State By State Requirements to Become a Lawyer

Law Information for Tennessee

According to information provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) of the US Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration, in 2010 the median annual salary for lawyers in Tennessee was $96,400. Tennessee lawyers earning in the 90th percentile could make in excess of $166,400 annually. Lawyers in Tennessee may become certified to practice in a variety of areas, including civil law, criminal law, elder law, family law, bankruptcy law and DUI defense. If your goal is to become a licensed lawyer and member of the Tennessee bar, keep reading to discover the steps you should take to realize this goal.
 

Step 1

Get Your Tennessee Undergraduate Pre-Law Major

Pre-legal education is required under the rules of the Tennessee Board of Law Examiners. You must obtain a bachelor’s degree prior to going to law school.

Accreditation

The Tennessee Board of Law Examiners requires that, before enrolling in law school, you receive a bachelor’s degree from a college on the approved list of the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools (or of any equivalent regional accreditation association such as):

Requirements and Standards

Although the Tennessee Board of Law Examiners mandates that you must have a bachelor’s degree in addition to your law degree when you sit for the state’s bar exam, it does not mandate the course of study or types of classes you should take. The American Bar Association (ABA) has said that pre-legal education should be challenging and interesting, above all. Certain courses like criminal justice, political science, government, philosophy, human behavior, business, and English may help you as you work towards your goal of becoming a Tennessee lawyer if taken during your undergraduate education.

Degree Options

You may receive your bachelor’s degree in any area in which you choose, as a Bachelor of Science (BS) or Bachelor of Arts (BA), as long as the degree comes from an accredited institution.


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Step 2

LSAT (Law School Admission Test) in Tennessee

The next major hurdle you must accomplish on your way to becoming a Tennessee lawyer is to pass the LSAT, or Law School Admission Test.  

How to prepare

Free study guides are available at the LSAT website. Other ways that you may prepare for the LSAT in Tennessee include:  
LSAT Exam Prep Courses in Tennessee:

Exam content

The standardized LSAT is a half-day in length, and is made up of five sections with questions of three different types:

  1. Reading Comprehension:  these questions evaluate your ability to read and comprehend complex materials that mimic types of materials you will encounter in law school
  2. Analytical Reasoning : these questions evaluate your ability to comprehend  relationship structures and to make logical conclusions about them
  3. Logical Reasoning: these questions gauge your ability to comprehend, analyze, criticize, and complete arguments

You will also encounter an unscored, experimental section, which will repeat one of the above sections. You will not know which section is the experimental one, so try your best on all sections of the test. At the end of the LSAT, you must produce a writing sample on a given topic. This, too, is not scored as part of the LSAT. However, it will be sent to the law schools to which you apply to determine your viability as a law school candidate.

Application process

Plan to take the LSAT no sooner than after your junior year in undergraduate school is completed. Applications to take the LSAT are submitted online through the Law School Admission Council (LSAC). The LSAT is offered in February, June, October and December. You should not take the test as late as October or December of the year in which you plan to apply to law school, however. Testing centers in Tennessee include:

  • University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, 615 McCallie Ave, Chattanooga, TN 37403-2598
  • Union University, 1050 Union University Dr, Jackson, TN 38305-3697
  • East Tennessee State University, 807 University Pky, Johnson City, TN 37614-0000
  • University of Tennessee, 527 Andy Holt Tower, Knoxville, TN 37996-0184
  • University of Tennessee-Martin, University Street, Martin, TN 38238-5021
  • University of Tennessee at Memphis ,Memphis, TN 38163
  • Middle Tennessee State University, 1301 East Main Street, Murfreesboro, TN 37132
  • Tennessee State University, 1 William L. Jones Drive, Cookeville, TN 38505-0001
  • Vanderbilt University, 2101 West End Avenue, Nashville, TN 37240
  • Sewanee: The University of the South, 735 University Avenue, Sewanee, TN 37383-1000

Receiving Your Score

You will receive a score between 120 and 180, and your LSAT results will be mailed to you about three weeks after you take the test. Examples of average LSAT scores accepted by Tennessee law schools include:

  • University of Memphis:                                               155
  • University of Tennessee College of Law:               160
  • Vanderbilt University Law School:                            169

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Step 3

Go to Law School in Tennessee

Application process

You must now apply to an ABA-accredited law school or the one non-ABA accredited in-state school currently approved by the Board. Tennessee’s Board-approved and ADA-accredited law schools are:

Additionally, a complete list of over 200 ABA-accredited law schools throughout the country is available in the American Bar Association's Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools.

