Tennessee Bar Exam

Written by: Will Bond

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Tennessee Bar Exam

Passing the Tennessee bar exam is an essential part of being admitted into the state’s bar and beginning a successful career practicing law.

In this guide, we’ll break down everything you need to get started, including:

  • The bar exam’s eligibility criteria, content, and structure
  • The steps you can take in order to give yourself the best chance of passing on your first attempt
  • The additional requirements you’ll need to satisfy in order to become admitted into the state’s bar

We’ll also look at the process of getting licensed for those who are already practicing attorneys in other states.

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Tennessee Bar Exam Overview

In Tennessee, the state bar exam is administered by the Tennessee Board of Law Examiners — a government agency operating under the authority of the Tennessee Supreme Court.

If you’re planning on sitting the bar exam, you should know that it takes place twice a year — once at the end of February and again at the end of July — at the Fairgrounds Nashville Exposition Center.

In order to be able to sit the exam at either of these dates, you’ll need to submit an application by December 1 for the February exam, or this May 1 for the July exam. This should be submitted alongside a filing fee, which varies between $375 and $625 depending on the type of application in question.

While applications to sit the bar exam close on these dates, you will have until the final deadline to complete the rest of the application process; this is December 20 for the February exams and May 20 for the July exams.

Keep in mind that in order to be eligible for this state’s bar exam, you will need to satisfy the following criteria according to the Article II, Rule 7 of the Tennessee Supreme Court Rules:

  1. Bachelor’s Degree: Applicants must be able to provide proof they’ve obtained a Bachelor’s Degree or higher from a college recognized by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, or an equivalent accrediting association with substantially equivalent standards.
  2. Legal Education Degree: Applicants must have a J.D. Degree from an ABA-accredited law school or a Tennessee law school approved by the Board at the time of graduation. You’ll need to file a certificate alongside your application in order to prove this.
  3. Meet the Final Deadline: All documents required for a complete application contained under Sec. 3.01, Article III of the Tennessee Supreme Court Rules must be received alongside the relevant application fee before the final deadline. This includes:
    •  An application for admission by examination
    • A certificate of admission from the highest court of each jurisdiction in which you’re admitted (if applicable)
    • A certificate of good standing from each jurisdiction in which you’re admitted (if applicable)

Note: The Tennessee Bar typically takes place on the last Tuesday and Wednesday of February and July.

Tennessee Exam Structure

Since 2019, the state of Tennessee has adopted the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE), which adheres to the following structure:

Day 1:

  • Multistate Performance Test (MPT): Two 90-minute Multistate Performance Test Questions (20%)
  • Multistate Essay Examination (MEE): Six 30-minute Multistate Essay Exam questions (30%)

Day 2:

  • Multistate Bar Examination (MBE): 200-question multiple-choice exam (50%)

The UBE exam is scored out of 400 points, 270 of which need to be answered correctly in order for a candidate to receive a passing score.

Moreover, candidates will be required to pass the following supplementary exams and complete the following course in order to be eligible for the Tennessee bar:

  • Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE)
  • Tennessee Law Course (TLC)

Below, we’ve broken down the content and structure of each exam-related requirement in more detail.

Multistate Performance Test (MPT)

The MPT is made up of two 90-minute parts, and the materials for each part contain a “File” and a “Library.”

The File consists of source documents that contain all of the facts of a specific case.

As the examinee, the assignment that you will need to complete will be described in a memorandum from a supervising attorney.

The File can also include things like transcripts of interviews, depositions, pleadings, trials, client documents, newspaper articles, police reports, and any other similar documents.

Keep in mind that irrelevant information is generally included, and facts are sometimes incomplete, ambiguous, or even conflicting.

This is meant to mirror legal practice, in which a client’s or supervising attorney’s version of events may be unreliable or entirely incomplete. In such a scenario, you will be expected to recognize when facts are inconsistent or missing in the exam and identify sources of additional facts.

The Library part contains things like cases, statutes, and regulations, some of which may also not be relevant to the task that you will be assigned. You will need to be able to extract the legal principles required to analyze the legal problem you’ll be presented with and perform the requested task.

For more information, you can have a look at the National Conference of Bar Examiners’ Instructions for Taking the MPT document.

Free summaries of MPTs from recent examinations are also offered (e.g., MPT Summaries of 2023).

