Tennessee Supreme Court: Canadian attorney’s UBE score exceeds the score required in the state for admission to the bar

Tennessee Supreme Court: Canadian attorney’s UBE score exceeds the score required in the state for admission to the bar

On Friday, September 16, 2022, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Canadian attorney who was denied admission to the Tennessee bar.

Violaine Panasci earned a law degree in Canada, a Master of Laws degree in New York, and a 90th percentile score on the Uniform Bar Exam. After being admitted to the New York bar in 2021, Panasci moved to Nashville to work for Chattanooga-based Rockridge Venture Law.

Panasci applied for admission to the Tennessee Bar on a transferred UBE score and was approved for practice pending admission. However, nine months after applying she received a letter from the Tennessee Board of Law Examiners (TBLE) stating that her application was denied because her undergraduate degree contains too many “law-related studies” and because her academic path is not equivalent to that of a traditional U.S. graduate.

Panasci filed a petition for certiorari in the Tennessee Supreme Court to challenge TBLE’s arbitrary bureaucratic approach to the admission of foreign-educated attorneys licensed to practice law in the U.S.

In its order, the Supreme Court stated that Panasci’s score on the UBE exceeds the score required in Tennessee for admission.

The order reads:

“Upon consideration of the briefs and the entire record in this cause, and in the exercise of our discretion as the “ultimate authority on the interpretation of the rules governing attorney licensing and admission” and pursuant to our “plenary power to review the actions of the BLE in interpreting and applying those rules,” Chong v. Tenn. Bd. of Law Examiners, 481 S.W.3d 609, 610 (Tenn. 2015), we conclude that based on Ms. Panasci’s legal education and UBE score, the requirements of section 7.01(a) should not preclude her admission to practice law in Tennessee by transferred UBE score. As a result, Ms. Panasci’s application for admission should not be denied based on the requirements of section 7.01 of Rule 7.”

In a Linkedin post, Panasci said that the order vindicated her claim that she was wrongfully denied admission to practice law in Tennessee despite her U.S. LL.M., New York bar registration, and 90th percentile score on the Uniform Bar Exam.

Panasci added that:

“The Order exposes the Board’s arcane and bureaucratic approach to lawyer licensing – without having to grant me a waiver of the rules, the Court concluded that my Canadian legal education at the University of Ottawa and UBE score satisfied the requirements of Tennessee’s lawyer licensing rules.

I remain hopeful that my case will set a precedent for similarly situated attorneys in the United States! This is one small step toward occupational licensing reform, but we still have a lot of work to do. It’s time to overcome unnecessary barriers to the practice of law so that we can offer the best legal services to our international corporations in Nashville, and the US.”

A copy of the original filing can be found here.


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