This will be the first of several more in-depth entries focused on the Board of Law Examiners’ petition seeking some changes to Tenn. Sup. Ct. R. 7, which deals with a collection of licensing issues in Tennessee. (This will also be one of those less frequent posts where I may not adhere strictly to my commitment to tell you what you need to know in a bite-sized portion requiring 6 minutes or fewer of your time.)
One of the two headline changes proposed in the petition is the creation of a new amnesty period for in-house counsel registration. If adopted, Section 10.04 of Rule 7 would be amended to provide that any in-house counsel not currently licensed or properly registered in Tennessee would have another 180 days from the date the rule change is adopted to put in the proper paperwork to obtain a registration license.
Some background of note: it has now been almost 13 years since the Tennessee Supreme Court made clear that a lawyer who was working as in-house counsel for a company based in Tennessee needed to be licensed to practice law in Tennessee. Crews v. Buckman Labs, 78 S.W.3d 852 (Tenn. 2002). Despite that state of affairs, in 2009, it was known that there were many in-house counsel not in compliance and revisions to Rule 7 and to RPC 5.5 were adopted effective Jan. 1, 2010 that would permit in-house counsel licensed in another jurisdiction to obtain a registration license under which they would only be permitted to represent the company that employed them but would not have to otherwise become fully licensed. In order to make it easier for in-house lawyers already in Tennessee to get into compliance, those folks were given 180 days from adoption of the new rule to get their paperwork in and have their past transgressions absolved. These new rules also provided that, for in-house counsel coming to Tennessee in the future, they would have 180 days from the date they commenced their employment to get their application papers in for the in-house registration certificate.
Well, fast forward to the present day and for a variety of reasons, there are again quite a few in-house counsel in Tennessee who did not get their registration paperwork in within 180 days of commencing employment with a company in Tennessee. Some of the most sympathetic examples are lawyers who wanted to become full members of the bar and who submitted applications to be fully admitted by comity, not realizing that such applications were likely doomed because there was no corresponding 180-day grace period for that process.
Thus, faced with this situation in which there are quite a few in-house counsel who are gainfully employed by corporations in Tennessee that very much want these people to be their lawyers, the BLE has made this proposal that would give those folks a new 180-day window to turn in registration license paperwork and have their past transgressions absolved. I expect that this aspect of the BLE’s petition will be met with widespread support.
This proposal also contains two further things of note. The first is the BLE’s insistence that they will make positive efforts to educate in-house counsel on this situation and about the need to get the paperwork in within 180 days. The second is the proposal to move existing language from Comment  to RPC 5.5 up into the black-letter as a new RPC 5.5(d)(3). Simultaneously, an additional sentence is proposed that would go some distance in making clear that, for in-house counsel, there really is no other choice (if sitting for the bar examination is not desirable) than to first obtain a registration license and then, if something more is desired, to seek to get full admission by comity.