In an order issued late Friday afternoon, the Tennessee Supreme Court officially reformed its rules to provide a clear path for international lawyers to obtain licensure in Tennessee. The Court’s amendment to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 7 § 7.01, which governs admission requirements for attorneys educated in foreign jurisdictions, comes on the heels of a recent win by attorney Maximiliano Gluzman, whose victory before the Tennessee Supreme Court last summer made national news.
Despite acknowledging that Gluzman—who had graduated Vanderbilt Law School’s LL.M program with an eye-popping 3.919 GPA while competing against American J.D. students in his second language—was “obviously very, very qualified,” the Tennessee Board of Law Examiners still attempted to prevent him from taking the Tennessee bar exam because he had received his first law degree from Argentina. After getting the Board’s denial overturned last August, however, Gluzman is set to take the Tennessee bar exam next month. Based on the Court’s reforms, other international lawyers will now be able to follow his lead.
“The Tennessee Supreme Court should be applauded for implementing this sensible rule change, which will significantly benefit consumers, provide Tennesseans greater access to new markets, and help solidify Tennessee’s increasingly large role in conducting international business,” said Daniel Horwitz, Gluzman’s attorney. “We’re proud to have set this change in motion, and we’re thrilled that other qualified international lawyers will now be able to follow in Mr. Gluzman’s footsteps.”
Tennessee’s law schools—which can now offer LL.M. programs with confidence that they will offer practical value to graduates—welcomed the news as well. “We’re pleased that the Court was willing to revisit the rule and provide greater clarity to prospective students and law schools,” University of Tennessee College of Law Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Alex B. Long told the Nashville Post.
The Court’s rule changes were formally prompted by a joint petition initiated by the University of Tennessee College of Law and Vanderbilt Law School, which the two law schools had filed in support of Gluzman during his litigation against the Board. Previously, based on the Board’s former interpretation of Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 7 § 7.01, lawyers “from the vast majority of countries around the world” were forever prohibited from taking the Tennessee bar exam regardless of their ability or qualifications, since only a handful of jurisdictions follow the American model of separate undergraduate and legal degrees. As a result of the Court’s amendments, however, foreign attorneys are now eligible to take the Tennessee bar exam if they satisfy either of the following two criteria:
First, foreign lawyers can take the bar exam if an approved credential evaluation service determines that their foreign education was “substantially equivalent” to an American legal education. In evaluating an applicant’s foreign education, approved credential services will focus primarily on the scope of the applicant’s curriculum, whether an applicant received instruction in common law, and the number credit hours that applicants completed in their home countries. Thereafter, if the evaluation service determines that an applicant’s education was substantially equivalent to an American legal education, the applicant will be permitted to take the Tennessee bar exam. During Gluzman’s case, the Board formally conceded that notwithstanding its prior interpretation of the rule, this standard should not be construed as requiring separate undergraduate and legal degrees.
Second, foreign lawyers who have actively practiced law “for at least five of the eight years prior to applying to take the Tennessee bar” are eligible to take the Tennessee bar exam if they obtain either an “LL.M. Degree from a law school that is accredited by the ABA” or an LL.M. degree from a Tennessee law school approved by the Tennessee Supreme Court. Thus, obtaining an LL.M. degree—which is essentially a master’s degree in American law—can “cure” a defect in an applicant’s foreign education, thereby allowing the applicant to sit for the Tennessee bar exam after graduating.
Critically, however, all applicants must also pass the Tennessee bar exam before they will be able to practice law in Tennessee. This, of course, is no easy feat, especially given the number of foreign attorneys who would be taking the exam in their second language. Even for many American-educated students, the bar exam often proves insurmountable. For example, over the past few years, the failure rate among Nashville School of Law graduates has consistently hovered around 70%.
Taken together, the Court’s reforms should be universally applauded. Ensuring that Tennessee’s businesses have access to high quality international lawyers is critical to several of the state’s leading industries, from agriculture to automobile manufacturing to intellectual property to any number of additional sectors in between. As such, attracting foreign legal talent—which is currently concentrated in jurisdictions like New York, Texas, California—will quickly benefit both Tennessee’s businesses and consumers alike.
Selected news coverage about the case is available at the following links:
-Nashville Post: Supreme Court amends bar eligibility rules
-Nashville Post: Supreme Court rules Argentine can take Tennessee Bar
-Nashville Post: Argentine lawyer challenging Tennessee Board of Law Examiners
-Nashville Post: National conservative groups join local bar fight
-The Tennessean: How Tennessee discriminated against a talented Vanderbilt law grad
-Cato At Liberty Blog: Even Lawyers Have the Right to Earn an Honest Living
-Beacon Center Blog: Banned From the Bar Exam