News

Celebrate Pro Bono Month Kicks off Tuesday

Every year, Tennessee lawyers help thousands of clients by providing free legal advice. This assistance is especially celebrated and emphasized throughout the month of October, as part of the Tennessee Bar Association’s Celebrate Pro Bono Initiative. Now in its fifth year, the initiative brings together bar associations, law schools, law firms, legal services providers and individual lawyers to offer free services to those unable to afford a lawyer. This year's celebration is expected to involve more than 300 volunteers -- including lawyers, law students, paralegals and language interpreters -- in dozens of events and activities across the state. The effort is part of a national pro bono push.

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LAET Steps in to Stop Eviction

Legal Aid of East Tennessee (LAET) has taken on the case of a disabled resident who is challenging a Chattanooga Housing Authority eviction, WRCB Channel 3 reports. Jeffrey Henson suffers from cerebliar degeneration and gets around with the help of an electric wheelchair that has scratched doors, dented doorframes and scuffed the walls of his apartment. Wednesday, a judge granted a restraining order blocking the eviction until the case is heard in court next month, or a settlement is reached. "He's being evicted essentially for being disabled," LAET attorney Emily O'Donnell said, "and that's a violation of state and federal fair housing law."

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Fellowship Funds Graduate's Work at Legal Aid

As part of a law school fellowship program at American University’s Washington College of Law, recent graduate Malika Noel is serving in the Knoxville office of Legal Aid of East Tennessee for one year. “When I heard about the fellowship opportunity, I immediately knew that I wanted to do legal aid work,” Noel said. “It takes only one day in court to see that lower-income Americans are grossly under-represented in our legal system…Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity, and everyone deserves a meaningful chance at justice. Legal aid attorneys are on the front lines of making sure that happens, and I’m thrilled to be a part of that.” Read more about Noel’s background in this release from Legal Aid.

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HELP Clinic Training Scheduled for Sept. 30

The University of Tennessee College of Law has coordinated the HELP clinic at Knoxville Area Rescue Ministries for several years. Now, a coalition of groups – including the ABA Section of Litigation, the law firm Baker Donelson and Legal Aid of East Tennessee – will join the college in holding the clinic twice a month. Prospective volunteers are invited to a reception and training session next Monday from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Each participant will receive a volunteer manual to better address questions that may surface while serving at the clinic. Email Kelli Thompson or Eric Setterlund or call them at (865) 549-7000 for more information.

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Event Marks 30 Years for Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence

The Tennessee Coalition to End Domestic & Sexual Violence will host "Pearls & Pinstripes," a gala evening with silent auction on Oct. 10 at 6 p.m. at the Loews Vanderbilt Hotel in Nashville. The nonprofit works to end violence in the lives of Tennesseans through public policy, advocacy, education and activities that increase the capacity of programs and communities to address violence. News anchor Demetria Kalodimos is honorary chair of the event celebrating the Coalition's 30th year. For tickets and sponsorship information, visit www.tncoalition.org/pearls or call 615-386-9406.

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Labor Department Rules on Unpaid Interns Doing Pro Bono

According to a letter from the Labor Department, law students may work as unpaid interns on pro bono matters at law firms, provided certain conditions are met. The letter is a response to immediate past ABA President Laurel Bellows who sought assurances that the agency would interpret the Fair Labor Standards Act to allow such internships. “This clarification will assist law students seeking to gain legal experience and increase their volunteerism,” current ABA President James Silkenat said in a statement released on Monday. “It also will ensure law firms can continue to help the many people in need of legal assistance through pro bono efforts.”

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TALS Announces Access to Justice Winners

The Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services (TALS) today announced its 2013 Access to Justice Honorees. Award recipients include Gordon Bonnyman, founding executive director of the Tennessee Justice Center, Harrison McIver III, executive director of Memphis Area Legal Services and Charity Miles Williams and Emily O’Donnell, both from Legal Aid of East Tennessee. The Access to Justice Dinner will be held Oct. 9 at 6:30 p.m. at the Millennium Maxwell House Hotel in Nashville.

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Belmont Hosts Sophia's Heart Legal Clinic Sept. 26

Belmont College of Law Legal Aid Society will host a free legal clinic Sept. 26 at 6:00 p.m. for residents of Sophia’s Heart, a transitional shelter for families in crisis that helps them get back on their feet, secure housing and resolve personal, financial, and employment impediments. The clinic will offer free legal advice to assist families in resolving various civil and criminal issues. It will be held at 1034 Eastland Ave. in Nashville. To learn how you can help, contact director Katie Blankenship at (615) 796-9027.

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Law School Conference Focuses on Pro Bono Issues

TBA Access to Justice Committee Sponsors Event with UT College of Law

TBA President Cindy Wyrick spoke to a group of law students and faculty about the challenges and benefits that come from an intentional commitment to pro bono and public interest work. She encouraged the students to continue to make time for pro bono service and involement with the TBA, even when the pressures of being a new lawyer seem overwhelming. Wyrick reminded the students that they possess both "the power to change the world and the responsibility to do it."

