Justices Welcome New Attorneys In Virtual Swearing-In Ceremonies

June 11, 2021

Taking an oath to uphold the constitutions and conduct oneself with honesty, fairness, integrity, and civility is the final step in a long journey to becoming an attorney. For this year’s newest crop of Tennessee lawyers, the journey was particularly arduous as the global pandemic brought in-person classes to a halt, disrupted practical learning experiences, and required a novel virtual bar exam. On June 10th and 11th, the five justices of the Tennessee Supreme Court celebrated the state’s newest members of the bar as they took the oath of office.

“Practicing law in Tennessee is truly a privilege and with that privilege comes responsibilities,” Chief Justice Jeff Bivins said. “One of the biggest responsibilities you will have as a lawyer is to help those Tennessee citizens who are unable to afford to pay for a lawyer. With this privilege comes this opportunity and responsibility to return something back to the state and the profession.  Whether it is working through pro bono organizations or the legal aid communities, we encourage you, and ask you, to participate and help people receive proper legal representation so that we can truly move toward equal justice for every Tennessean in this state.”

The University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law had the most alumni taking the oath, followed by the University of Tennessee College of Law and Belmont College of Law. New attorneys making Tennessee their home state went to law school as far away as the University of Maine, Brigham Young University, the University of Chicago, and Pepperdine University.

“You start today with a clean slate and it is up to you to build what is written on it. I hope you build your reputation as hard-working, honest lawyer who can be trusted by colleagues and the court,” Justice Sharon G. Lee said. “I hope the words you use for your hashtags are honest, hard-working, kind, thoughtful, andtrustworthy.”

While the motion for admission for the majority of admittees was made by Tennessee Bar Association President Michelle Greenway Sellers, on several occasions the new lawyers were introduced by their parents, siblings, or new colleagues, creating a particular touching moment.

“This journey has been different for everyone being sworn-in today,” said Greenway Sellers. “What called you to law school, motivated you to do the work, and sit for the bar is unique to each of you. While our differences will bring strength to the profession, we should share an enduring loyalty to the core principles that define who we are in the profession – civility, respect for the rule of law, and an agreement to hold ourselves to higher standards for the benefit of the public.”

The new lawyers have secured a variety of positions in the law, ranging from large and small law firms from Kingsport to Memphis, major corporations headquartered in the state, and legal aid and public service organizations like the Neighborhood Preservation Project in Memphis. They will practice in areas ranging from data privacy law to mergers to family law to immigration law.

“Remember the oath you took today,” Justice Roger A. Page said. “Exercise your duties faithfully and to the best of your ability. Your duty to the court requires you to be certain in each and every representation you make. You must make sure it is true.  A lawyer’s word is his or her bond. Be confident in your abilities but do not lose civility and humility when dealing with others.  Integrity is all you have, don’t ever lose it.”

The lawyers taking the oath took a virtual bar exam in February 2021.  In total, 139 test takers were successful on that exam.  The exam had a 60.74 percent pass rate for first-time takers and a 27.97 percent pass rate for those taking the exam for at least the second time.

“You have earned the privilege of having a law license and having that license can and will change your life,” Justice Connie Clark said. “You have joined the legal profession in the most turbulent of times in this country and other places. Our most basic assumptions of what equal justice means are under attack. Being safe in what you do as a practitioner cannot mean being absent from the hard road we all must travel and the hard conversations we need to continue to have to protect those basic principles of the rule of law and to protect the ideals of what justice for all should really mean.”

The swearing-in ceremonies are typically held in person in Memphis, Jackson, Nashville and Knoxville. The Court has held virtual ceremonies since the start of the pandemic, which has allowed family and friends to watch via a livestream on YouTube. Many used the chat function to virtually cheer on their new lawyer. “So proud of you, Faith! I have tears in my eyes. Happy tears,” one viewer wrote.

“We urge you to fully inhabit the special role of lawyers in our society,” Justice Holly Kirby said. “You have a sphere of influence. We urge you to use it for the good. Use your platform as a lawyer to educate those around you about the importance of the rule of law – the principle that all of us must operate within the bounds of the law and all of us are entitled to basic rights. Educate your friends and family about the basic differences about the branches of government, the importance of having independent judges, and why lawyers are obliged to bring facts and evidence to court and not just conjecture.”