One of my favorite legal commentators, even if he does gnaw at me once in a while, is Robert J. Ambrogi. He is a Massachusetts lawyer, writer and media consultant. He writes the blogs LawSites and Media Law, co-writes Legal Blog Watch and co-hosts the legal affairs podcast Lawyer2Lawyer.
All of this is an introduction to his post on the ABAJournal's Legal Rebels site entitled, State Bar Admission is Irrelevant. You can read the article for yourself, but his point is well taken. The state bar and licensing system has become antiquated in our virtual world. As he states, more law is federal and standardized, more lawyers are specialized, knowledge is king, and "state-specific savvy is a myth".
It produces an interesting predicament. I have noticed as the ABA and others have pushed for a uniformed bar exam and reciprocity, the federal district courts are trending toward restricting its bar to those lawyers licensed by the state in which the federal court sits. There is always resistance and blow back when change is on the horizon, and undoubtedly that is the case here. But, Arizona and Arkansas, just to name two, have in recent times lowered the requirements of obtaining a license to practice in those states.
I practice in a narrow niche, for example, that is based on a more universal federal law and right, which is not much affected by state law, and yet I still have to struggle with these geographic boundaries. And, this does not just include state boundaries, but the boundaries of each federal district in Texas.
There is no mistake about it. In the 80s I recall that Arkansas use to grant reciprocity rather generously. Then it stopped abruptly. The reason at the time was to prevent lawyers from outside the state from entering the state easily. Let's face facts. Lawyers like to protect their turf, and Arkansas attorneys are no different. Many other states not only act to restrict the bar, but have at least required in the past that to be a member you have to maintain a physical office and practice in the state. You might think that is reasonable, but what about areas like the one in which I grew up, Texarkana, that sits on a state line and is only a short throw from Louisiana and Oklahoma.
So, Bob is right. "Geographic restrictions serve neither the public nor the profession. They are irrelevant to a lawyer's qualifications to represent the client. Lawyers should no longer be licensed by the state."