Credential Assembly Service

Most law schools require that you use the Law School Admission Council’s Credential Assembly Service (CAS) at the time you apply for enrollment. The CAS is a centralized database that streamlines the admissions process. You simply gather transcripts, letters of recommendation and the like, and have them sent to CAS. CAS will then compile necessary information into law school reports that they will distribute electronically to the law schools to which you choose to apply.

Course requirements

The Tennessee Board of Law Examiners has set forth certain requirements for approved law school programs.

  • No correspondence course will be accepted by the Board towards fulfilling your legal education requirement
  • Must include coursework on:
    • A  lawyer’s professional responsibilities in representing clients, as an officer of the court, and as a public citizen
    • Property (real and personal)
    •  Fundamental principles of private and public law
    • Contracts
    • Nature, basis and role of the law and its institutions
    • Torts
    • Legal writing skills
    • Criminal law (substantive and procedural)
    • Legal analysis skills
    • Evidence
    • Issue recognition             
    • Civil procedure (US and Tennessee)
    • Reasoning
    • Business organizations (agency, corporations, partnerships)
    • Problem solving
    • Commercial transactions
    • Organization
    • Wills and estates
    • Oral and written communications
    • Domestic relations/personal status
    • Constitutional law (US and Tennessee)
    • Restitution and remedies
    • Conflicts of law
  • Must include at least one rigorous writing experience

Online Law Degrees

Internship

Under Tennessee rules, if you have completed at least half of the credits required for law school graduation, you may, with the Tennessee Supreme Court’s written approval, provide legal services to and/or appear in court on behalf of any person or entity who cannot afford legal counsel; or on behalf of the state, municipal or county government. This must be as part of an internship/clinical program provided by your law school. You must be working in a legal aid program, serving as an assistant to a District Attorney, Public Defender, the State's Attorney General, state agency counsel, or a county or municipal legal director's office. You will be supervised by a member of the law school's faculty as well as by a licensed lawyer on-site.

Degree Programs

The Tennessee Board of Law Examiners requires that all lawyers in the state have a J.D. degree. You may opt to complete a dual degree program (JD and something else) or a concentration within your JD degree. For example, joint degree programs at Vanderbilt University include:

  • JD/PhD in Neuroscience
  • JD/MBA (Master of Business Administration)
  • JD/MD (Medicine)
  • JD/MDiv (Master of Divinity)
  • JD/MTS (Master of Theological Studies)
  • JD/MPP (Master in Public Policy)
  • JD/MA – customized program
  • JD/PhD, Law and Economics

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Step 4

Take and Pass the Tennessee State Bar Exam

Once you have completed the first three steps, you are set to apply to take the Tennessee bar exam.

Foreign Law School Graduates

Graduates of foreign law schools may apply to take Tennessee’s bar exam. However, your total education must be found by the Board to be substantially equivalent to that of an ABA/Tennessee-approved law school. Furthermore, you must complete 27 credit hours at an ABA-approved law school or one-third of the credits needed at a Tennessee-approved law school.

