A ruling from the Tennessee Supreme Court will enable the University of Tennessee to attract international lawyers who want to obtain an LL.M. degree to practice law in the United States.

Supreme Court ruling opens door for LLM students in Tennessee

A ruling from the Tennessee Supreme Court this month has opened the door for the University of Tennessee College of Law to better educate and prepare foreign-educated lawyers who seek to practice law in the United States.

In April 2017, the University of Tennessee filed a joint petition with Vanderbilt University seeking to amend Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 7, section 7.01, which governs educational requirements for admission of foreign-educated applicants to the Bar of Tennessee.

The petition was a response to the Tennessee Board of Law Examiners’ ruling denying at least one highly-qualified applicant, who earned a Juris Doctor or equivalent degree outside the United States, the opportunity to sit for the bar exam in Tennessee, even after completing a rigorous program of legal study at Vanderbilt.

Earlier this month, the Tennessee Supreme Court amended those eligibility requirements and opened a door for some who obtained their legal education outside the United States. If a foreign-educated lawyer earns a Master of Laws (LL.M.) degree in the United States, has been admitted to the practice of law in a foreign jurisdiction and is in good standing, and has actively engaged in the practice of law for five of the past eight years – they may now qualify to take the Tennessee and New York bar examinations.

Prior to the amendment, The Tennessee Board of Law Examiners’ guidelines essentially shut down the University of Tennessee’s LL.M. program, leaving international lawyers who wished to practice law in Tennessee with few options.

“Without the opportunity to take the bar exam, the only way internationally-trained lawyers are able to practice in the U.S. is under supervision of another attorney or by serving as registered in-house counsel,” said UT Law Professor George Kuney, who oversees the LL.M. program. “The limitations in Tennessee’s requirements were a disservice to any student who wanted to receive that training at the University of Tennessee.”

University of Tennessee College of Law Dean Melanie D. Wilson said the Tennessee Supreme Court amendment paves the way for the college to broaden its appeal and further diversify its student population to include well-trained international lawyers who want to learn U.S. law.

“Our LL.M. degree in business law reflects the continued and growing importance of cross-border collaborations in business transactions,” she said. “We are encouraged by this decision and look forward to becoming a valuable resource to international lawyers who want to further their education with us.”

The College of Law’s LL.M. is a minimum 24-credit-hour program that is offered to students over two semesters. The program is one of the country’s most affordable among top public institutions.