The rules change, which was initially filed on March 14 in Supreme Court, proved controversial with local attorneys, many of whom expressed concern about its practical and economic ramifications. The court gave opportunity for submitted commentary on the issue, but counter-arguments largely failed to change the opinions of the justices.
Before the order, the V.I. Bar Examination contained components of the Uniform Bar Examination (UBE,) but the territory had not officially adopted the UBE in its entirety.
Adoption of the UBE by all U.S. jurisdictions has been recommended by the national Conference of Chief Justices, as well as by the House of Delegates of the American Bar
Association. In their official recommendations, the former emphasized that a uniform examination strengthens legal protection of the public, while the later argued that it can increase attorney mobility in a declining legal labor market.
Jurisdictions that adopt the UBE maintain a degree of control over local policies on grading, educational requirements, and character and fitness decisions for attorneys. In its order, the V.I. Supreme Court argued that 42 other U.S. states and territories had policies in place to allow attorneys admitted the bar in other jurisdictions to bypass local examination.
The V.I. Supreme Court’s order allows attorneys who have passed the UBE in other jurisdictions to be admitted to the local bar by motion rather than by examination. The fee for filing such a motion is $2,500.
There are eligibility requirements that an attorney must meet before his or her motion is sent by the Committee of Bar Examiners to be reviewed by the Supreme Court, which has the power to accept or deny it. For example, the filing attorney must have been primarily engaged in the active practice of law in the U.S. for five of the seven years immediately preceding the date of application. The attorney must also “produce satisfactory evidence of good moral character, and an adequate knowledge of the standards and ideals of the profession.”
According to the V.I. Supreme Court’s order, admittance by motion still requires a mandatory local law course required by the Committee of Bar Examiners. The order also states that the U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled that local jurisdictions cannot use bar admissions rules to “discriminate against non-residents without justification.”
The new ability of non-resident attorneys to be admitted to the bar without examination will mostly apply to those attorneys who wish to practice law in the territory on a regular basis, the court’s order states.
Attorneys wishing to practice in the Virgin Islands on a one time basis on a particular court case, the order argues, will still find it more practical to pursue a pro hac vice motion, or “for this occasion,” which pairs non-resident attorneys with attorneys admitted to the V.I. Bar.