Letter From The President Of The Tennessee Bar Association

2010-04-05 01:00

The Readers Of The Metropolitan Corporate Counsel:

Exciting things are happening in Tennessee with regard to changes in multijurisdictional practice rules (MJP). In October 2009, at the request of the Tennessee Bar Association (TBA), the state Supreme Court adopted new and amended rules for pro bono service, in-house legal work and cross-jurisdictional practice.

In 2008, the TBA launched a yearlong pro bono initiative to increase access to justice for Tennesseans unable to afford legal representation. The 4ALL Campaign included proposals for rules and legislative changes, a public awareness initiative and a statewide pro bono public service day.

The TBA requested the court amend its rules to: (1) allow lawyers with a license in good standing from another jurisdiction to provide pro bono legal services to Tennesseans in the event of a natural disaster in the state; and (2) allow in-house corporate counsel to provide pro bono legal services in the state.

Through the TBA's Corporate Counsel Pro Bono Initiative - sponsored jointly by the Association of Corporate Counsel - it became clear that lawyers practicing in-house are just as committed to pro bono service as those in private practice. In seeking to expand the number of lawyers providing pro bono services in the state, the TBA saw corporate counsel as a natural partner in the effort.

The court, which was considering revisions to the state's MJP rules, decided to incorporate these provisions into a broader structure that allows non-licensed attorneys to provide certain legal services in the state.

New Corporate Counsel Provisions

Registration Process - Supreme Court Rule 7 sets up a regulatory framework for in-house counsel admitted to practice in another U.S. jurisdiction to engage in limited practice in Tennessee without being licensed in Tennessee. Effective January 1, these lawyers are required to register with the Tennessee Board of Law Examiners. Those already working in the state must register by June 30. New hires must register within six months of beginning employment in the state. Those who fail to register during the 180-day period will be subject to disciplinary action and will be ineligible for reciprocal admission. Once registered, corporate counsel must fulfill continuing legal education requirements, pay annual fees and submit to disciplinary jurisdiction of the court.

Changes in the rules were prompted by a realization that many corporate counsel, despite a requirement to be licensed in the state, had not complied with the rules. Under this new registration process, corporate counsel already working in the state have a 180-day amnesty period to come forward and register and not face disciplinary action for past noncompliance. Of course, corporate counsel may also choose to seek full licensure instead of registering. Those who do neither will be subject to disciplinary action.

Services Allowed - Corporate counsel that register with the state may provide legal services to their employer and its organizational affiliates but not personal legal services to the employer's officers or employees. They must advise their employer client that they are not admitted in Tennessee and obtain informed consent to provide legal services.

Pro Bono Authorized - In addition to representing their employer, in the interests of furthering access to justice in Tennessee, corporate counsel also may provide pro bono legal services to individual clients through an established nonprofit program, pro bono program or legal aid provider. In general, this limited authorization to practice does not extend to services that require pro hac vice admission.

The MJP order also made similar amendments to Supreme Court Rule 8, Rule of Professional Conduct 5.5 to reflect the ability of in-house counsel to perform the services described above.

Disaster Provisions

New Supreme Court Rule 47 provides for the provision of legal services following a major disaster. This so-called Katrina Rule establishes a framework for lawyers from other jurisdictions to do pro bono work in Tennessee if the court declares a major disaster in the state. The rule also provides for temporary practice in Tennessee by lawyers displaced by a major disaster in their jurisdiction. Lawyers practicing in Tennessee under this rule must file a registration statement with the court, inform clients they are not admitted in Tennessee, and be subject to the discipline of the courts. In general, this special authorization to practice does not extend to activities that require pro hac vice admission.

Taken together, these changes update Tennessee practice rules to reflect new developments in how law is practiced and encourage greater pro bono participation from lawyers, who until now, have been unable to provide needed services. The Tennessee legal community remains committed to increasing access to justice for the state's needy populations. The success of the 4ALL Campaign is just the beginning, as new rules and laws mean more lawyers can help close the civil justice gap.


Gail Vaughn Ashworth