Supreme Court Adopts Significant Updates to Rule Governing Licensing of Attorneys

The Tennessee Supreme Court has approved extensive changes to the rule regulating the licensing of lawyers to practice in the state, including easing provisions for attorneys that may have practiced elsewhere.

The Tennessee Board of Law Examiners (BLE), which administers the licensing process for attorneys in Tennessee, petitioned the Court earlier this year requesting changes be made throughout the detailed rule. In its petition, the BLE recognized the need for Tennessee to accommodate the increased mobility of lawyers between states. Each state has different regulations regarding how attorneys obtain licenses.

Among the changes the Court adopted today are provisions permitting spouses of those in the military to obtain temporary law licenses here while their active-duty spouse is stationed in Tennessee or at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, provided they are licensed in another state and meet other requirements. Comments to the proposed rule released early this year strongly supported this provision, which accommodates families that move often with their active-duty spouses.

“This change is significant to those who serve our country and whose families are impacted by their duty,” Chief Justice Sharon Lee said. “And, because 95% of military spouses are women, this change will lend even more support to females in our profession.”

Another change clarifies the requirements for registration of in-house counsel, which permits attorneys licensed in another state that now live in Tennessee and work solely as counsel for a company in the state to practice here if they register with the BLE.

The rule also has been updated for those that have a pending application for a law license here and are licensed in another state. Attorneys who are in good standing in another state can practice pending approval of their Tennessee law license application if they meet certain requirements, such as associating with a local attorney.

Another change refines the rule regarding undergraduate and law degrees, clearly allowing for combined degree programs that may grant law degrees in conjunction with undergraduate degrees.

A new streamlined application process eliminates the requirement to submit a formal “intent to sit for the bar examination” and adds more than a month to the application deadline. No late applications will be accepted, whereas previously late applications were accepted with a fee. The BLE has moved to an entirely electronic registration process and these changes help support that move.

The rule also now explicitly authorizes the Board of Law Examiners or any member of the board to request an applicant submit to a drug test as part of the character investigation and applicants may be denied a law license if they refuse to do so.

The Court now will require applicants who have received their law license in another country to obtain an LL.M. from a program sanctioned by the American Bar Association. An LL.M. is a postgraduate law degree.

Read the Court’s order here, and the entire Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 7 here.