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Portable bar exam may come for Alaska lawyers

A change in the way Alaska attorneys receive certification to practice law may allow them more freedom to work outside of the state.

The uniform bar exam, or UBE, is already the norm in 13 states across the country. Ready? Lawyers in Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming can practice in any of those jurisdictions.

And, according to President of the Alaska Bar Association Mike Moberly, lawyers here may soon join the club.

“It’s being sent around for discussion, it’d come back before the board for the January meeting,” Moberly says. “If everything went without a hitch we could be administering the first tests by July.”

Moberly is on a regional tour for the Bar Association, meeting with attorneys in communities across Southeast Alaska. While in Ketchikan, he described efforts in Alaska to qualify for the UBE.

The state’s Bar Association already meets the criteria for the UBE in two out of the three portions of the test. Once the essay portion of the bar exam meets the UBE criteria, lawyers will be allowed to qualify.

Moberly says offering the UBE in Alaska will be good for those looking to practice elsewhere. But it’s a two-way street. Attorneys in other states who want to work in Alaska will suddenly have the opportunity to come.

“The portability of it is of course very beneficial to the individual attorney,” Moberly says. “And whether someone outside says ‘hey I’ve got a score high enough to make it into Alaska, let’s see if I can make a living there,’ or ‘I’ve always wanted to practice there,’ or if an attorney here wants to practice elsewhere, I think that it’s going to give them that flexibility.”

Moberly says he has heard some grumbling from lawyers about what an influx of attorneys might mean in terms of competition. But when factored with the amount of those leaving the state, he predicts the net result will be a wash.

As it stands, attorneys in Alaska who have taken the state bar exam only qualify to practice here. So, that means attorneys in Alaska who have already passed the state bar exam will have to retake the UBE if they want to practice elsewhere.

Moberly’s tours through the state allows him to hear questions and concerns from members of the bar association. He says that issues raised in Ketchikan are similar to those in other small communities. Ethical issues in terms of familiarity between judges and attorneys are a frequent topic. Helping economically disadvantaged people gain access to and feel properly served by the legal system is also a common theme.

From Ketchikan, Moberly was scheduled to travel to Juneau.

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