I am licensed in a trio of states. In order to avoid taking bar examinations I sought admission based on reciprocity in Connecticut and New York. It was kind of an interesting journey and there are some unique differences between the states that I’ve been meaning to write out for my attorney buddies, so here it is.
This is a non-exhaustive list so please don’t rely on it as checklist of what you need to do. I’m only highlighting the basics and differences I thought were interesting.
Ironically I was born in New York. Even more ironically, I moved north at around the same age my mom was when she moved from New York to Alabama. I grew up in Alabama and was admitted by taking the bar examination. I was actually admitted “to the bar,” as in Alabama has a State Bar organization you become part of when you’re licensed.
All states I’ve been licensed in require that you stay competent in your field. The way Alabama and New York help assure this is by requiring that you attend a minimum number of hours of continuing legal education (CLEs) each year. In Alabama it’s 12 hours per year, with 1 hour being ethics. You have to file Certificates of Attendance to get credit; the sponsor of the CLE usually files these.
Alabama says if your primary law practice is another state that requires CLEs then as long as you’re compliant with that state’s rules you can claim an exemption from the Alabama CLE requirements. Alternatively, when you attend another state’s CLE program you can also get Alabama credit for it which is fairly easy if you make sure the program follows the Alabama rules and file some forms.
If you practice law in Alabama you have to pay a $300.00 Occupational License Fee every year. I did check awhile back if travel to Alabama every quarter or so to visit my employer meant I was practicing law and had to do the Occupational License or if I could go the cheaper Special License route. I was told that even though I was only in Alabama a few days every quarter or so this was practicing law in the state and I did have to pay the $300.00 fee. This didn’t make much sense to me since attorneys travel to negotiate contracts, do due diligence, etc. in different states. Unless you’re appearing in court or making filings I don’t believe you need to be licensed there just to negotiate a contract with a partner who happens to be in Colorado. Maybe having an Alabama employer swayed the decision though that was not the reason given. I was mostly just curious to see if I could reduce the amount of filings/fees I was having to do and later on I was glad I didn’t inquire further since it turned out I needed that Occupational License to get the CT and NY licenses.
You’re also required to pay an annual $25.00 Client Security Fee. The fee goes towards a fund to provide a remedy for clients who lost money or other property as a result of dishonest conduct by attorneys. Think attorneys who ask for a filing fee and then never file the paperwork or ask for a retainer fee and never do the work. I kind of think of it as a charity donation except it is required and you can’t claim it as a charity donation on your taxes.
Pro Bono Work
Alabama does not require but does encourage pro bono (meaning volunteer) work.
There were a couple of reasons we moved to Connecticut. At the time we weren’t able to afford to buy a house closer to the city where my husband worked and being short on time to find a place we decided to rent. That way we could save up and take our time finding a place we’d want to be in long term. The only place that quickly fit the bill and was affordable for us was a place in Connecticut that was around an hour and 15 minute train ride each way for him to work. It was also a small town so trains didn’t run frequently, which meant if he was late by a minute or two it could be an hour until the next train. My husband is happy his train ride is only 35 minutes each way now and the trains run frequently here.
The other reason we moved to Connecticut was that we knew we eventually wanted to move to New York and New York did not have reciprocity with Alabama. But Connecticut did.
I worked from my house in Connecticut during those two years. That meant I could seek admission to Connecticut based on reciprocity with Alabama and later on admission to New York based on reciprocity with Connecticut. I was thinking ahead!
Attorneys are probably going to ask me why I didn’t go the registered in-house counsel route since it’s cheaper and there is less involved. To be registered house counsel you need an active license in some state. I love my employer and I think they love me back, but if I lost my job and had a registered house counsel status that would have meant I would have had to either (a) move back to Alabama, (b) find another Alabama employer that I’d like to work for remotely and who felt the same way, or (c) take the Connecticut bar exam and pray I’d pass. It was much safer for me to just do the paperwork than to risk having to study for, prepare, and hope I passed the bar examination. I guess I could have looked into keeping the Alabama license active but that would have been a little weird if I wasn’t actually practicing there and Alabama is not exactly next door to either CT or NY.
So what’s required to get admission in CT based on reciprocity?
ALL of THIS. It was a lot. Along with a $1,800.00 filing fee and various smaller filing fees to get all those forms. Thank goodness I have good friends and colleagues, in both Alabama and CT, who agreed to do the affidavits. I was wondering how in the world I was going to find some attorneys licensed in CT that knew me well enough to do the affidavits when I remembered I negotiated a contract one time with an attorney who was licensed there. I reached out to her and she immediately offered to do the affidavit, and introduce me around to other lawyers and the neighborhood. She introduced me to another lawyer licensed in CT who was willing to do the affidavit after she got to know me better and that attorney wound up becoming one of my best buddies here!
Eventually I was sworn in and got the license. There are a couple of interesting things about CT.
There are no CLE requirements.
You are not automatically admitted to a Connecticut State Bar, membership in that organization is voluntary.
