Legal Aid Gives Pro Bono Honors

Legal Aid of East Tennessee recently honored lawyers who donate services to low-income clients at its Pro Bono Celebration. Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Sharon Lee presented the Law Firm of the Year Award to Paine, Tarwater & Bickers, the Lawyer of the Year Award to Rachel P. Hurt of Arnett, Draper & Hagood, and the Law Student of the Year Award to Crista M. Cuccaro, a student at the University of Tennessee College of Law. Knoxville Bar Association President J. William Coley gave awards to 21 lawyers who donated at least 25 hours of service through Legal Aid's Pro Bono Project. In the past year, more than 750 lawyers and 120 law students contributed their services through the project. Download more from LAET

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Memphis PDs Rethink Handling of Indigent Cases

Public defenders in Memphis are joining a movement to reform how indigent defendants are treated in and out of the courthouse. The approach is based on the idea that public defenders may be able to help curb recidivism by helping clients address underlying problems such as mental illness, unemployment and drug or alcohol addiction. The cutting-edge initiative earned the city a spot in the national Public Defenders Corp. program. More than 450 law school graduates from across the country applied to participate, with just 19 making the final cut. After intensive training, the group is now a week into their new assignments. The Commercial Appeal has more

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AOC Announces Grants to Help Pro Se Litigants

The Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) announced today that it has approximately $200,000 in grant funding available for the development or continuation of initiatives that aid self-represented litigants with child support issues. The funding is made possible through the Access and Visitation Grant. To receive funding, programs must address the needs of divorced or never-married parents and focus on cases involving child support, parenting or visitation issues. Proposals must be received by Sept. 14. Learn more or download an application

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Firm Honored for Death Penalty Representation

Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP will be among those honored by the American Bar Association’s Death Penalty Representation Project for its commitment to prisoners on death row, with the Exceptional Service Award. The firm, with offices in Nashville and six other Southeastern cities, has provided pro bono legal assistance for inmates on death row since 1988. In total, Bradley Arant lawyers have helped provide representation for 22 prisoners, nearly all of them from the extremely active death penalty jurisdiction of Alabama. The awards will be presented at the Project’s 2012 Volunteer Recognition & Awards Event this Friday during the ABA Annual Meeting in Chicago.

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Clark in Michigan for LSC Board Meeting

Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Cornelia Clark joined three other state chief justices yesterday on a panel at the University of Michigan Law School to discuss the role legal aid plays in safeguarding the fair administration of justice. The event was held in conjunction with the annual meeting of the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) Board of Directors. The meeting continues through the week with sessions on innovative solutions to domestic violence and a keynote address by former ABA President Dennis W. Archer. Read more from the LSC

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Providing Legal Services to Persons with Disabilities? New Video Can Help

A short video is now available to help lawyers when they provide pro bono legal services to persons with disabilities. The project from the Tennessee Supreme Court’s Access to Justice Commission --  Providing Legal Services to Persons with Disabilities -- raises awareness and reduces the barriers that persons with disabilities face when seeking legal services. The 12-minute video provides general etiquette tips on interacting with individuals with disabilities and highlights specific examples of common scenarios that people with disabilities encounter when seeking legal services. The Disability Law & Advocacy Center of Tennessee developed the video with the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center. Learn more from the AOC

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TJC Awarded Grant to Expand Partnerships

The Tennessee Justice Center (TJC) has been awarded a $5,000 grant from the American Bar Association (ABA) to expand its efforts to engage and partner with Tennessee lawyers and law firms. Michele Johnson, TJC managing attorney said the ABA Section of Litigation Justice Assistance Fund Grant will "help us take our partnership with Tennessee’s legal community to the next level." Learn more from the TJC

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Pro Bono Celebration This Thursday

