Tennessee Supreme Court Approves Tennessee Law Course for New Lawyers

October 17, 2018

The Tennessee Supreme Court has revised one of its rules to require new lawyers to successfully complete a course focused specifically on the law in Tennessee before they begin practicing law. This requirement comes in the wake of the Court’s adoption in April 2018 of the Uniform Bar Examination (“UBE”) and ensures that new lawyers are knowledgeable about both general law and Tennessee law.

The Court’s adoption of the UBE in April added Tennessee to the growing list of states that use the uniform exam, which consists of three sections, including the Multistate Essay Examination (“MEE”). The questions included in the MEE, while not specific to Tennessee law, are drafted and reviewed by national experts in each field. The questions are also pre-tested, which is difficult to accomplish for a state-prepared essay examination, regardless of the talent and expertise of the Tennessee drafters. The MEE is effective for measuring competency of attorneys before admission by testing knowledge of the subject matter, issue identification, and persuasive writing ability. The UBE, although very effective and reliable, does not test on Tennessee-specific law. The Supreme Court’s revision to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 7 includes the establishment of the Tennessee Law Course and provides an additional layer of required knowledge that is specific to Tennessee law.

The adoption of the UBE allows a law school graduate in Tennessee who earns a set minimum score on the exam to transfer the score for admission to any other state that also uses the UBE exam. In addition, a law school graduate from another state using the UBE can transfer the score to Tennessee without taking a new exam. Applicants who seek to be licensed in Tennessee by transferred UBE score will still have to undergo a character and fitness investigation and meet all of the other eligibility requirements. Complete details on admission by transferred UBE score are available on the Tennessee Board of Law Examiners website at www.tnble.org.

Before adopting the Tennessee Law Course requirement, the Supreme Court appointed a committee to study the need, feasibility, and scope of a required course on Tennessee law. The Supreme Court adopted the committee’s recommendations to require completion of the Tennessee Law Course before admission to the Tennessee bar. The Course will highlight the distinctions found in Tennessee law. Course topics will initially include Professional Responsibility, Administrative Law, Constitutional Law, Criminal Law, Torts, Property, Tennessee Court Rules, Business Organizations, Wills, Estates and Trusts, and Family Law. Professors from Tennessee law schools and Supreme Court staff attorneys will assist in preparing and presenting materials for the Tennessee Law Course. The Course content will be reviewed periodically to add, modify, or delete content as required. The Course will be delivered digitally, and outlines will be available on the Tennessee Board of Law Examiners website.

“The adoption of the Uniform Bar Examination and a Tennessee Law Course is a positive development for the practice of law in Tennessee. All newly licensed attorneys, not just those sitting for examination, will receive instruction in Tennessee law, which will benefit the public,” said Jeffrey Ward, president of the Board of Law Examiners and chair of the Tennessee Law Course Committee.

Justice Sharon G. Lee, liaison to the Tennessee Board of Law Examiners, expressed the Court’s gratitude to the Board of Law Examiners for its work in advancing bar exam testing methods; to the Tennessee Law Course Committee for its thorough study of the requirements and methods for delivery of the Tennessee Law Course; and to law professors at Belmont University College of Law, Lincoln Memorial University Duncan School of Law, Nashville School of Law, University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law, University of Tennessee College of Law, and Vanderbilt University Law School as well as Supreme Court staff attorneys for their willingness to assist in preparing and teaching the Course.

The UBE will be given for the first time in Tennessee in February 2019. By January 2019, the Tennessee Law Course will be online for applicants to complete. Applicants will be provided instructions once they have been approved by the Board of Law Examiners for licensing or with the notification of a successful bar examination.

To read the Court's order click here.

To read the appendix showing the changes to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 7 click here.