• Getting your firm clearance to practice in another jurisdiction can mean fulfilling more than just licensing requirements, says attorney Sam Karnes. Some states--including Alaska, Virginia, and Washington--"require you to have certain provisions in the internal operating documents of your company."

    Credit: Shane Kislack

    Getting your firm clearance to practice in another jurisdiction can mean fulfilling more than just licensing requirements, says attorney Sam Karnes. Some states--including Alaska, Virginia, and Washington -- "require you to have certain provisions in the internal operating documents of your company."

In the United States, the licensing and certification requirements for practicing architecture are determined by each state, territory, and the District of Columbia. So if your firm is eyeing work in another jurisdiction, be prepared to meet demands—including ones you might not expect. "In architecture, you often run into arcane requirements,” says Sam Karnes, speaking from experience. A lawyer in the Fort Worth, Texas, office of Winstead, Karnes represented local AEC firm Carter & Burgess (C&B) for a decade and a half prior to its purchase by Jacobs Engineering Group in late 2007. During that time, C&B expanded its business through acquisitions to practice in almost every state.

Isn't having a license to practice in your home state and NCARB certification enough to practice elsewhere?

Practicing as a firm involves different rules on licensing and certification. If you go outside your state, you get into rules that encompass ownership, management, name, and other characteristics.

Who do you need to deal with?

There are two levels in each state: the secretary of state and the architecture board.

Who do you go to first?

Contact the architecture board. Call and ask what you need to do. Corporation parameters are separate from practicing architecture. In some states, you have to present certification from the secretary of state to the design board before registering. In other states, it's the opposite.

What is the least onerous situation?

In some states, you don't have to get a license. The base is that you have one person in your firm licensed in that state. For a lot of states in the West and South, you just need to notify the board that you want to practice. They may not require any formal license or certification.

And the other extreme?

You might have a state that requires a certain percentage of your owners or directors to be licensed to practice in that state—and they may have additional rules as to the name you can have as a firm and how you can present yourself in your stationery and letterhead.

How can a firm name be a problem?

North Carolina and Nevada have specific requirements if your firm name includes an individual not licensed in that state. [In some states,] if your name includes someone who's deceased, that may cause a problem. Or you may have the name of an engineer, not an architect, in your corporate name, and you're asking to practice architecture.

How can letterhead be a problem?

A few states require you to list licensure information. In Pennsylvania, you have to submit proposed letterhead to the licensing board. In Mississippi, all stationery, printed matter, title blocks, and listings of the firm must contain the name of at least one Mississippi-licensed architect.

What if you're doing just one project?

States normally have an exception for occasional projects. If it's a one-time deal and you're not actively marketing or doing business, they will give you a free shot, though you might have to jump through a few hoops.

What if you're soliciting business?

In a number of states, the rules don't just apply to designing a building, but to offering design services.

What's the level of enforcement?

The regulatory staffs in most states are inadequately manned. There's very little enforcement in a lot of states unless competing firms report somebody.

What are the penalties?

There are civil penalties and, in some cases, criminal penalties if you don't comply. You have to be concerned—the state could suspend your license to practice there.