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About The Board

The Tennessee Supreme Court, in 1976, initiated a professional responsibility system for Tennessee attorneys. In that year the Court designated its Board of Professional Responsibility to aid it in supervising the ethical conduct of attorneys. Since then, the system has broadened to include other facets: published ethics opinions, an ethics hotline, ethics seminars, an attorney trust account overdraft notification program, professional enhancement instruction, a lawyer assistance program for those who are impaired, and a consumer assistance program.

The Board of Professional Responsibility is comprised of nine lawyer members, and three non-lawyer members who offer an enhanced and balanced perspective of the professional responsibilities of the legal profession. The Board’s staff consists of nine full-time Disciplinary Counsel and ten support staff members.

DISCIPLINARY ENFORCEMENT: Attorneys who act unethically are subject to disciplinary sanctions, including disbarment, suspension, public censure, private reprimand or private admonition. The disciplinary enforcement efforts of the system are reported in the Board’s most recent Annual Report.

CONSUMER ASSISTANCE PROGRAM: The Consumer Assistance Program (CAP) was implemented by the Supreme Court in 2002, as an effective method of resolving consumer concerns which do not rise to the level of serious ethical violations. Requests to CAP for assistance may result in informal mediations, referral to other entities such as fee dispute committees, lawyer referral services, or to disciplinary counsel when problems cannot be quickly resolved by mediation. CAP results are available in the Board’s most recent Annual Report.

FILING COMPLAINTS or REQUESTS FOR CAP ASSISTANCE: Members of the general public, including clients, judges, or anyone who believes an attorney has acted unethically, may file a complaint with the Board. Attorneys are required to respond to all non-frivolous complaints. Complaint forms may be downloaded here. Requests for CAP assistance in mediating client concerns or appropriate referral may be downloaded here. Representatives of the Board will determine whether matters should be addressed by mediation, as a complaint or other referral. Assistance is also available toll-free at 1-800-486-5714 or locally at 615-361-7500.

ETHICS OPINION SERVICE: The Court implemented the ethics opinion service in 1980 as a proactive program to prevent ethical misconduct. Formal Ethics Opinions by the Board are published which constitute principles and objectives upon which attorneys may rely for professional guidance, and are available by clicking here. In addition the Board’s Disciplinary Counsel respond to inquiries from attorneys seeking ethical guidance. Attorneys may click here to make an informal inquiry.

TRUST ACCOUNT OVERDRAFT NOTICE PROGRAM: In 1995, the Court implemented an attorney trust account overdraft notification program to address a serious problem of misappropriation of trust funds by a small, but significant, segment of the bar. Attorneys are now required to maintain trust accounts in financial institutions which report all negative balances to the Board. This program has reduced misuse of trust funds to minuscule levels, as described in the Annual Report.

PROFESSIONAL ENHANCEMENT PROGRAM: In 1997, the Court implemented a professional enhancement program as an alternative to discipline (diversion) for technical violations which caused no harm. Many attorneys have received enhanced instruction and guidance in professional responsibilities in this program, as described in the Annual Report.

HIGH LEVEL OF ETHICAL CONDUCT: The Court’s evolving and comprehensive professional responsibility system has resulted in a high level of ethical conduct by Tennessee attorneys as described in the Annual Report.. A performance audit conducted by the Comptroller of the Treasury, Division of State Audit, concluded in May, 2000 that “the operations of the Board of Professional Responsibility are efficient, effective, and are achieving the results desired by the Tennessee Supreme Court.”

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