Organization and Composition
The Tennessee Supreme Court regulates and supervises the practice of law in Tennessee pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 9. The Court appoints twelve members to the Board of Professional Responsibility (the Board) to effectuate Tenn. Sup. Ct. R. 9 and the Court’s disciplinary enforcement.
The Court appoints a Chief Disciplinary Counsel who reports to the Board. The Board also employs attorneys as Disciplinary Counsel and support staff to assist with attorney registration; consumer assistance; investigation and litigation.
Consumer Assistance Program (CAP)
Non-frivolous complaints against attorneys submitted by clients, lawyers, judges and the public are referred to the Board’s Consumer Assistance Program (CAP) for assistance or to Disciplinary Counsel for investigation. CAP answers questions, provides information, informally mediates disputes, and refers matters to Disciplinary Counsel for investigation.
Disciplinary Counsel investigate complaints alleging unethical conduct. After investigation, Disciplinary Counsel recommends dismissal of the complaint if there is insufficient proof of a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct. If the investigated complaint reflects a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct, Disciplinary Counsel recommends diversion, private informal admonition, private reprimand, public censure, or the filing of formal disciplinary charges.
Formal Disciplinary Proceedings
After the Board of Professional Responsibility authorizes Disciplinary Counsel to file formal disciplinary charges (i.e. a petition for discipline) against an attorney, the matter is assigned to three district committee members who constitute a hearing panel. The Hearing Panel sets the disciplinary proceeding for a hearing which is open to the public unless a protective order has been entered.
The Board of Professional Responsibility must prove an attorney’s unethical conduct by a preponderance of the evidence. Hearing Panels may recommend dismissal, public censure, suspension or disbarment.
Education and Information
The Board issues Formal Ethics Opinions and staff respond to informal ethics questions by phone and internet. Disciplinary Counsel present continuing legal education seminars, issue Board Notes, a bi-annual newsletter and update the Board’s website with rule changes, disciplinary decisions and news for attorneys, judges and the public.