Preparation

You can find free study preparation material for the Multistate Bar Examination (MBE) and the Multistate Performance Test (MPT), the national parts of the Tennessee bar exam, at the National Conference of Bar Examiners website. Other resources to help you prepare to take the Tennessee bar exam include:

Bar Exam content

The Tennessee bar exam is a two-day affair. You will take the six-hour, multiple choice MBE, the skills-based MPT, and answer 12 Tennessee essay exam questions, each with a 30-minute time limit. Subjects that may be covered on the Tennessee bar exam include:

  • Business organizations
  • Civil procedure (Tennessee and US)
  • Uniform Commercial Code Articles 1 (general provisions), 2 (sales), 3 (negotiable instruments), 6 (bulk transfers), and 9 (secured transactions)
  • Conflicts of law
  • Constitutional law (Tennessee and US)
  • Contracts (including UCC Article 2 sales)
  • Criminal law and procedure
  • Domestic relations/personal status/family law
  • Evidence
  • Professional responsibility
  • Real property
  • Personal property
  • Remedies and restitution
  • Torts
  • Wills and estates

Application Process

Before applying to take the Tennessee bar exam, you must print and complete the Notice of Intent. This informs the Board when you plan to take the exam. You must mail it with a check to the Tennessee Board of Law Examiners for $80 by Oct 1 if you plan to take the exam in February or by March 1 if you plan to take the exam in July. Mail these items to the Board at 401 Church St., Suite 2200, Nashville, TN, 37243-0740.

Next, complete the NCBE Character and Fitness application at the National Conference of Bar Examiners website. Print both pages of the completed document, and sign and have them notarized. Make two copies of the signed document. Keep one copy and mail the other to the NCBE at the address provided on the document along with the fee required (also listed on the document).

Then, print out and complete the Application for Admission to Practice Law in Tennessee Supplemental Information.
Print out the Undergraduate Degree verification form, complete it, have it notarized and send it to the undergraduate institution from which you received your degree. Print out the Law Degree verification form and do the same for your law school.  Instruct both schools to send verification directly to the Board.

Print the Checklist and sign and date it. Enclose a copy of this checklist along with the following items you will now send to the Board at 401 Church St., Suite 2200, Nashville, TN, 37243-0740:

  • Completed, notarized Supplemental Information application
  • Original and one copy of the NCBE application
  • Original and one copy (each ) of three professional letters of recommendation
  • $300 exam fee via check or money order payable to the Tennessee Board of Law Examiners

Pass Rates

The Tennessee bar exam is graded as follows:

  • MPT: makes up 12.5 % of your total grade
  • Essays: 37.5 %
  • MBE: 50%

It usually takes about six weeks to receive results back from the February bar exam in Tennessee, and nine weeks for the July exam. Results will be mailed to you.
Previous Tennessee bar exam pass rates (as published by Adaptibar) are as follows:

  • 2002:     67% of all test-takers passed
  • 2003:     75%
  • 2004:     77%
  • 2005:     74%
  • 2006:     75%
  • 2007:     71%
  • 2008:     76%
  • 2009:     68%
  • 2010:     70%
  • 2011:     69%

Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE)

Within 2 years of taking your first Tennessee bar exam, you must take and pass the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE) with a scaled score of at least 75. You may apply online to take this test, offered four times per year at these Tennessee locations:

  • University of Tennessee at Knoxville
  • University of Memphis
  • Middle Tennessee State University
  • Belmont University
  • Vanderbilt University

Admission on Motion

The Tennessee Board of Law Examiners may admit you to the bar without examination (that is, admission on motion) if you are already a licensed attorney in another state or US jurisdiction. You must:

  • Meet the state’s educational requirements
  • Have actively practiced law in the state in which you are a bar member for five of the past seven years
  • Show that you have knowledge, skills and basic competence
  • Have passed the bar exam in another state equivalent to Tennessee
  • Have a certificate of good standing from every state in which you have been a bar member

Registration of In-House Counsel

You may be registered with the Board as in-house counsel if you meet the following qualifications:

  • Have been admitted to the bar of another US jurisdiction
  • Maintain an continuous presence there
  • Are employed as a lawyer by an organization that does not provide legal services
  • Are in good standing in all jurisdictions in which you are a bar member

As registered in-house counsel, you may provide legal services to your business entity client or its organizational affiliates, only on matters directly related to their work for the entity. You may not appear before a Tennessee court, provide legal services in any other capacity, or hold yourself out to be licensed to practice law in Tennessee. You may, however, provide pro bono legal services through an established non-profit or pro bono legal services program.

