How to Maintain Your License, Now that You Are an Attorney

Law schools teach what is needed to get licensed and how to obtain that license. What they do not teach are the necessary steps to take in order to keep the license up to date. Each state has its own requirements, and this guide is meant to help navigate the Tennessee rules. 

There are several steps that are required annually in order to stay current. Reporting is required to the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility and the Tennessee Commission on Continuing Legal Education. As well, there is the payment of the Tennessee Professional Privilege Tax each year.


While not completely comprehensive, this guide shows the basic steps to stay current with Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility and the Tennessee Commission on Continuing Legal Education.  

License Renewal

After being sworn in, pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 9, Section 10, you must renew your law license with the Board of Professional Responsibility once a year on the first day of your birth month.  After you are sworn in, there is a three-month reprieve period. At the end of this period, the Board of Professional Responsibility will send you an email with an invoice that will bridge your registration to your birth month. After the initial invoice, your annual registration fee will be due on the first day of your birth month every year. Currently, the fee is $170. To pay the fee, log in to the attorney portal on the Board of Professional Responsibility’s website (www.tbpr.org). While logged in to the site, update any personal information such as email or mailing address. If you move at any time during the year, you must update the BPR within 30 days.  

Pro Bono Hours, IOLTA

Other items you will need to update annually on the Board of Professional Reponsibility website are any pro bono hours you have accumulated and IOLTA (Interest On Lawyers’ Trust Accounts) account information. Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 8, Rule of Professional Conduct 6.1 states that all attorneys should aspire to give at least 50 hours of pro bono service each year. You can meet these hours by providing legal services either free or at substantially reduced fees to persons with limited means or groups that primarily address the needs of persons with limited means or when standard fees would significantly deplete an organization’s financial resources.  A third way you can meet the hours is by participating in activities that improve the law, legal system or the legal profession. In an effort to increase the number of attorneys providing pro bono services, the Supreme Court honors all attorneys providing at least 50 hours of service annually by naming them “Attorneys for Justice.” These hours are based on those you report each year when you renew your license with the BPR.  

Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 43 outlines the requirements of IOLTA accounts.  Sections 14 outlines what IOLTA information must be submitted at your annual license renewal with the BPR. Unless you are an exempt lawyer, you must certify that all funds in your possession that are required to be held in an IOLTA account pursuant to Rule of Professional Conduct 1.1 5(b) are so held, and list the names of the financial institutions, and the account numbers where the funds are deposited.  If you are not engaged in private practice, employed by the government, serve as in-house counsel, or are a teacher of law, you may be exempt from this requirement. It is a good idea to look at the rule to be sure. Upon receipt of the certification, the Board of Professional Responsibility forwards the information to the Tennessee Bar Foundation, and the funds earned on these accounts are administered by the foundation.

The purpose of the program is to raise money that is distributed, in the form of grants, to organizations across Tennessee that provide legal services to those that could not afford it otherwise.  Funds are also distributed to organizations that seek to improve the administration of justice and to students at state-supported law schools.

More information about the requirements of IOLTA accounts, and how they help provide legal services to the indigent and to organizations that seek to improve the administration of justice can be found at the Tennessee Bar Foundation’s website, www.tnbarfoundation.org/iolta. More information about the rules that govern IOLTA accounts can be found at the Board of Professional Responsibility website, www.tbpr.org/for-legal-professionals.   

Continuing Legal Education Requirement

Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 21 governs the requirements for Continuing Legal Education for attorneys licensed in Tennessee. Unless exempt by Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 21, attorneys must receive at least15 hours of continuing legal education each year. Keep in mind that even if you are exempt, you must claim the exemption annually on your Annual Report Statement.

Passing the bar exam will give you the required 12 hours of general CLE and the three hours of ethics and professionalism credit needed your first year. Each year after, you are required to fulfill the entire 15 hours, with at least seven of those hours earned in a classroom. 

To receive credit for any hours you earn, the continuing legal education activity must be approved by the Commission on Continuing Legal Education. Any hours you earn in excess of the minimum may carry over to the succeeding year, but only with a maximum of three hours for ethics and professionalism and 12 hours of general CLE; with a maximum of eight hours of distance learning carried over. Most approved CLE course providers will report the hours for you, but it is a good idea to check the Commission’s website from time to time to make sure the course has been credited to you. You can find that information at www.cletn.com.    

Credits for continuing legal education may be met in many ways. You can earn credits through teaching an approved continuing legal education activity or by teaching at an approved law school or law-related courses at an approved college, university or community college. Credits also may be earned by your formal enrollment and education, either for credit or by audit, in an approved law school. You can earn further credit through service as a bar examiner for the preparation and grading of bar exam questions or for service on the BPR or any of its hearing committees.  

At its discretion, the Commission may award you credit for participation as a member of governmental commission or committee that is involved in a formal review session for proposed legislation; writing published articles concerning the practice of law; participation in certain pro bono activites; or participation in bar review courses, although bar exam and bar review credit cannot be received in the same year.  

For information on other ways to earn CLE credit, check the Tennessee Commission on CLEs website at https://www.cletn.com/index.php/for-attorneys/rules-regulations.  

The CLE Commission will send an Annual Report Statement to you by Feb. 28 each year. You must complete an Annual Report Statement on or before March 31 each year, unless exempt. If you met all requirements of the Annual Report Statement, it will be indicated as such on the report you receive from the Commission and no further action is necessary.  The report will indicate the completion of or exemption from any CLE during the preceding calendar year. The report will disclose all hours you earned the previous year, including any hours that will be carried over to the following year. If your Annual Report Statement demonstrates that all requirements have been met and all fees due the Commission for the previous year have been paid, then you will be exempt from the requirement to sign and deliver the Annual Report Statement.

Privilege Tax

As a licensed attorney in Tennessee, you are required to pay an annual professional privilege tax pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. §67-4-1702. This $400 tax is due on June 1 each year and must be filed and paid electronically.

Bar Memberships

Membership in a local or state bar association is not a requirement in Tennessee as it is in some other states, but it can prove an invaluable resource for guidance and helpful information. Some states require membership as the bar association is responsible for the regulation of the legal profession. Those states are said to have Mandatory, or Integrated, bars.

In Tennessee, bar associations are there to serve their members, not to regulate since that is done by the court. This is called a Voluntary Bar. Bar associations often provide a variety of CLE’s and other benefits, many of which are included in the cost of membership.  

You’ll Get Used to It

Failure to meet any of the requirements listed above may result in disciplinary action up to and including the suspension of your license to practice law. The rules are updated from time to time, so be sure to check the requirements each year, as they may have changed.  

Where to Find Help

Tennessee Supreme Court Rules
www.tncourts.gov/courts/supreme-court/rules/supreme-court-rules


Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility
www.tbpr.org


Tennessee Commission on CLE
www.cletn.com


Tennessee Department of Revenue
www.tn.gov/revenue/taxes/professional-privilege-tax.html


Tennessee Board of Law Examiners
www.tnble.org


Tennessee Bar Association
www.tba.org


It may seem like a lot, but if you stay on top of things, it is pretty easy. If you need further information about anything in this article, the websites listed above are great resources. As well, you can look to your local bar association for guidance and helpful information.


BILLY LESLIE is a law clerk for Judge Timothy L. Easter of the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals.  Leslie received his law degree from the Nashville School of Law in 2017 as a member of the Cooper’s Inn Honor Society.  He currently serves as Diversity Leadership Institute coordinator for the Tennessee Bar Association’s Young Lawyer Division. He previously worked for Raymond James & Associates, in Nashville, for 24 years. He received his bachelor’s in business administration from Tennessee Technological University.

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