Out-of-State Lawyers Have Options to Transfer to Virginia

Transferring A Law License to Virginia

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Recently the Virginia Board of Bar Examiners added new ways for attorneys licensed in other states get licensed by the Virginia Bar. There are now enough ways to transfer to Virginia to be thoroughly confusing to potential test takers. Deciding which option is right for you can be difficult, so allow me to attempt to simplify your choices. This question has been coming up regularly on reddit, so I thought I’d address it here in more detail than I can there.

Is Virginia a UBE State?

No. Virginia does not give the Uniform Bar Exam. Our exam is a two-day exam, where the first day is the Virginia Essay Exam (authored and graded by Virginia Lawyers) and the second day is the Multi-State Bar Exam (MBE) (multiple choice questions authored and graded by the National Conference of Bar Examiners). Your score on our exam is cumulative, with 60% of your grade coming from the Virginia Essay Exam and 40% from the MBE. You may be able to avoid re-taking the MBE if you are licensed in another state. You will still have to take the Virginia Essay Exam, however, unless you qualify for Admission Without Examination.

Virginia Bar Reciprocity and Waiving into the Virginia Bar

There is no way to “waive” into the Virginia Bar, and reciprocity only matters in the context of following the Admission Without Examination Procedure. That procedure is described near the bottom of this page. If you don’t qualify for Admission Without Examination, the only way you can get licensed in Virginia is to take the Virginia Bar Exam. If you’re taking the exam, you might have up to two options. The Virginia Board of Bar Examiners calls these “Option 2” and “Option 3”. Keep reading for more on what these two options are and how to decide between them.

If you’re getting licensed in Virginia by taking the Virginia Essay Exam, be sure to see our Transferring Attorneys page for more details.

Out-of-state lawyers wonder whether they should take the exam using Option 2 or Option 3 to transfer to Virginia.

There are some important differences to consider in making the choice of how to transfer to Virginia. The decision will come down to your MBE score and the way our exam is scored. So let’s take a closer look at the options.

Option 2: Transferring Your MBE Score to Virginia

If you’ve taken the MBE within the last three years and scored 133 or higher, you are eligible for this option. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you should use this option. With this option, you transfer your prior MBE score into Virginia. You then take only the Virginia Essay Exam, which the Board administers on day 1 of our 2-day exam. Note that this is not a special “attorneys exam” as some states have. You’ll be taking the exact same state-specific test that every other test taker will be taking.

Your total score on the bar exam will be cumulative. The scaled MBE score (that you transferred here) will be worth 40% of your cumulative total on the exam. Your Virginia Essay Exam will be worth 60% of your cumulative total. Like the MBE, the essay exam is also scaled. Getting roughly 64% of the questions correct will equate to a scaled score of 140 on the essay exam. You must get a minimum cumulative total of 140 to pass the bar exam. So with this option, unlike option 3, your MBE score matters.

This is exactly how the Board has always graded the Virginia Bar Exam for all test takers. They score you, as a transfer attorney, just like every other student taking the exam. The difference is you’re using a prior MBE score, while they use the score they currently obtain on this exam. A stronger performance on one part of the exam overcomes a weaker performance on the other part of the exam. We’ll return to that in just a moment. For now, let’s look at option 3.

Option 3: Take the Virginia Essay Exam Without Transferring Your MBE Score

If you’ve taken and passed a bar exam, and you currently hold a license to practice law that is in good standing, you are eligible for this option to transfer to Virginia. With this option, you do not transfer your MBE score to Virginia. Just like with option 2B, you will only take the Virginia Essay Exam.

However, unlike option 2B, your score will be a raw score out of 100 points. You must get 64 out of the possible 100 points to pass the exam. The examiners will not scale your score. But, as explained above, a 64% raw score probably equates roughly to a scaled score of 140. So in theory, they are holding you to the same standard on the essay exam as every other student using any other option. This could have benefits and drawbacks depending on your situation.

Deciding Which Option is Right For You to Transfer to Virginia

option to move to virginia with boxes

Assuming you are eligible for both options, the decision between option 2B and option 3 comes down to this: Will your MBE score help you or hurt you? If your MBE will help, you should pick option 2B. If your MBE will hurt, you should pick option 3. So this decision requires a little math.

