Lawyers, in addition to making up a sizable portion of the top 1% of earners, are one of the most heavily licensed professions and workers in the legal profession benefit from a 13% wage premium due to these restrictions.
There is also evidence to indicate that the potential supply of licensed professionals leads to more difficult exams and lower pass rates. (For an example of the excesses of some states’ bar exams, see this 2005 story of Kathleen Sullivan, then president of Stanford Law School, failing the California exam the first time she took it.)
But, with a number of state supreme courts adopting the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE) in 2018, now 33 jurisdictions use the exam. In an article for the ABA Journal, Jayne R. Reardon explains the implications of the expansion of the UBE.
The rationales stated by various state supreme courts in announcing the adoption of the UBE are fairly consistent. Often reiterated themes are that the legal field continues to evolve such that multijurisdictional or cross-border practice is common, and that the UBE results in a “portable score” that lawyers can use to apply for admission in other UBE jurisdictions. In Illinois, as in other states, all of the UBE components had been used as parts of the Illinois Bar Exam for a number of years. And the state supreme courts recognize that the UBE is a national standard that both protects the public and allows cross-border practice that effectively serves the public…
A rationale underpinning the growing adoption of the UBE is a recognition that lawyers should be allowed to meet the consumer demand for effective and efficient client service across state borders. Applying this same rationale to the regulation of attorneys following bar admission should lead to more coordination, if not uniformity, among the states as they regulate the ethics of practicing lawyers.
Though the move toward more uniform bar exams across the country would reduce some of the frictions in the legal profession, the patchwork of local licensing requirements will limit the benefits of more jurisdictions adopting the UBE, making the increased adoption more a bellwether than a fundamental reform.
Of the 33 states that use the UBE, only 11 of them have no additional jurisdiction-specific component that tests the applicant on questions related to local law. However, a number of different states already have reciprocity agreements, allowing lawyers who passed one jurisdiction’s exam to practice in their jurisdiction.
Previous research has found that geographic mobility among licensed professionals is lower than in other professions, and that reciprocity agreements among states increases the migration rate of lawyers. Though expansion of the UBE is not the same as an outright reciprocity agreement, the change would streamline the process for lawyers looking to move from one state to another without having to take another exam.