Licensing and Admission to the Bar

After passing the bar exam, you will be invited to a formal ceremony in which you will take the oath of office and be officially sworn in as a member of the Tennessee bar.

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Step 5

You’ve Been Admitted to the Tennessee Bar

Congratulations – you have finally achieved your goal of becoming a licensed Tennessee lawyer and member of the state’s bar! You are automatically a member of the Tennessee Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Division (YLD), made up of lawyers under age 36 or with five or less years of experience. This group, and the Bar Association as a whole, can assist you in getting started out with your own solo legal practice, finding work with an existing practice, or finding legal jobs in business or organizations.

There are numerous Fortune 500 companies making their homes in Tennessee, and they often need legal help. Some of these include FedEx in Memphis, International Paper in Memphis, Eastman Chemical in Kingsport, Community Health Systems in Franklin, and Dollar General in Goodlettsville.

Existing law firms across Tennessee that may be hiring new attorneys include corporate lawyers Miller & Martin, PLLC in Chattanooga; multi-practice firm Young Mayden LLC in Nashville; health care lawyers Koerner & Associates, Inc. in Nashville; multi-practice specialists Baston Nolan PLLC in Clarksville; and Pillsbury, Winthrop, Shaw, Pittman LLP in Nashville.

Legal specialty certification

The Tennessee Commission on Continuing Legal Education and Specialization (CLE) does not test applicants for certification to become legal specialists in any certain area. It does, however, recognize certifications provided by other approved organizations, such as:

Requirements for maintaining license

Under Tennessee rules, lawyers must complete 12 hours of Continuing Legal Education (CLE) annually, plus three hours of ethics. More information is available through the Tennessee Bar Association TennBarU CLE Catalog.

Court Systems in Tennessee

Tennessee’s Court System is structured in the following way:

  • Trial Courts of Limited Jurisdiction: also called local courts, as they are funded at the local level
    • Courts of General Sessions: exist in all 95 counties in Tennessee, handle preliminary matters in major criminal cases and may try minor criminal and civil matters
    • Juvenile Courts: exist in 17 of the state’s 31 judicial districts, exclusive jurisdiction over delinquent, neglected, unruly and dependent minors
    • Municipal Courts: have geographical jurisdiction within their own cities, exist in about 300 Tennessee cities, deal with municipal ordinance violations such as parking or traffic
  • Trial Courts of General Jurisdiction:
    • Circuit Courts: courts of general jurisdiction that hear civil and criminal cases, also hear appeals from courts of limited jurisdiction, exist in all 31 judicial districts in Tennessee
    • Chancery Courts: exist in all 31 judicial districts across the state, conduct civil jury trials
    • Criminal Courts: exist in 13 of Tennessee’s 31 judicial districts where the criminal caseload for Circuit Courts is heaviest
  • Intermediate Appellate Courts:
    • The Court of Appeals: hears appeals of civil cases from lower courts. Meets in Knoxville, Jackson and Nashville.
    • Court of Criminal Appeals: hears appeals of criminal cases, habeas corpus and Post-Conviction Procedure Act proceedings, civil or criminal contempt from a criminal matter; and extradition cases. Meets in Knoxville, Jackson and Nashville.
  • Tennessee Supreme Court: the highest court in Tennessee, hears direct appeals involving state taxes, constitutionality of laws, and right to hold/retain public office. Meets in Knoxville, Nashville and Jackson.

Elective membership organizations

Consider joining a Tennessee organization made up of lawyers within your practice specialty, demographic or interest, such as:

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Tennessee Resources

General Resources

Law Exams

Lawyer Career Specialties

  Tennessee Statistics:
 
TN Active Lawyers 16,365
Average Annual Wage $96,400

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