Knoxville lawyers will gather Thursday, July 26, at the Square Room on Market Square for Celebrate Pro Bono! The festivities will begin at 5:30 p.m. with a dinner buffet. Tickets are $25 per person ($15 for law students) and may be ordered online, by fax to (865) 525-1162 or by mail to Legal Aid of East Tennessee, 502 S. Gay Street, Suite 404, Knoxville 37902. Tennessee Supreme Court Justices Sharon G. Lee and Gary R. Wade will serve as the masters of ceremonies. The evening also will feature a silent auction, and will wrap up with a presentation of the Knoxville Bar Association's Pro Bono Awards and awards for those who have performed extraordinary service to low-income clients through the Pro Bono Project. Learn more about the event

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Opinion: Modest Means Initiative Needs Cash

In one of several stories about the increased need for pro bono services, the Nashville Ledger argues that one particular program in the state needs immediate attention. That program is the Modest Means Initiative, funded largely by the Nashville Bar Association during its pilot phase. Now that the program is fully established, the association is looking for a new sponsoring agency and/or funding of $10,000 to $15,000 to continue the service. The program, designed to serve the working poor, charges a fee of $25 for a legal referral and caps lawyers’ fees at $75 per hour. Program founder and Nashville lawyer Jonathan Cole says there has been a “huge uptick in requests for these kind of services” but that the association cannot continue to fund it alone.

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Deadline Near on Public Service Awards

Nominations are now being accepted for the Tennessee Bar Association's annual Public Service Awards. Lawyers may be nominated for any of three awards: the Ashley T. Wiltshire Public Service Attorney of the Year, the Harris Gilbert Pro Bono Volunteer of the Year Award and the Law Student Volunteer Award. Nominations are due by Sept. 4. Award winners will be honored at the TBA's Public Service Luncheon Jan. 19 in Nashville.

Equal Justice University on Tap for September

Mark your calendar for this year's Equal Justice University – the annual conference that provides training and networking opportunities for members of the state’s access to justice community. The event will take place Sept. 26 – 28 at Paris Landing State Park. For more information contact Samantha Sanchez with the Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services, (615) 627-0956 ext. 21.

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Story Highlights Legal Assistance for Artists

A recent story in the Nashville Ledger highlights the work of Volunteer Lawyers & Professionals for the Arts – a Nashville-based organization that provides pro bono legal services to artists and emerging arts nonprofits. All services are offered free to qualified low-income artists and emerging nonprofit arts organizations with annual operating budgets of $1 million or less. More than 250 lawyers and 30 business professionals (accountants, marketers, and public relations and human resources managers) are volunteering with the program, which has served more than 1,000 artists and 300 arts nonprofits, and provided more than $1 million in free services.

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Lawyer Finds Volunteering at P.A.T.H. Rewarding

Chattanooga lawyer Bo Hixson talks about his 25 years of commercial litigation practice -- and his involvement with P.A.T.H. (Partnering With Attorneys to Help) to General Sessions Court. Through this program, individuals with a case on the Monday docket can receive basic information about Sessions Court rules and procedures from volunteer attorneys. Although Hixson is on the board of the Chattanooga Bar Association, which launched the program, he was not an immediate believer in P.A.T.H. “I was skeptical about it at first because of my concern about an attorney crossing the line from giving general guidance to giving legal advice,” he says. Then he volunteered one Monday morning, and the experience changed his opinion. Read more from the Hamilton County Herald

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Pro Se Clients Increase Use of Forms, Services

With unprecedented numbers of distressed litigants applying for free legal services, reaching out to lawyers for reduced fees, or representing themselves, the Tennessee Supreme Court Access to Justice Commission continues to work to help people who can't afford a lawyer. The Nashville Ledger explores the progress, including the recent data showing an increase of Tennessee attorneys doing free legal work, and the publication of the court's eight plain-language divorce forms. Anne-Louise Wirthlin, the court's Access to Justice Coordinator, says judges and court clerks are reporting an increase in people using the forms, and the ATJ Commission is in the process of developing plain-language forms for other situations.

