You Need to Know

Ethics Opinion: Guidance for Lawyers Who Change Firms

The American Bar Association Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility released guidance Dec. 4 on the ethical obligations for lawyers when they change firms. Formal Opinion 489 acknowledges that a lawyer has the right to switch firms and notes that ethics rules do not allow non-competition clauses in partnership, member, shareholder or employment agreements.

When a lawyer gives notice, the formal opinion suggests the lawyer and the firm develop a plan that is orderly, flexible and “protects client interests during the lawyer’s transition.”

The guidance also cites several model rules to consider related to the orderly transition of client matters and restraints on a client’s choice of counsel.

Michele Johnson, Chancellor Ann Martin, Laura Baker, Chancellor Pat Moskal at the Legal Aid Society’s 50th Anniversary Celebration. Read the related story below. Photo courtesy Legal Aid Society.


UofM Approves Reduced Tuition for Nonresident Law Students 

The out-of-state tuition rate at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law will be reduced for the 2020-21 academic year after receiving approval from the university’s Board of Trustees. The proposal would cap tuition for nonresidents at 11-credit hours, resulting in a 25% reduction for nonresident tuition and fees for 15 credit hours. The change will be offset by reductions in out-of-state scholarships and waivers.

Memphis, Knoxville Law Students Headed to Moot Court Finals 

Law students from Memphis and Knoxville have advanced to the National Moot Court Competition finals. The University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law, represented by students Steve Liening, Joseph Patterson and Hannah Strong, were named champions of the Region VII competition in November, with the University of Tennessee College of Law team led by Andrew Cox, Kayla Rask and Regan Sherrell placing second. Also competing were law students from Vanderbilt, Faulkner University, the University of Mississippi and more. The national event will be held Feb. 10 through Feb. 13 in New York.


Coley Is New ATJ Commission Chair

J. William “Bill” Coley has been appointed by the state Supreme Court to serve as the next chair of the Access to Justice Commission. Coley joined the Commission in 2016 and has led the Faith-Based Initiatives Committee for four years, successfully growing the Tennessee Faith and Justice Alliance into one of the Commission’s most impactful initiatives.

Coley is a member of Knoxville firm Hodges, Doughty & Carson PLLC and is a past-president of the TBA Young Lawyers Division and the Knoxville Bar Association. He also chaired the Legal Aid of East Tennessee’s Campaign for Equal Justice from 2006 to 2007.
“Bill demonstrates his commitment to pro bono work and helping his fellow Tennesseans daily, and the Commission will thrive under his leadership,” Justice Cornelia Clark said. Coley will serve a two-year term beginning April 1.

Legal Aid Society’s 50th Anniversary a Success 

The Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands recently held a 50th Anniversary Celebration at the Frist Art Museum in November. The event drew more than 250 supporters and raised $79,500 to assist with the group’s mission of providing free and low-cost legal services to low-income residents across Middle Tennessee. Sponsors of the event included American Business Copier; Asurion; Baker Donelson; Bradley; Citizens Bank; Lee, Danner & Bass; Lipscomb University; LogicForce; the Nashville Bar Foundation; Neal & Harwell; NES; Sherrard Roe Voigt & Harbison; SunTrust Bank; Vanderbilt University; and Waller.

Community Justice Center to Open in North Nashville

A court that emphasizes rehabilitation — the General Sessions Music City Community Court — is opening a second location in north Nashville at the Bordeaux-North Community Justice Center, WPLN reports. The court was launched in 2012 by General Sessions Judge Rachel Bell and is the first of its kind in the state and only one of 40 such courts in the nation.

Both courts will handle criminal and civil cases, but also help with expungements and have a special diversionary court for 18- to 30-year-olds who commit minor crimes. The new Bordeaux-North center will also provide case management and other types of assistance through partnerships with local nonprofits like the Legal Aid Society.


Chicken Sandwiches:

TBA YLD Mock Trial Problem  The problem for the TBA Young Lawyers Division 2020 Tennessee High School Mock Trial Competition is a a civil case, involves “fowl” play between two restaurants and the debate over who can claim to be the king of the chicken sandwich. Tensions between the two build until one accuses the other of planting a screw in his food order. The plaintiff alleges intentional tort of battery and seeks damages for medical bills and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Access the problem, exhibits and competition rules on the mock trial website. District competitions will take place this spring with the state competition set for March 20-21 in Nashville.

Attendees join Court of Appeals judges, from left, Richard H. Dinkins, Frank G. Clement Jr. and Carma Dennis McGee for the TBA Court of Appeals Boot Camp last fall.


Supreme Court: Fair Report Privilege Doesn’t Apply to Nonpublic Interviews 

The state Supreme Court ruled in December that nonpublic, one-on-one conversations between a newspaper reporter and sheriff’s department detective are not covered by the fair report privilege. That privilege shields persons and organizations that report on official acts from defamation claims, if the reports are fair and accurate. The decision arose from a defamation suit brought by Jeffrey Todd Burke against Sparta Newspapers. The newspaper published what Burke claimed were defamatory statements made by a sheriff’s department detective during a nonpublic, one-on-one conversation with a reporter. A trial court sided with the Sparta Newspapers and granted summary judgement based on the fair report privilege. The Court of Appeals reversed that decision and held that the conversation did not fall within the scope of the privilege. The Supreme Court sided with the appeals court, but granted Sparta Newspapers permission to appeal to define the scope of the privilege. The case was sent back to the trial court for further proceedings.

Comments on Proposed Changes to Rule 8 Due Feb. 8

The state Supreme Court has issued an order asking for comments on adopting an amendment to Rule 8, RPC 1.15 after a petition to do so was filed by the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility and the Tennessee Lawyers’ Fund for Client Protection. The amendment concerns efforts that must be made after a lawyer learns of unidentified funds in an IOLTA account. The deadline to submit a written comment is Feb. 3. Comments may be mailed or emailed to James M. Hivner, clerk.

The TBA YLD organized dinners for new admittees in Memphis, Jackson, Knoxville and Nashville (pictured) for new lawyers to network with current YLD members about life after they passed the bar, including job hunting, online resources, hiring and more.


Law Lab Helping Lawyers Get a Jump Start in Practice 

The Tennessee Law Lab Inc., an ABA-recognized law incubator, recently celebrated its first year in business. The Lab is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit with offices in downtown Knoxville with a goal “to provide new attorneys and solo practitioners a solid foundation for practicing law.” That includes offering mentorship, office space, conference room space, a receptionist, phone forwarding, unlimited commercial copying/ printing, shredding and other amenities. In its inaugural year, the Lab helped 15 attorneys jumpstart their law practices, 11 of whom were newly licensed attorneys, three were experienced attorneys looking for office space solutions, and one was a law student. Contact chair and president Michael J. Stanuszek at for more information.

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