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Law School Conference Takes on Pro Bono Issues

Representatives from all six Tennessee law schools gathered in Knoxville today with leaders from the access to justice community for the second Law School Pro Bono & Public Interest Conference, sponsored by the Tennessee Bar Association's Access to Justice Committee. About 40 people are taking part in the program, including Supreme Court Justices Janice Holder and Sharon Lee, Access to Justice Commission Chair Buck Lewis, Commission Vice-Chair Dean Doug Blaze, and representatives from Legal Aid Dave Yoder and Chay Sengkhounmany. They are engaging in conversations about the needs, opportunity, challenges and possibilities surrounding pro bono work and related access to justice issues. Lewis, a former TBA president, delivered the keynote address, highlighting the historic collaborations that have produced outstanding developments, while issuing the clear call to action that much work still remains. TBA President Cindy Wyrick will present to the group tomorrow morning.

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DOJ Tackles Quality of Defense for Poor

In an unprecedented court filing, the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) intervened in a case about the quality of indigent defense in Burlington and Mount Vernon, Washington. According to National Public Radio, plaintiffs in the suit against the two cities claim only two part-time lawyers were handling 2,000 misdemeanor cases. Should a judge find the city governments guilty of systematically depriving people of their Sixth Amendment right to legal counsel, the DOJ urged that an independent monitor be appointed to oversee public defender workloads.

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Legal Aid Adds New Grant Writer

The Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands has announced that Nicole Sibilski has joined its Nashville office as the agency’s new grant writer. Sibilski previously was director of development for The Nashville Shakespeare Festival and did grant writing on a consulting basis. She also has worked as a legal assistant for Oyster Capital Associates in Franklin. Prior to moving to Nashville four years ago, Sibilski worked as in-house counsel for First National Assets and as an attorney at the office of the Cook County Public Defender, both in Chicago. She earned her law degree from DePaul University College of Law.

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Friday is Deadline for Public Service Award Nominations

Lawyers wishing to nominate colleagues for the 2014 public service awards presented by the TBA have until Friday to submit their recommendations. Each year, the TBA recognizes those who demonstrate an exceptional commitment to increasing access to justice for underserved individuals and communities. Awards are presented in three categories: work performed by an attorney employed by an organization primarily involved in providing legal representation to the indigent, work performed by a private attorney and work performed by a law student volunteer. Nominations should be submitted via the TBA website or to Liz Todaro.

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Article: More Human Trafficking in State than Gang Activity

In this alarming story about modern-day slavery, Memphis lawyer Ryan Dalton looks at the extent of human trafficking in our own state. A recent study says that 78 out of Tennessee's 95 counties reported at least one case of sex trafficking in the previous 24 months, and it is suspected that nearly all counties had trafficking activity, but law enforcement and social services are not adequately trained to identify and report it. Shelby, Davidson, Coffee and Knox counties are some of the worst offenders, Dalton writes, reporting more than 100 cases of minor sex trafficking and more than 100 cases of adult sex trafficking during the two-year study window. By comparison, the report indicates there is more human trafficking activity in Tennessee than gang activity. Read how lawyers have joined the fight in the new Tennessee Bar Journal.

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Donations Needed by Sept. 1 for MALS Auction

Memphis Area Legal Services is accepting donations through Sept. 1 for its “WE’RE ALL IN” online auction benefiting its work. All donations are tax-deductible and will be listed on a nationally viewed website thanking donors. Click here for more information or download a donor form. For more information contact MALSauction@alphareporting.com.

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Pro Bono, Public Interest Law Conference This Weekend

The TBA Access to Justice Committee's Pro Bono & Public Interest Law School Conference will be held Sept. 6-7 at the University of Tennessee College of Law. Law Students, faculty, staff and others interested in this issue are invited to attend any part of the event. The conference will feature presentations by TBA President Cindy Wyrick, Access to Justice Commission Chair Buck Lewis and representatives from law schools and legal aid programs. Participants will have the opportunity to engage in discussions on policy issues ranging from mandatory pro bono service for law school graduates to public interest career debt management strategies. Click here to register for this free conference and to view the full schedule. For more information, contact UT’s Access to Justice Coordinator Brad Morgan.

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Wills for Heroes Event Helps More Than 40 First Responders

More than 40 Clarksville area firefighters, police officers, paramedics/EMT's and their spouses received free will drafting and other basic estate planning documents on Monday as part of the TBA Young Lawyer Division’s Wills for Heroes program. A local contingent of attorneys donated their knowledge and expertise at the six-hour program, which took place at the Clarksville Police Department Headquarters. To date, more than 500 TBA lawyers have volunteered their time to serve more than 2,000 first responders. The Leaf Chronicle has the story.

