Ethically Relocating to California as a Lawyer

Mar 13, 2018 | Attorney Resources, Blog, Professional Conduct for Lawyers, Professional Ethics for Lawyers, Resources

If you’re a lawyer looking to relocate to California, you may be considering your options when it comes to bar admission. When you put down roots in a new state, you really cannot use the pro hac vice process as a long-term solution to needing bar admission. While taking a full blown bar exam is probably not at the top of your list, here are six ideas for how you can move to California and still practice law.

A Shorter Bar Exam for Licensed Lawyers

While the easiest way to move and continue to practice law is reciprocity, California does not offer it. However, licensed lawyers with at least four years of good standing in the state they moved from can enable them to take a shorter version of the bar exam. Passing the shorter bar exam means you become a licensed attorney in the State of California. Whereas, a pro hac vice application for California would only be good for a single case (and even then, only if it is approved).

Look for an In-House Counsel Job in California

In California, a registered in-house counsel must pass the moral character assessment, but they’re not required to pass the bar exam. However, if you don’t sit for and pass the California bar exam, you cannot appear in court.

Consider Starting a Virtual Practice

If you’re moving to California, consider maintaining a virtual practice in the state you’re leaving. You should check with the bar to determine if you’re allowed to run a virtual practice from another state. Many states require that you must be in the state where you’re admitted to practice. Traveling could be an option. As time continues, this area of practice management will likely change.

Practice Federal Law

There are some areas of law that are federal. You could practice in that area even if you’re not admitted to the State of California. There would be no need to apply for pro hac vice. Just remember that you need to be licensed in at least one other U.S. state or territory. Examples of federal law include bankruptcy, antitrust, immigration, social security, and trademark and patent law. However, again, you must only practice federal law. It’s always prudent to check California law to ensure that you remain compliant. You may be able to practice federal law in California, but you may not be qualified to appear in the Court of Appeals. In this instance, you may want to rely on a pro hac vice application for California.

Take Freelance Legal Projects

Freelancing continues to grow. Opportunities for freelance legal work may include, but are not limited to, research, drafting motions, editing or reviewing documents for lawyers, and drafting contracts. You’ll still want to review California’s professional rules of conduct for lawyers and state laws to ensure that you’re not engaging in UPL if you’re not licensed in California.

Translate Your Skills

Many lawyers, regardless of whether they plan to relocate, take their skills and translate them into other areas. Many markets have a need for online or digital services. You could be able to take the skills you have as a lawyer and fill a need.

Choose the Path That Works Best for You

Worrying about licensure should be toward the bottom of your to-do list when you’re considering a move to California (or anywhere else!). You have lots of options. Choose the path that works best for you and get ready for your new adventure!