There are many thousands of lawyers who are currently certified to practice law in the United States. Each state issues its own "bar" examination to control the quality of the lawyers who wish to practice within its borders. Although most of these bar exams are similar in nature, each one requires an intensive study period. For most lawyers, this period ranges between two weeks and two months.
Once a lawyer has passed the bar in the state in which he wishes to practice, he is certified to assume the full duties of a lawyer in that jurisdiction. If he wishes to transfer this certification to another state, he must pass the bar exam in that jurisdiction. Since this requires tremendous effort and may present a number of logistical hurdles for a certified lawyer, it's relatively rare for a lawyer to be bar-certified in more than three states. However, certain rules and regulations permit lawyers who are certified in specific states to solicit clients in other states. Many of these lawyers are members of the state bars of New York and California.
If you're looking for a reputable lawyer, you'll need to conduct a cursory check of his or her credentials. There are two obvious means by which you can confirm such legal credentials. The first involves checking with your state bar to determine whether the lawyer in whom you're interested is permitted to practice law there. In most cases, you'll be able to do this simply by navigating to your state bar's website and scanning its up-to-date list of bar-certified lawyers.
The second involves confirming the lawyer's educational credentials. To do this, you'll need to contact the law school from which the lawyer claims to have graduated to confirm that he or she attended and graduated from the institution. If it's not possible to conduct such a check online, you may have to call or visit the school.
Although bar-certified lawyers are theoretically competent, you may wish to conduct further "background" checks before agreeing to retain a lawyer. For instance, you may wish to check that the law school from which your prospective lawyer graduated is accredited by a recognizable accrediting agency. If an accredited institution is located outside of the United States, you should confirm that it conforms to the same standards set forth by reputable American accrediting agencies. Likewise, you should speak with your lawyer's previous clients to determine whether he or she is known for producing acceptable results.