Multistate Essay Exam (MEE)

The MEE consists of six 30-minute sections that can cover a variety of legal areas, including:

  • Civil Procedure
  • Business Associations (e.g., Agency and Partnership, LLCs, Corporations, etc.)
  • Conflict of Laws
  • Constitutional Law
  • Contract Law
  • Family Law
  • Criminal Law
  • Torts
  • Trust and Estates

Keep in mind that questions can often include issues in more than one area of law. This means that it’ll be important to ensure that you have a “wide” range of understanding rather than a deep focus on one or two subjects.

Note: For more information, have a look at the NCBE’s official Instructions for Taking the MEE document or check out a few official MEE questions.

Multistate Bar Exam (MBE)

The MBE is made up of 200 multiple-choice questions, which are broken down into 175 scored questions and 25 unscored questions.

The exam is broken down into two three-hour sections, with one administered in the morning and one in the afternoon, both of which contain 100 questions each.

Keep in mind that there are no scheduled breaks during either one of the sections. Tennessee also doesn’t accept MBE scores transferred from previous exams or different jurisdictions. This means that all applicants sit the entire exam and only scores awarded in a single administration are considered.

All 175 scored questions on the exam are distributed evenly, with 25 questions being attributed to each of the following seven topics:

  • Constitutional Law
  • Civil Procedure
  • Contract Law
  • Real Property
  • Tort Law
  • Evidence
  • Criminal Law and Procedure

Each question on the MBE exam will have four potential answers. You should choose what you believe is the best answer — keep in mind that scores are based on the number of questions answered correctly, and points are not subtracted for answering incorrectly.

If you want to have a look at the exact format, you can have a look at the NCBE’s official MBE Sample Test Questions document.

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Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE)

The MPRE is made up of 60 multiple-choice questions (50 scored questions and 10 unscored questions) and is administered via Pearson VUE.

Like the MBE exam, each question offers four possible answers, one of which is correct.

The exam’s content is based on law that relates to the conduct and discipline of attorneys and judges and includes the American Bar Association’s (ABA) Model Rules of Professional Conduct and Model Code of Judicial Conduct, as well as important constitutional common law and generally accepted principles.

In relation to questions of professional responsibility in the context of evidentiary issues (e.g., litigation sanctions, attorney-client evidentiary privilege, etc.), the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the Federal Rules of Evidence will apply unless otherwise stated.

Note: You will have two hours to complete the MPRE exam in its entirety.

For more information, we recommend having a look at the NCBE’s Official Sample Test Questions document. A holistic Subject Matter Outline is also offered.

Tennessee Law Course (TLC)

The Tennessee Law Course is an online course lasting around 7.5 hours that all candidates must complete in order to be admitted to the state’s bar and practice law.

The TLC is designed to ensure all new attorneys are familiar with key aspects of Tennessee law and covers a variety of topics relevant to legal practice in the state, such as:

  • State-specific procedures and laws in civil and criminal cases
  • Tennessee’s rules of professional conduct
  • Specialized Tennessee legal practices

If you’re applying for Admission by Examination, you’ll be able to access the TLC within 10 days of completing the bar exam, otherwise, it will be made available to you within five business days of the Board approving your application.

Once you gain access to the TLC, you’ll need to complete a registration application and pay the relevant fee through Synergy — the Tennessee Board of Law Examiners’s online portal. After this, you should receive an email containing your login information to this platform within five business days.

While the TLC doesn’t need to be completed in one session, the Tennessee Board of Law Examiners recommends that you make sure to use the same device throughout the course’s duration.

Note: The Tennessee Board of Law Examiners provides supplementary material for the TLC on its website.

How to Pass the Tennessee Bar Exam

In order to give yourself the best chance of passing the Tennessee UBE exam on your first attempt, it’s important to take enough time to make sure that you are adequately prepared.

Tennessee Bar Exam Tips

Despite the infamous difficulty of Tennessee’s bar exam, passing it on your first attempt is definitely possible with the right tools and preparation techniques.

Below, we’ve broken down a few key tips that should aid you in your licensing journey:

  • Start Strong in Your First Year: This is important due to the fundamental areas of law practice that the first year of law school generally covers, such as Contract Law, Tort, and Constitutional Law
  • Leverage Academic Support: If your law school offers additional support services that are aimed at improving your preparation, we recommend utilizing these as much as possible. This can involve one-on-one tutoring, academic counseling, and mock exam programs
  • Obtain Practical Legal Experience: If possible, we recommend gaining as much practical experience as you can during law school (i.e., through summer internships, mock trials, etc.). This is because this can go a long way in cementing your legal knowledge
  • Adopt a Broad Study Approach: When studying for the bar, you should aim for a wide-ranging understanding of various subjects rather than an in-depth study of a few. This is important due to the huge amount of content that you will need to learn and/or will be tested on

Most importantly, make sure you remain consistent so that you do not have to resort to last-minute cramming.

