Justice 4 All: Statewide Pro Bono Public Service Day

One Day in April There Was

On Saturday, April 4, the lawyers who showed up for work in Tennessee were not adversaries, but were all on the same side. As part of the Statewide Pro Bono Public Service Day initiated by the Tennessee Bar Association and led by its president, Buck Lewis, 863 lawyers and support staff volunteered their time " in 47 locations " to write wills for police officers and firefighters, staff free legal clinics, sign up to take on pro bono cases, run a 5K fundraiser, and more. Here's what some of the volunteers had to say:

"There were attorneys that initially signed up for a couple of hours, but once they got there and saw how simple the process was, they wanted to stay longer," says Krystal Boone, who coordinated Nashville's Wills for Heroes event. "These types of events remind me why I became a lawyer and why it is a privilege to be a lawyer."

"This was a wildly successful event," says Debra L. House, who is associate director of Legal Aid of East Tennessee.

"When I arrived at 8:00 there were already people waiting outside for the event to begin. When we opened the doors at 8:45 people filled the lobby of the Blount County Public Library. The line stayed constant until at least noon. At 1:00 when the clinic ended there were still people waiting to see a lawyer. I'm happy to report that everyone was seen. We received many thanks from people as they left the clinic."

One grateful person wrote this letter: "I just wanted to let you know how much I appreciate the advice I received from attorney Kelly Frerer at the recent legal clinic at the Blount County Public Library. I just happened to be working at the library that weekend and desperately needed a few questions answered. I think this was a wonderful clinic " well-organized and heavily attended. Thanks again for all the work and time spent on this program."

House was impressed with the crowd that showed up at the library, noting their "incredible patience ... Many stood in line for well over an hour then were moved to the seating area and waited for perhaps another hour. No one complained, everyone was in good spirits and very grateful for the opportunity to speak with a lawyer. Many expressed their gratitude for lawyers giving of their time and talent on a beautiful spring Saturday morning."

"What was most impressive to me was the sheer volume of volunteer activity," says Linda Warren Seely, who is an attorney with Memphis Area Legal Services in Jackson. "There were so many attorneys, paralegals and students willing to give of their time in so many different ways. There were volunteers participating in a run, doing a legal clinic, providing Wills for Heroes, visiting nursing homes and meeting with litigants in Juvenile Court, providing an array of legal services unparalleled in Tennessee."

A woman approached Mark Berryhill with tears in her eyes, saying "'God bless you folks for providing this service. I was about to lose everything, but the attorney told me everything I need to do.' She gave me a big hug, continuously saying 'God bless you folks.' She had a profound impact on me," says Berryhill, who is the coordinating paralegal for the Memphis Paralegal Association. "Working with the volunteer attorneys at these events has been an incredible experience."

"Would I do it again?" Seely asks. "You bet! The gratitude of the clients, the collegiality and the chance to meet with one's peers in a nonadversarial setting designed to bring out the best in everyone is exactly what professionalism is all about."

Compiled from staff reports by Suzanne Craig Robertson