If you chose Option 2B, you’d be graded like this, with your total scaled score needing to be 140 or higher to pass:

(.40 x Prior MBE scaled score) + (.60 x essay scaled score) = total scaled score (must be at least 140 to pass)

So let’s say your MBE score was 135 and you’re wondering which option you should take. Let’s do the math:

(.40*135)+(.60x)= 140 (minimum passing score)
Here, x=143 (the essay score that you'd need to get a cumulative 140 and pass)

Since a 140 roughly equates to 64%, someone with a 135 MBE score would likely be better off taking option 3. That’s because their MBE actually hurts them. They’d have to do a little better than 64% on the essay exam in order to make up for their lower MBE score.

Now let’s look at someone who got a 146 on their MBE:

(.40*146)+(.60x)= 140 (minimum passing score)
Here, x=136 (the essay score that you'd need to get a cumulative 140 and pass)

So in this example, you’d only need a 136 essay score to pass the exam, because your MBE score is higher. A 136 would equate to a lower percentage of points (unclear how much lower, but certainly lower than 64%). So someone in this situation should choose option 2B, because their MBE score provides some margin of safety. They could score lower than 64% on the essay portion, and still pass the exam.

In a perfect world where a 64% raw essay score always perfectly correlated to a 140 scaled essay score, the dividing line would be 140 on your MBE. If your MBE score is higher than 140, you’re probably better off picking option 2B. If your MBE score is lower than 140, you’re probably better off picking option 3. Here is the math at 140:


Because we can’t perfectly predict how scores will scale from exam-to-exam, this is not a precise exercise. The closer your MBE score is to 140, the less this decision actually matters. But if your MBE is more than a few points above or below 140, this starts to matter more. For example, if your MBE score is really high — say 160 — it would be baffling to pick option 3. That high MBE score will give you tons of room to mess up on your essay exam. You could score well under the 64% raw score requirement of option 3, and still pass the exam.

About the Virginia Essay Exam & How to Transfer to Virginia

The video above has more information about getting licensed in Virginia and how LexBar can help.

Warning: The Virginia Essay Exam is hard. It mostly tests over unique features of Virginia law. If you rely on MBE materials, model codes, and majority approaches, you will fail it. Of the 20 topics potentially-tested on the exam, only a few will share much with your MBE study. The other subjects all heavily test rules of Virginia law that are different from national standards and model codes. It is much more difficult than the UBE essay exam, because the MEE overlaps on many subjects with the MBE.

To help decide how best to prepare for this state-specific bar exam, we have more study strategies for transfer attorneys. You should also review our free comprehensive guide to passing the Virginia Essay Exam.

Virginia Bar Admission Without Examination (also called reciprocity / waiving into Virginia Bar) to Transfer to Virginia

Finally, some attorneys may qualify for this unnumbered option to transfer to Virginia. If you meet these requirements, and pay your money, you may not need to take the Virginia Bar Exam to get licensed here. The requirements you’d need to meet are:

  1. You have been licensed to practice in one of the 50 states or D.C. for a minimum of 5 years.
  2. You have a J.D. from an ABA Accredited law school, and you have not failed more than 2 bar exams, nor failed any bar exam within the last 5 years.
  3. You have actively practiced law on a full-time (32 hours per week minimum) basis for at least three of the last five years.
  4. You have completed at least 12 hours of Virginia-approved Continuing Legal Education within the last 6 months and you are familiar with the Virginia Rules of Professional Conduct.
  5. At least one of the states you are currently licensed in is a reciprocal jurisdiction.

Reciprocal jurisdictions are all states who allow Virginia lawyers to be admitted under their own Admission Without Examination rules. Even if you meet all those requirements, Admission without Examination is still a discretionary decision by the Board. Additionally you will have to undergo a Character & Fitness investigation and pay money.

In recent years, the Virginia Board of Bar Examiners has expanded opportunities to get licensed in our state. But the regulations can be confusing.

If you’re getting licensed in Virginia by taking the Virginia Essay Exam, be sure to see our Transferring Attorneys page for more details.