You have to register annually and pay an annual Occupational Tax of $565.00 per calendar year. The tax is not based on salary. If you’re an attorney you have to pay this flat tax. To date I have not heard of any other states with an Occupational Tax on certain professions. You can read all about the Occupational Tax here. You also have to pay an Annual Security Fund of $110.00 every year that has the same purpose as the $25.00 Alabama Client Security Fee.
Quarterly URL Report
In CT you are also required to report quarterly that you either have no URLs you use primarily to advertise legal services or if you do, then you need to provide that URL. More info on that can be found here.
Pro Bono Work
Same as Alabama- no mandatory requirement though it is encouraged.
A year and a half into living in Connecticut we started to browse New York real estate and a few months later I began to look at the New York licensing requirements. Boy am I glad I looked at them early. I cut it close with my filings but I made it.
I had to be licensed in at least one reciprocal jurisdiction (Connecticut) and practiced five of the preceding 7 years consecutively in at least one state (Alabama) immediately prior to the completed application date. “Completed application” meaning all the paperwork was in, i’s dotted and t’s crossed. Which can take awhile to do given the size of it and the number of documents you need from third parties to submit with it. I was licensed in and working from Alabama between 2004 to just before Labor Day of September 2012. I moved to Connecticut and started working from there around the middle of September 2012. I was preparing to move to New York in August 2014 and I’d only started looking at the licensing requirements in detail in June. Do you see my problem?
I actually called the department that would be examining my application to make sure I understood this rule. They said yes my interpretation was correct. I had been practicing law close to 10 consecutive years, but they had a 7 year look back period. In that 7 year look back period I was about to have over 2 years experience in Connecticut and slightly less than 5 in Alabama. If I’d waited much longer to get my paperwork in I might have not had nearly the 5 consecutive years in one state and would have been stuck relying on in-house counsel registration and eventually taking the bar examination. The other reason I was cutting it close is before I was allowed to actually apply for admission I had to file some paperwork getting permission to apply. See this link for info. I had no idea how long that was going to take but thankfully I think it came back in two weeks or so. I was also very lucky that the Dean’s office of my law school and the courts I had to call to get copies of things were very understanding of the situation and fast to respond. Bless them. At the time I was still living in Connecticut and mail was mysteriously disappearing. Friends sent me affidavits once, twice, three times and I wasn’t getting them. Finally we decided to use tracking numbers to see what was going on. Of course the affidavits arrived once they had tracking numbers on them so we didn’t get to see what great adventure they were going on.
Here is all the stuff I had to file to get admitted in NY. I don’t remember exactly what the filing fee was but I think it was in the neighborhood of $1,000.00 or so. I also had a very short interview before being sworn in. The trickiest part of NY was that I had to have two attorneys that were licensed in New York and that had known me for at least two years file affidavits vouching for my character. I didn’t have that problem in CT because there wasn’t a requirement on how long the attorneys had to know me. I gained a few friends after I moved here but they had known me for less than two years as of the date I was doing my application. After some serious digging on LinkedIn I found two attorneys that had known me long enough to vouch for me.
New York requires that I file a registration statement every two years within thirty days of my birthday along with a $375.00 fee. $60.00 of that is deposited in the Lawyers’ Fund for Client Protection, $50.00 to the Indigent Legal Services Fund, $25.00 to the Legal Services Assistance Fund, and the remainder goes into the Attorney Licensing Fund.
New York is like Connecticut in that you’re not a member of the New York State Bar just by becoming licensed. That’s a separate organization you join voluntarily.
New York requires that I complete 24 hours of CLE credits every two years, within the two year registration period. 4 hours have to be in the Ethics and Professionalism category. For attorneys that have just started practicing law you have to take certain law office practice and management classes live and in person along with the Ethics and Professionalism classes. Experienced attorneys can also take classes that were prerecorded or are online.
An interesting difference between Alabama and NY CLEs is that Alabama requires the Certificate of Attendance be provided to them. New York is self reporting. You just track the CLEs you took, self-report them, and keep the certificates in case you ever get audited.
Pro Bono Work
New York has different requirements than Alabama and Connecticut requiring volunteer work. If you were admitted after January 2015 (I was admitted prior to that) you must have performed 50 hours of qualifying pro bono work, which is sworn to by a supervisor, before you’ll be licensed to practice. Info about that can be found here.
You also have to anonymously report the number of pro bono hours of work you do after you’re admitted to practice. This applies to all attorneys regardless of date of admittance. You report every two years. Information on that can be found here.
After I gained admission in New York I took another look at what I could do to reduce the forms I had to file and fees I had to pay and elected to “revocably retire” in Connecticut. If you permanently retire that means you can never ever practice law in Connecticut again. That sounded way too permanent to me so I chose to go the revocable route. I still have to file a registration with them and report quarterly that I don’t advertise my legal services on any URL but I don’t have to pay the Occupational Tax or Annual Security Fee.
I kept my full Alabama license since it isn’t that difficult to manage and have no plans in the foreseeable future to leave New York so interesting as this journey has been I’m done with my inspection of bar admission requirements.