The Nashville Pro Bono Program and attorneys from Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis, LLP are also involved in this effort, hosting monthly programs to explain self representation. The first is Aug. 7, from 5-7 p.m., at the Legal Aid Society’s downtown headquarters.

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Pro Bono Events Planned Across State

Legal aid groups and bar associations have a number of pro bono activities planned across the state over the next several weeks. Memphis Area Legal Services launched its second of three Justice for All Online Auctions this week to raise money for its pro bono programs. The site will stay online through July 31. Contact Mary Lynes at (901) 271-0660 or for more information or to donate auction items. 

On Saturday, the Memphis Bar Association's Access to Justice Committee will host a free legal clinic from 10 a.m. to noon at the city’s main library. To get involved contact Linda Warren Seely at (901) 523-8822 or

Next Wednesday, the Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee & the Cumberlands will work with the Nashville Public Defender's Office to staff a free legal clinic for veterans at Operation Stand Down of Nashville. Any veteran can attend the clinic but should call (615) 248-1981 to make an appointment.

Finally, on July 26, Legal Aid of East Tennessee will hold its annual Pro Bono Celebration and Silent Auction at The Square Room, 4 Market Square. The event will be emceed by Tennessee Supreme Court Justices Sharon G. Lee and Gary R. Wade. A reception and silent auction will begin at 5:30 p.m. Awards will be presented at 6:30 p.m.

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Memphis Pro Bono Events in the News

Lawyers from AutoZone, Bass, Berry & Sims and Memphis Area Legal Services on Tuesday donated their time to help seniors and low-income residents draft wills, powers of attorney and other legal documents. It was the fourth year the groups have joined efforts to serve Memphis-area senior citizens. Read about it in the Commercial Appeal. Today, the Memphis Bar Association’s (MBA) Access to Justice Committee provided legal advice at the Project Homeless Connect event at the Memphis Cook Convention Center. The event was organized by Linda Warren Seely with Memphis Area Legal Services and MBA Executive Director Anne Fritz.

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Free Seminars to Explain Disability Voting Rights

In partnership with the Tennessee Division of Elections, the Disability Law & Advocacy Center of Tennessee is presenting "Vote TN!," a series of free voting conferences across the state to educate about disability voting rights. Topics will include disability-related barriers during the voting process, potential solutions to these barriers, and step-by-step instruction on training others about voting access. Pre-register and learn more about dates and locations.

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Clark: Translators for Crime Victims Important

Since July 1 all non-English-speaking crime victims are being provided state-funded translation services in Tennessee court proceedings. A federal mandate had ordered states to extend free translation services to all litigants or risk losing billions in federal aid. But Tennessee went a step further and included victims in the coverage. "It is important that not only those charged with a crime, but also crime victims, divorcing parents and all those who find themselves before the courts are able to communicate effectively," Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Cornelia A. Clark said in a statement Monday. Read more from WBIR

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Free Legal Clinic for Seniors Set for Tuesday

Attorneys from AutoZone Inc., Bass, Berry & Sims PLC and Memphis Area Legal Services will hold the fourth annual free legal clinic for Memphis-area seniors Tuesday, July 10, from 10 a.m. to noon at Orange Mound Senior Center, 2590 Park Ave. The pro bono clinic offers seniors essential legal advice and helps in the preparation of wills, advanced care plans and more. For more information, call Linda Warren Seely of MALS at 523-8822.

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Free Training on Mortgage Settlements July 16

Learn about the mortgage settlement process in Tennessee at a free, one-hour webcast July 16, co-sponsored by the Tennessee Bar Association Access to Justice Committee and the Tennessee Attorney General's Office. The seminar, produced by Matt Pulle and Jeffrey L. Hill, will provide an overview of the issues surrounding the settlement, information on the benefits of the settlement — including benefits to military personnel — what attorneys need to know about the settlement, and information about the resources available through the Attorney General’s office. Learn more or register for "Pro Bono: Mortgage Relief for Pro Bono Clients."