Research has shown that we are able to retain a higher degree of information – and more easily – when revisiting old content in comparison to when learning it for the first time. This is known as Ebbinghaus’s Forgetting Curve.

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Other Tennessee Bar Requirements

Apart from qualifying for and passing the Tennessee bar exam, there are several other requirements you will need to meet in order to become a licensed attorney in the state, including:

  1. Registering with the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE)
  2. Satisfying the Character and Fitness Standard
  3. Completing Continuing Legal Education (CLE) Requirements
  4. Fulfilling the Board of Professional Responsibility’s (BPR) Annual Registration Requirements

1. Register with the NCBE

In order to complete your application, you’ll need to register with the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE).

You can do this by heading over to this website, creating a secure NCBE account number — which will be required on all the forms involved in both the NCBE and Tennessee Board of Law Examiners application process.

After registering, you’ll need to login to your NCBE account and complete the rest of the application process. This involves completing the following steps by these deadlines:

  • Application Deadline: You’ll need to finish your NCBE application, saving all attachments as PDFs so you can upload them to your Tennessee Synergy Application later
  • Final Deadline: You’ll need to finalize your application (if not already done), pay the NCBE investigation fee, and submit any forms requested by the NCBE as listed in your account

Note: You do not need to submit the materials and payment to the NCBE at this time but will need to do so by the Final Deadline.

2. Character and Fitness Standard

After completing the registration process, the next step is to submit an NCBE Character and Fitness Application, which you’ll be able to access at any time after February 15 before the July exam or August 15 prior to the February exam.

This is a mandatory investigation into an applicant’s past to ensure that only those who are honest, respectful, and likely to follow legal and ethical rules can practice law in Tennessee.

This process is broken down into several key steps:

  • Initial Review: Just after you submit your application, it will go under a preliminary check by a member of the Board in order to find any missing parts and see if any more information is needed about your character
  • Background Check: After this, most applicants must get a background check from the NCBE that will examine their past actions and behaviors. You’ll need to pay for this yourself and may need to get more than one if it’s been more than two years since your first background check
  • Further Investigation: The application and background check results are sent to a special committee for a closer look. A member of this committee will review everything, talk to the person applying, and might also talk to your references in order to get more information
  • Interview: Every applicant has to meet in person with a committee member — this is a chance to talk about your application and answer any questions the Board may have about your past conduct
  • Decision: After the interview and investigation, the committee member decides if you should be allowed to become a lawyer and relay their opinion to the Board. There are three options for this decision: a full recommendation, a recommendation with reservations, or no recommendation

It’s worth noting that all candidates are subject to a Duty of Candor at all times during this background check — incomplete or misleading responses to the Board’s questions could cost you being admitted to the Tennessee Bar.

3. Continuing Legal Education (CLE) Requirements

In order to be able to continue practicing law in Tennessee, all admitted attorneys within this state are required to complete a minimum of 15 credit hours of CLE under Supreme Court Rule 21, Section 3.01(a). Of these 15 credit hours, three must be approved ethics/professionalism credit.

You can carry over up to 15 hours of credits exceeding the minimum annual requirement to count towards your credit hours in the next compliance year. However, these excess hours will only be valid for the succeeding compliance year, and must already be reported and paid.

If you fail to satisfy these CLE requirements by December 31, you’ll be fined an initial Non-Compliance Fee of $100 on January 1. Failing to pay this fee and meet CLE requirements by March 31 of the same year will result punishments that periodically increase according to the following dates:

  • April 30: Attorneys that remain non-compliant as of this date will receive another notice and will be required to pay the $100 and demonstrate compliance by May 31
  • May 31: Attorneys who do not remedy their deficiencies or fail to pay any owed fees by this date will be charged an additional Continuing Non-Compliance Fee of $200 on June 1
  • July 1: By this date, a draft Suspension Order will be sent to any attorneys who haven’t remedied their deficiencies as well as the Supreme Court
  • August 10: Attorneys listed on the Suspension Order must file an Affidavit of Compliance by this date to avoid suspension. Upon approval and payment of all fees, their names are removed from the potential suspension list
  • August 15: A final Suspension Order is submitted to the Supreme Court on this date, listing all the attorneys who failed to comply and petitioning for the suspension of their law licenses. If suspended, attorneys will need to pay a $500 Suspension Fee plus any other outstanding fees to reinstate their license.

