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The UBE, from sea to shining Tennessee

Uniform Bar Exam

The moment #UBEWatch has been waiting for has arrived (well, one of them anyway). The Uniform Bar Exam now stretches from coast to coast! And we have Tennessee to thank for it.

Today, Tennessee volunteered its entry as the 29th state accepting the UBE. That connects North Carolina and Missouri – which means you can drive from Seattle in the west all the way to Stumpy Point, N.C. and never leave the Uniform Bar Exam zone.

It’s good news for test takers, even if Tennessee doesn’t start until the administration of the February 2019 exams. Unless you just got your February 2018 bar exam results, in which case … congratulations?

Here’s part of the release:

The change comes after the Tennessee Board of Law Examiners filed a petition with the Supreme Court to adopt the change and a public comment period. The comments received by the Court were overwhelmingly supportive of the change. The UBE allows the Court to adapt to changing times while protecting the public. The UBE will be given for the first time in Tennessee in February, 2019.

“As the legal field continues to evolve, the Court understands its rules must modernize and adapt to changing practice realities,” said Chief Justice Jeff Bivins. “At the same time, it is essential we ensure attorneys practicing in Tennessee are well-qualified and prepared to represent clients with the vigor and excellence the law requires. The changes we have adopted strike that necessary balance.”

Under current rules, a Tennessee lawyer needing to obtain a license to practice law in another state has to meet waiver requirements, which often include a significant experience component, or retake the bar exam in that state. The UBE allows scores earned in Tennessee to be transferred to other states for licensure. In addition, attorneys from other states utilizing the UBE can petition for admittance in Tennessee based on those results.

“Lawyers are more mobile than they once were. No longer do lawyers always settle in one state and practice in that state until retirement,” said Jeffrey Ward, President of the Tennessee Board of Law Examiners. “Multi-jurisdictional, or cross-border, practice is more common, particularly in Tennessee, where we border more states than any other state in the Union. This can be seen in the increase in applications for admissions without examination in recent years.”

Between 2012 and 2016, the Board of Law Examiners saw a 90.4 percent increase in requests for admission without examination and a 218% increase in in-house counsel registration applications. In Tennessee, in order to be eligible for admission without exam, lawyers must be in good standing in at least one other jurisdiction and have at least five to seven years of experience. The proposal would provide more mobility for younger, or more recently admitted, attorneys. In this region, Alabama, Missouri, West Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina have adopted the UBE.

“The Board of Law Examiners recited in its petition the statistics that demonstrate the demand for mobility in the legal profession, and the Tennessee Bar Association agrees that this is a laudable goal in order to encourage lawyers and businesses to operate in Tennessee,” the Tennessee Bar Association stated in its official comment letter. “Toward that end, the proposed rule change, which adopts the UBE, and its portability provisions is positioned to benefit the profession, and the Tennessee Bar Association supports such action.” The Bar Association’s letter was signed by more than 65 local bar associations as well as the Tennessee federal bar, public defenders conference, and associations representing Women, Hispanic, African-American, and Asian attorneys.

You can also read the Supreme Court of Tennessee’s order.

So now that the UBE has clef the country in twain (not that guy), the United States of bar exams has several pockets of holdouts:

  • The surrounded: It’s your move, South Dakota and Rhode Island. Everybody around you has jumped on the bandwagon.
  • The surrounded (but by water): Hawaii. You could lump in Palau, Guam, and the Marianas as the lone territories not on the UBE (since DC and the Virgin Islands have joined up).
  • Backs to the ocean: Nevada may not have an ocean. But they’re connected to California, and that tandem stands alone west of the Rockies. In the southeast, Georgia and Florida are now boxed thanks to Tennessee’s inclusion.
  • The SEC: It may not be the complete SEC, but the southern bubble is Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Mississippi.
  • The Ohio Valley/Great Lakes region: The rest of the non-UBE states are a weird arc that goes from Delaware all the way back to Virginia. In between, the terrain encompasses Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Kentucky.

The most likely candidates to come off those lists? We’re anticipating a decision from Illinois, which has been silent since last January after holding hearings. And Texas has explored going UBE but hasn’t tipped its hand.

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