I refer not to the multistate portion of the bar exam in many states. I refer to the Uniform Bar Examination (UBE). One exam that fits all states.
I practice in Texas. It is very liberal (don't tell Texas I used that word to describe the state) in granting reciprocity to practicing lawyers. Texas will license most everyone who wants to practice with very few barriers. But, far too many states, are too parochial and lack prosocial behavior when it comes to "outsiders" practicing law. Sure they cannot keep everyone out, but they can put up barriers that make it difficult for lawyers to change or enter new jurisdictions.
Beginning in 2014 the number of states adopting the UBE will increase to thirteen:
Colorado, Idaho, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Utah, Washington, Wyoming, Alabama, and Arizona.
The UBE bar scores will be transferable between these 13 states, with each state determining what is a passing score and how long incoming scores will be accepted. It is a start.
I grew up and later worked in the boarder town of Texarkana, Texas-Arkansas. It is actually close to four jurisdictions - Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana and Oklahoma. The riggers of taking a bar exam in each of these states upon graduation from law school is a deterrent. Further, it would take years to accomplish as bar exams are not given that frequently, you have to prepare for each, and they take an eternity to grade.
In this day and age, a legal education has to be portable. The American Bar Association has been encouraging greater reciprocity between states, but real results will matter when there is portability of bar exam scores.
So far, the problem has been that no large jurisdiction has accepted the UBE. New York state recently took a "wait and see" stance as to replacing its exam with the UBE. It will happen with most states eventually. There will be a tipping point by which most states will not be able to resist.
We are one country, and we need one bar exam. It is time for the UBE to become the standard.