This month, many recent law school graduates are studying to take a state bar examination so they can be licensed to practice law. So, too, will part-time lawyers who have already taken and passed the bar examination in another state and moved to Tennessee.
Once lawyers have passed the bar examination in one state, most states provide some means for them to be licensed without taking another bar examination. Tennessee is one of the few states that requires lawyers in private or public practice to work full-time for five of the previous seven years to be admitted without examination.
This rule means that when a licensed part-time attorney from one state moves to Tennessee, she must take the bar examination all over again to be licensed in the state.
The bar examination is a tool to make sure applicants are competent. But taking another bar examination doesn’t necessarily make someone a better lawyer or add to their knowledge of state law. The Tennessee bar examination doesn’t even test state law.
Moreover, this rule adversely affects mothers, many of whom have years of experience practicing law and voluntarily reduce their hours to care for their children. Women now earn half (or more) of law degrees each year. Of the 6.2% of lawyers at law firms working part-time, more than 70% are women. Women make up about two-thirds of voluntary part-time workers. In fact, about 1 in 5 working women worked part-time voluntarily in 2016.
The American Bar Association Model Rule on Admission by Motion only requires that an applicant has “been primarily engaged in the active practice of law,” which includes “representation of one or more clients in the private practice of law.”
The Network of Enlightened Women, of which I am president, petitioned the Tennessee Supreme Court recently, asking the court to remove the full-time work requirement. The court has since published an order soliciting written comments. Comments must reference docket number ADM2022-00522, be submitted by Aug. 12, 2022, and can be emailed to [email protected].
Tennessee’s rule is an example of an occupational licensing rule that makes it more difficult for people to work without providing a compelling benefit. Not every woman wants to work full-time, especially among mothers of young children. Unnecessary occupational licensing rules make it more challenging for women to set up the work-life balance they desire.
This is an issue on which women should join together to effect change. Removing the full-time work requirement will make a big difference in the lives of the women it affects.