The Tennessee government won’t let me earn a living.
I worked hard to obtain a legal education, and I’m proud of my competency as an attorney.
But due to a tangled mess of red tape, the Tennessee Board of Law Examiners is refusing to grant foreign-educated attorneys like myself admission to the state bar — no matter our qualifications.
That’s why I’m challenging this arbitrary bureaucratic approach in the Tennessee Supreme Court — so that qualified professionals can do their jobs.
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I was educated in Canada and the US
Most lawyers in the US follow a typical path to practice law: bachelor’s degree, juris doctorate (JD) degree, then the bar exam. But some American law professionals, like myself, are educated abroad.
In 2019, pursuant to my undergraduate studies at an English college in the Canadian province of Quebec, I earned a bachelor of civil law degree and a JD from the University of Ottawa’s dual degree program.
I then enrolled in a masters of law, or LL.M, program at Pace University’s Elisabeth Haub School of Law in New York, graduated summa cum laude in 2020, then scored in the upper 90th percentile of the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE), which is also used in Tennessee.
The New York Board of Law Examiners determined that my education was substantively and durationally equivalent to that of the traditional US law graduate, and granted me a license to practice in the state.
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The board exacted discretion before
But entering the workforce in 2020, especially amid the pandemic, was daunting, and I soon joined my significant other, a Tennessee native, in Nashville. I promptly applied for admission to the Tennessee Bar on transferred UBE score, was approved for practice pending admission, and was hired by a local firm.
To my dismay, though, I received a letter from the Tennessee Board of Law Examiners nine months after applying, stating that my application was denied because my undergraduate degree contains too many “law-related studies” and because my academic path is not equivalent to that of a traditional US graduate.
The board said that if it had discretion to approve my qualifications based on my “additional valuable” US LL.M degree, it would have. Curiously, however, the board has exercised that exact discretion for over 150 similarly situated attorneys who have been admitted to practice in Tennessee, many of whom do not even have a JD degree.
The record effectively shows that the board reached a conclusion on my case before formulating an argument for it.
The board overstepped its bounds before in the case of a Vanderbilt LL.M., Maximiliano Gluzman, who was denied the ability to even sit for the bar exam because the first law degree he obtained in Argentina was not “post-graduate.” He eventually won against the board in the Tennessee Supreme Court, but at what cost?
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Put an end to an arbitrary process
Should we be spending taxpayer resources to overturn government interference with professional licensure once a highly qualified applicant has passed standardized testing?
Under the representation of Bill Killian, the former US attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee, I have asked the Tennessee Supreme Court to step in and correct the board’s bureaucratic approach to the admission of foreign-educated attorneys licensed to practice law in the US
Our goal is to put an end to the board’s arbitrary application of licensing rules and to clarify the application of a “substantial equivalence” standard to a foreign education assessment for attorneys like myself.
It’s simple: government bureaucrats must stop preventing qualified legal professionals from doing their jobs.
This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Tennessee won’t let me practice law even though I passed the bar
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