Virginia. Now, they can get a Virginia legal license without the bricks and mortar because of a Virginia Supreme Court rule change.

In short, the rulings could encourage more lawyers who work or live out of state to apply for law licenses in Virginia.

Out-of-state lawyers, for instance, had petitioned the state Supreme Court for the change in the first place. A lawyer in Kentucky who is licensed in Virginia, and Axiom Global Inc., a virtual legal advisory group, both wrote letters to the court in 2013.

The Virginia Board of Bar Examiners, which handles attorney licensing, so far has seen an uptick in the number of lawyers with out-of-state licenses who apply to practice, office manager Julie O’Kelly said.

The Virginia CLE, a nonprofit legal educator, designed a special course for those lawyers. About 230 people have taken it this year, paying $595 each for a 12-hour class on multiple subjects that would fulfill a year’s bar requirements.

“It’s 230 people we wouldn’t otherwise have had,” said David Bobzien, the Fairfax County Attorney and chairman of the Virginia CLE committee. “I think there was a lot of demand for it, because [the old bar rule] was just a little old-fashioned and unrealistic.”

In previous years, fewer than 100 lawyers would waive into the bar and need to follow this section of rules, O’Kelly said. In a normal year, 1,200 to 1,500 other lawyers join the Virginia bar by taking the state bar exam.

Legal business opportunity
Business leaders in Northern Virginia believe the rule change could prompt more lawyers to establish offices in the state. The real estate is cheaper there than inside the District of Columbia, they say.

“The downtown D.C. law firms, when their leases are up and they think about where they want to move next, they now can consider Virginia as a logical location,” said John Milliken, a Venable partner in Tysons Corner, Va., who represents major property owners in Rosslyn and asked the state Supreme Court to consider the change. “What these changes do is remove some of the things that made it difficult to make the transition.”

Twenty-three of the 150 largest law offices in the D.C. metro area are in Virginia. That includes a handful of firms that specialize in intellectual property, employment law or Virginia government. Large general-services firms such as Cooley, Holland & Knight, Hogan Lovells, Greenberg Traurig and Morrison & Foerster keep more than 30 lawyers at their Virginia outposts.

Other changes
Other changes to the bar rules in 2014 makes it even easier for lawyers to get law licenses in Virginia.

Currently, Virginia recognizes law licenses from states that will also recognize Virginia licenses—a standard called reciprocity. The Virginia Supreme Court no longer will require that licensed attorneys who come into Virginia take a bar examination in a state with reciprocity.

Instead, most law licenses from states with reciprocity would be recognized here, too. That means if a lawyer passes the bar in California—which has no reciprocity with Virginia or any state—and applies for the District of Columbia Bar, Virginia could also waive in the attorney because of the D.C. license.

The state further reduced its requirements on the number of years a lawyer must practice full-time before joining the Virginia Bar without taking Virginia’s bar exam. It is now required to have at least three years of practice while holding a license for five years. Before February, a person had to hold a law license for at least five years and work in law full-time for five years before they could apply in Virginia.

The Virginia Supreme Court made the rule changes in February and October, and the Virginia Board of Bar Examiners implemented them into the law license application process, O’Kelly said. None of the changes apply to lawyers who want to take or have taken the bar exam in Virginia.

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