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Holder: Defendant’s Legal Rights Undermined by Budget Cuts

In an opinion piece for the Washington Post, Attorney General Eric Holder asserts that forced budget reductions, due largely to sequestration, are undermining defendants’ legal right to an attorney. Holder states that draconian cuts have forced layoffs in the federal public defenders office, furloughs and personnel reductions through attrition. Five decades after the Supreme Court affirmed that adequate legal representation is a basic right in Gideon v. Wainwright, Holder writes that sequestration is undermining our ability to realize this fundamental promise, and it is past time for our elected representatives to act.

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TBA Accepting Nominations for Public Service Awards

The TBA each year recognizes outstanding service by those who demonstrate an exceptional commitment to increasing access to justice for underserved individuals and communities. Awards are presented at the Annual Public Service Awards Luncheon in January. Awards recognize pro bono service in three categories: work performed by an attorney employed by an organization primarily involved in providing legal representation to the indigent, work performed by a private attorney and work performed by a law student volunteer. Nominations should be submitted via the TBA website or to Liz Todaro no later than Sept. 6. Submissions should include a narrative of the individual’s accomplishments, the nominator’s reasons for selecting the individual and a description of how the nominee meets the award criteria. Download details.

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Legal Clinics Happening Around Nashville Saturday

Five free legal clinics will take place in Nashville this Saturday. Attorneys will be on hand to provide legal advice in all areas of the law from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Locations are as follows: St. Luke's Community House, 5601 New York Ave.; Bethel AME Church, 1300 South St.; Northwest YMCA, 3700 Ashland City Hwy.; East Park Community Center, 700 Woodland St.; and Legal Aid Society, 300 Deaderick St. Debt-related matters will be handled at the Legal Aid Society and St. Luke's locations. The clinics are sponsored by The Legal Aid Society, Nashville Pro Bono Program, Nashville Bar Association YLD, Napier-Looby Bar Association, Tennessee Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence and The Law Offices of James Flexer. For more information visit Flexer's Facebook page.

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Court Outlines Process for Honoring Pro Bono Work

The Tennessee Supreme Court has released details about its program to honor attorneys who volunteer at least 50 hours of pro bono service each year. Under the program, attorneys meeting the court’s minimum goal of 50 pro bono hours will be named “Attorneys for Justice” and will be honored at regional events throughout the state. Honorees will receive a certificate, presented by a Supreme Court justice, and have their names included on an honor roll published by the court. Finally, recipients will be able to use an “Attorneys for Justice” seal on firm websites and in marketing materials. Attorneys will be considered for recognition in 2014 based on pro bono hours performed in 2013. Law offices also may submit applications for the honor. Download the court’s nomination form. Learn more on the AOC website.

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New York Lawyer Takes Office as ABA President

Accepting the presidential gavel today at the ABA Annual Meeting, New York lawyer James Silkenat laid out a series of initiatives he intends to focus on during his year in office. These include a renewed effort to improve access to justice, creating employment opportunities for new lawyers and addressing the public policy issues of gun violence, immigration and election law reform. The ABA Journal reports.

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Justice Kennedy, ABA House Address Human Trafficking

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy spoke out against human trafficking on Saturday after attendees at the ABA Annual Meeting had heard from Minh Dang, a victim of human slavery. In his keynote address, Kennedy recounted statistics indicating there are 27 million people being held as slaves around the world, with at least 100,000 of them in the United States. "Let's stop human trafficking," he said. "I urge you to continue to bring this to the world's attention." On Monday, the ABA House of Delegates overwhelmingly approved model legislation for states to use in adopting new prohibitions against human trafficking. In related news, the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission announced it has begun using civil actions -- which require a lesser burden of proof than criminal actions -- against those who traffic or abuse employees, while a federal judge struck down a New Jersey law aimed at fighting the sexual trafficking of minors. The ABA Journal has more on these developments.

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LAET Annual Campaign in Full Swing

Legal Aid of East Tennessee (LAET) is in the midst of its annual fundraising effort and this year’s Campaign for Justice includes a new opportunity for firms to support pro bono. The LAET Leadership Cabinet is open to all law firms whose annual combined firm and individual attorney giving averages at least $250 per firm lawyer. Leadership Cabinet member firms will be recognized in the agency’s annual report, newsletters and other publications. Class of 2013 members also will be recognized as charter members if they maintain Leadership Cabinet membership in successive years. Read more about the program in this article from the Knoxville Bar Association's magazine. For more information contact LAET Resource Development Director Bill Evans at bevans@laet.org or (865) 521-4948.

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Lewis Earns ABA Presidential Citation

Former TBA President and Memphis attorney George T. "Buck" Lewis today was awarded a Presidential Citation from ABA President Laurel Bellows at the ABA Pro Bono Publico Awards luncheon in San Francisco. The presidential citation is a new award that allows the ABA president to recognize lawyers who have made "noteworthy contributions to the legal profession and the ABA," and who exhibit "outstanding leadership qualities." The luncheon was being held in conjunction with the ABA Annual Meeting. See a photo from the event on the TBA's homepage.

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