Note: You can search all CLE programs accredited in Tennessee using the American Bar Association’s CLE Marketplace.

4. BPR Annual Registration Requirements

In order to verify your compliance with the CLE requirement contained within Section 3.01, you’ll be sent an Annual Report Statement by the Tennessee Commission on Continuing Legal Education each year on February 28.

This Annual Report, which is typically received via the email or mailing address listed on your record, must be submitted to the Commission on or before March 31 alongside proof of compliance with the annual CLE requirements.

If you miss this March 31 deadline you’ll be subject to a $100 fee which must be paid on April 1. After this, the additional penalties outlined above will apply for continued non-compliance.

Note: Be sure to contact the Commission if you don’t receive this Annual Report by February 28, as your obligation to complete it isn’t alleviated by the fact you haven’t received it.

Admission Without Examination

According to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 7, Article V., candidates that are qualified as attorneys in certain states (see below) are allowed to join the Tennessee bar through a process known as Admission by Comity.

The following requirements will need to be met:

  • Educational Standards: The applicant must meet the educational requirements of Tennessee, including having a Bachelor’s Degree and a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree from accredited institutions, and obtaining a minimum score of 270 on the UBE
  • Practice of Law: The applicant should have been engaged in active practice for five out of the seven years immediately before applying in Tennessee
  • Good Standing: They must be a member in good standing in all jurisdictions where they are admitted
  • Clean Disciplinary Record: The applicant should not be currently disciplined or have a pending disciplinary matter in any jurisdiction
  • Character and Fitness: They must meet Tennessee’s character and fitness standards required for all law practice applicants
  • Application Timing: They should apply before establishing an office or continuous presence for practicing law in Tennessee

Alongside an application fee ranging between $550 and $925, applying for this Admission by Comity involves submitting the following application forms online:

  • The NCBE Character and Fitness Application (the “NCBE application”)
  • The Tennessee Application for Comity Applicants (the “Tennessee application”)

Since applications for Admission by Comity can take up to 14 months to complete, it’s a good idea to start your NCBE first within six months prior to the date of your Tennessee Application. This gets your background check out of the way early so that you can focus on your application.

Only members of the Bars of the following states are eligible to apply for Admission by Comity:

ArkansasMassachusettsPuerto Rico
CaliforniaMichiganRhode Island
ColoradoMinnesotaSouth Carolina
ConnecticutMississippiSouth Dakota
District of ColumbiaMontanaUtah
GeorgiaNevadaUS Virgin Islands
HawaiiNew HampshireVirginia
IdahoNew JerseyWashington
IllinoisNew MexicoWest Virginia
IndianaNew YorkWisconsin
IowaNorth CarolinaWyoming
KansasNorth Dakota

Note: The Tennessee Board of Law Examiners provides more information on the process for Admission by Comity on their website.

Tennessee Bar Exam FAQ

Can you take the bar without going to law school in Tennessee?

While it’s true that some states allow aspiring lawyers to take the entire examination and become licensed attorneys without attending law school, Tennessee is not one of them. As of today 2024, all applicants seeking admission to the Tennessee Bar must graduate from an ABA-approved law school or a law school approved by the Tennessee Supreme Court.

How long is the Tennessee bar exam?

The Tennessee Bar Exam takes place over two days. On the first day, you’ll take two 90-minute Multistate Practice Tests (MPT) and six 30-minute Multistate Essay Examination (MEE) questions, while on the second day, you’ll take a six-hour multiple-choice test (MBE). You can learn more about the exam in our What is the Bar Exam article.

How hard is it to pass the Tennessee bar examination?

While first-time test-takers tend to have more success on the Tennessee Bar Exam, with around 67% of candidates passing the Tennessee bar examination, repeat test-takers had a much lower success rate. To find out how you can ensure you succeed in this exam, check out our Tennessee Bar Exam article.

How much does the TN bar exam cost?

For first-time test-takers, the bar exam in Tennessee costs $625. However, if you’ve taken any previous Tennessee exams and are re-taking, the cost is reduced to only $450. Note that you’ll still need to pay for the Tennessee bar exam even if you cancel, though you may be eligible for a partial refund if you give notice by February 1 or July 1 respectively.