Tennessee Supreme Court Amends Rule on Licensing of Attorneys

March 29, 2019

The Tennessee Supreme Court has amended Supreme Court Rule 7, which focuses on the licensing of attorneys to practice law in Tennessee. These most recent changes follow other modifications that were made to the rule over the past several years, including adoption of the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE) and the Tennessee Law Course, temporary licensing for spouses of military servicemembers, and admitting lawyers educated outside of the United States. The most recent changes primarily affect practice pending admission, in-house counsel registration by non-Tennessee lawyers, and the rules governing law students working under supervision as part of a law school educational program.

“Over the past several years, we have modernized the rule tremendously as the practice of law has changed,” said Justice Sharon G. Lee, who serves as the Supreme Court’s liaison to the Board of Law Examiners. “These most recent revisions are the result of a more holistic review of the rule by the Board and the Court to ensure clarity, consistency and predictability.”

For example, parts of the rule were rearranged to make the rule easier to understand. Before the adoption of the UBE, applicants could be admitted either by taking the Tennessee bar exam or by admission without examination, which requires at least five years of practice in another jurisdiction. An applicant moving from another state can register to practice pending admission and, because this would have only applied to those seeking to be admitted without exam, the requirements and language were found in that section. However, now that Tennessee accepts a UBE score earned in another state, the language focusing on practicing pending admission was moved to a new section and applies to both those seeking admission by exam or without exam. Parts of Rule 7 rendered obsolete by the adoption of the UBE, such as limitations on admission by transferred UBE score or without examination for applicants who were previously unsuccessful on the Tennessee bar examination, were removed.

Several changes were also made to the in-house counsel section of the rule. For example, foreign lawyers must now register as in-house counsel. Anyone serving as a foreign lawyer has 180 days from enactment of the amendments to Rule 7 to register as in-house counsel, and failure to do so results in a late fee.

Finally, changes were made to the section of the rule formerly focused on law school legal clinics, broadening eligibility to include all experiential learning programs while keeping the focus on helping those who cannot otherwise afford an attorney. Justice Lee said, “The Court worked closely with the clinical directors and faculty at Tennessee law schools to balance the goal of helping students receive supervised, high quality, hands-on learning opportunities with the understanding that they have not yet completed their studies or passed the bar.”

To review the Court’s order, which includes an appendix containing the final version of the Rule as well as a version with line edits of the changes, please visit TNCourts.gov