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
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
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
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.”