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Greer Elected West Tenn. TAJ VP

Memphis lawyer Thomas Greer, a partner in Bailey & Greer PLLC, has been elected vice president of the West Tennessee division of the Tennessee Association for Justice (TAJ). Greer practices in the areas of medical malpractice, personal injury, wrongful death, premises liability and police brutality. In an interview with the Memphis Daily News, Greer reflects on shifting trends in the legal profession and how TAJ is responding. “There’s a declining trend for the number of cases that go to trial," he says. "One of the missions of our association is to keep the courthouse open and level the playing field for the ordinary Tennessean. To try to make sure that future generations have the same constitutional rights that we grew up with and that we’ve had.”

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Opinion: 40 Years Later, Death Penalty Still Flawed

June 29 marked the 40th anniversary of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision, Furman vs. Georgia, which struck down the nation’s death penalty. It was reinstated four years later with new sentencing procedures to make the system fairer and less arbitrary. But in 2012, the Rev. Stacy Rector writes in an opinion piece, that the death penalty system is still flawed. "Random factors such as the race of the victim, the quality of defense counsel, and the jurisdiction in which the crime is committed continue to have a significant influence on whether a defendant will receive the death penalty," she writes, saying that 40 percent of the inmates on Tennessee’s death row come from Shelby county, while half of the state’s counties have never sentenced anyone to death.

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Chattanooga Honors Pro Bono Achievements

2012 Pro Bono Night -- co-hosted by Legal Aid of East Tennessee, the Pro Bono Committee and the Young Lawyers Division of the Chattanooga Bar Association -- recently honored the achievements of a law firm, a philanthropist, a hospital and an attorney. Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Sharon Lee gave the keynote address, saying the United States was founded on the principle of equal justice under the law. The Firm of the Year Award was given to Chattanooga law firm Luther-Anderson. Corrine Allen, executive director of the Benwood Foundation, received the Chief Justice William M. Barker Equal Access to Justice Award. LAET also gave the inaugural Alexander Hamilton Award to Erlanger Heath System. Named after the first lawyer to devote nearly his entire practice to pro bono work, the award honored Erlanger for joining LAET in creating the first medical-legal partnership in Tennessee. Attorney Tiffany Campbell was awarded the Bruce C. Bailey Volunteer Attorney of the Year Award. The Hamilton County Herald has more

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Court Issues New Rules for Language Access Services

The Tennessee Supreme Court today issued new rules to provide Limited English Proficient (LEP) Tennesseans with more meaningful access to court hearings. The new rules go into effect on July 1. According to the court, an additional $2 million in funding and new rules will help judges better communicate with parties in civil and criminal cases and will enable LEP persons to more fully participate in court proceedings and understand what is expected of them. Before the new funding, interpreter costs were paid for by the state only in certain cases where a person was entitled to but could not afford to pay for an attorney. The new rules will provide qualified interpreters for all hearings if an interpreter is needed. Learn more about the new rules or about interpreter services on the AOC website.

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Lawyers Reporting More Pro Bono Hours

More than 46 percent of Tennessee attorneys reported performing pro bono legal work in Tennessee, an increase of six percent from last year, according to data from the Board of Professional Responsibility. This is the highest percentage of pro bono reporting since attorneys began to voluntarily report in 2009 and more than twice the level of reporting during the initial year. So far, about 3,860 lawyers with Tennessee law licenses residing in Tennessee reported 329,285 hours of pro bono work. The law license renewal form includes a section where lawyers can voluntarily report their pro bono work done in the previous calendar year. 

Increasing pro bono participation is a priority of the Access to Justice (ATJ) Commission’s 2012 Strategic Plan. “The commission’s goal is to ensure all Tennesseans have access to justice by knowing their rights, having access to counsel and understanding the judicial system,” ATJ Chair George T. "Buck" Lewis said. “This is very encouraging news, and next year we hope to see that number over 50 percent.” Learn more from the Tennessee Supreme Court

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