Rule 7, Section 10.03 (and applicable comments) of the Rules of the Tennessee Supreme Court allows law students to practice law in Tennessee on a limited basis in association with a law school clinical program. Section 10.04 of the Rules of the Tennessee Supreme Court allows law school graduates to practice in Tennessee courts.
Law Students (10.03)
Law students must:
- Have completed one-half of the legal studies required for graduation in an approved Tennessee law school.
- Obtain the written approval of the Supreme Court of Tennessee.
Law students may provide legal services to, and may appear in any municipal, county, or state court on behalf of, any person or entity financially unable to afford counsel or on behalf of the state of Tennessee or of any municipal or county government. “Provide legal services” is construed broadly. Law students may provide any and all services that could be completed by a licensed attorney and may also appear in capacities such as guardian ad litem where the client would qualify for appointed counsel.
Law students must be participating in a law school clinical program, furnishing assistance through a legal aid program, or serving as an assistant to a District Attorney General, Public Defender, the state’s Attorney General, the general counsel of any state agency, or a county or municipal legal director’s office. A law school clinical program includes a live-client clinic within the law school, an externship program operated by the law school (regardless whether it is a part of the legal clinic) or any other law school credit-bearing activity that involves the representation of clients. The clinic director or the law school Dean must ensure that the supervision provided by the legal aid office, public defender, district attorney, Attorney General, general counsel of a state agency or Metropolitan Legal office is adequate under the Rule.
Law students must be under the immediate and personal supervision of a member of the law school’s faculty, a licensed legal aid attorney, a District Attorney General or designated Assistant District Attorney General, a District Public Defender or designated Assistant District Public Defender, the Attorney General of Tennessee or any assistant in his or her office, the general counsel of any state agency or any staff attorney in his or her office, or the director of a county or municipal legal office or designated staff attorney.
The supervising attorney does not need to be personally present when the student engages in additional activities such as interviewing, investigation, and negotiation. The supervising attorney must ensure that the student is properly supervised and instructed. This includes compliance with RPC 5.3 (Responsibilities Regarding Nonlawyer Assistants).
Application and Certification
The law school Dean or the director of the law school clinical program is required to file with the Tennessee Supreme Court a list of students who are eligible for certification and must certify that the students meet the requirements of the student practices rule. The law school Dean is certifying the student is in good standing and has successfully completed the sufficient credit hours to satisfy the minimum requirements for the second half of law school. Students must have passed, and not simply completed, the sufficient courses.
The Board has to approve the law school’s clinical program and must certify the approval to the Tennessee Supreme Court prior to the approval of law students practicing in the clinical setting. The criteria includes:
- That the law school itself is approved.
- That if the law school has an in-house legal clinic that directly represents clients, the program has a full-time faculty member as director who is an attorney licensed to practice law in Tennessee.
- That the law school clinical program is otherwise operated in a manner consistent with the requirements of this rule.
- The director of the clinical program or the law school Dean will submit the names of the certified law students to a legal aid office, a Public Defender’s Office, District Attorney’s office, the office of the Attorney General of Tennessee, the office of the general counsel of any state agency, or the office of a municipal or county legal director where the law student is working.
The Tennessee Supreme Court’s written approval remains in effect until the student graduates from law school or ceases to be enrolled in the law school. The Board may withdraw the certification of an approved law school clinical program if the criteria are not met.
Law School Graduates (10.04)
Tennessee residents who graduated from an ABA accredited law school, or a law school approved by the Tennessee Board of Law Examiners, and have established preliminary eligibility to take the bar exam may be permitted to engage in the limited and conditional practice of law. The practice must be associated with a practicing lawyer or law firm.
Graduates who are otherwise eligible but who cannot make a tentative connection or association with a practicing lawyer or law firm may make application to any trial judge holding court in the county of such person’s residence, or where the person intends to practice, for aid in the establishment of a limited and supervised practice under the law school graduate rules. No other deviation from the rules is permitted.
Law school graduates may:
- Office Practice.
- Graduates may engage in legal research without limitation.
- Prepare memoranda of law for regularly admitted practicing lawyers, without limitation.
- Prepare legal memoranda and briefs for submission to any court, under the immediate supervision of any member of the Bar.
- Assist any Tennessee Bar member in any area of office practice.
- Court Appearances.
- Graduates may practice in any court that is not a court of record, without supervision and with the permission of the judge. Graduates cannot practice in any court in any case where there is a constitutional or statutory right to counsel.
- Present arguments in any court on any motion or matter addressed to the trial judge only, without supervision and with the permission of the trial judge.
- May engage generally in any trial or proceeding before any trial court, governing body, or administrative agency. The supervising attorney must be present, association with the graduate, and must supervise the graduate. The appearance is subject to the consent of the client.
- Law school graduates cannot:
- Advise clients, except in the personal presence and under the supervision of a member of the Tennessee Bar.
- Charge or receive any compensation for their services. Tennessee Bar members may charge for the graduate’s services. The compensation cannot be divided between the attorney and the graduate, and the compensation will not be considered when establishing a rate of compensation for the graduate.
Applicants must submit a written request to the Board in order to obtain preliminary eligibility. The written request includes a Notice of Intent and application to take the bar exam in Tennessee and verification from the appropriate supervisor undertaking the supervision of the applicant.
The right to practice begins on the date of notification of preliminary eligibility upon application to take the bar exam.
The right to practice continues until the Board determines the graduate is ineligible to take the bar exam or through the date of the announcement of the results of the second bar exam administered after graduation, whichever occurs first.