Interpreting Rule 204--Tips for a Successful Application

Meeting the Degree Requirement

Rule 204(1) requires applicants to have earned a Juris Doctor (or Bachelor of Laws, LL.B.) degree from a law school accredited by the American Bar Association. (See definition section for “accredited.”) The school must have been accredited at the time the applicant matriculated or graduated. A degree earned from a law school that gained accreditation after the applicant’s graduation will not meet the requirements of Rule 204.

Meeting the Practice Time Requirement

Rule 204(4) requires an applicant to prove that he/she has “for a period of five years of the last seven years immediately preceding the date of filing of the application … devoted a major portion of time and energy to the practice of law in one or more states.” The Board will not count any work towards the practice requirement that is before the date of the applicant’s admission to the bar. The Board interprets the phrase "devoted a major portion of time and energy to the practice of law" to mean that the applicant spent more than 50 percent of his/her time engaged in the practice of law. An applicant must demonstrate at least five years’ worth of work in which he/she devoted more than 20 hours of work per week to the practice of law.

The Definition of the Practice of Law

Rule 204 defines the “practice of law.” It provides seven itemized activities that qualify for the rule. Before beginning an application, candidates should review the list of activities, which is exclusive. Positions within companies in which the applicant is not corporate counsel will not count. Service as a judicial law clerk before admission to the bar will not count. Adjunct teaching positions will not count. Service as a judge in a local court will only count if judges of that court are required to be licensed to practice law. Work as a temporary employee where the applicant does not represent one or more clients will not meet the rule. For this reason, contract work generally will not meet the requirements of the rule.

Counting Time

The Board will calculate an applicant’s practice time by weeks. The Board will count every week in which an applicant practiced law more than 20 hours. The Board does not deduct from the counted practice time vacations and leave time earned and taken in accordance with an employer’s standard policy, so long as the applicant returned to the position after the vacation or leave. However, the Board will not count time in between positions of employment, when the applicant is not practicing. For example:

Application date = 12/5/2015

Seven year window = 12/5/2008 – 12/5/2015

(Illinois = reciprocal)
Assistant U.S. Attorney
Chicago, IL
8/2/2013 – 11/10/2015

Time counted = 2 years, 3 months, 1 week
Assistant Attorney General
Springfield, IL
6/26/2009 - 8/28/2012

Time counted = 3 years, 2 months

Applicants should understand that, because the calculation is made with a focus on weeks in which the applicant practiced, the Board will not count time, other than leave time, in which the applicant was not practicing. Thus, if a hypothetical applicant worked 80 hours a week for 13 weeks (1040 hours), she would get credit for 13 weeks. On the other hand, if that hypothetical applicant worked 1,040 hours in a year by working 21 hours in each of 52 weeks, she would get credit for 52 weeks. Rule 204 (4) also requires that the applicant’s practice of law be “in one or more states.” Thus, work outside of the United States will not count toward the rule.

Authorized Practice

Legal work will not count towards the practice requirement of Rule 204 if the applicant was not licensed in the jurisdiction in which the work was performed or is not able to show that he/she was specifically authorized to perform such work. This includes advice to clients on federal law. Applicants must provide the statute, regulation, case law or other legal authority that specifically authorized them to practice law in any jurisdiction in which they are not admitted.

Practice in Pennsylvania by an attorney licensed in another jurisdiction, even if authorized, will not count towards the practice requirement of Rule 204 unless the applicant has taken and passed the bar examination in a reciprocal state. An applicant who has been admitted on motion in a reciprocal state may only count the practice hours accumulated in that state or another reciprocal state.

For example: An applicant takes the CA bar exam (non-reciprocal jurisdiction), and becomes admitted in the District of Columbia (reciprocal) by motion. Subsequently, applicant comes to Pennsylvania and works for a federal agency (authorized work) for five years. Under Rule 204, the applicant will not be able to count the time working in Pennsylvania, even though it was authorized.