This article, A Break from the Comity Routine, Cynthia Lane, ABA e-report (4/22/05) reports on lawyer Steven Morrison’s successful challenge to North Carolina’s rules on comity admissions. Under the rule declared overly restrictive by the federal court, North Carolina allowed an attorney in a state with which North Carolina has a comity agreement to gain admission to the North Carolina bar without an exam, provided that the attorney had practiced four of the past six years in a comity jurisdiction. Morrison was admitted to several comity jurisdictions, but for the six years prior to seeking admission in North Carolina he practiced in California, a non-comity state. The federal court found that bar membership in a comity jurisdiction should suffice to gain admission to the North Carolina Bar and that the prior practice requirement was overly restrictive.
The article goes on to discuss how comity provisions like North Carolina’s are outdated given the amount of mobility in the legal profession. But that mobility doesn’t just extend to movement by practicing attorneys from one state to another, but also movement in and out of the profession. For example, women (or men) might leave the practice of law for several years to spend time with family – and if they moved during that period and then sought admission in North Carolina, they too would flunk the comity test.
Finally, the North Carolina rule adversely impacts solo practitioners most of all. An attorney who doesn’t meet the comity rules and has to take another bar exam can work at a large firm while studying for and awaiting a decision on the test results. Solos can’t do that – without bar admission, they’re basically out of work unless they can do research for other attorneys.
It’s true that North Carolina – and other states – could do away with comity entirely and require all attorneys to take a bar exam every time they want to practice in the state. But I can’t think of a larger waste of resources. As it is, even waiving into another bar is a costly endeavor, with new admissions fees, paying for character investigations and possibly even taking a practitioners’ exam. I can’t see the rationale for making the process even more difficult.