Lawyers Give Back in Crisis and in Calm

On Sunday, May 2, I received an urgent e-mail message from Matt Potempa, the American Bar Association/Young Lawyers Division (ABA/YLD) district representative for Tennessee, regarding the imminent flooding disaster underway that day in Nashville. The ABA/YLD has an agreement with FEMA to support legal assistance efforts following a disaster, and Matt was thinking ahead to be prepared when FEMA called.

I was relieved even to receive the e-mail message since power and phone lines where I live in Bellevue were already out. Many subsequent e-mails followed that Sunday message. We were very fortunate that the Tennessee Bar Center had no flood damage and the power, phone lines and water service there were never interrupted, unlike many downtown Nashville law firms, law offices, government buildings and businesses. Other parts of the state were similarly effected as we later learned.   Courthouses were closed and Supreme Court Rule 49, known as The Disaster Rule, was implemented for the first time in Tennessee history.

The response of the Tennessee legal community to the massive needs of flood victims in our state has been rapid, thorough and tenacious. We will not stop while there are needs to be met.   Hundreds of volunteer lawyers came forward immediately, and they remain at work throughout our state to assist flood victims in our communities. Pursuant to the TBA Disaster Plan, Erik Cole, Executive Director of Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services (TALS), moved the TALS offices to the Tennessee Bar Center one day after the flood since their offices in Metro Center were not accessible. Lawyers called in to volunteer, signed up online to volunteer, and showed up in person to volunteer. Disaster Legal Assistance response teams were dispatched throughout the city. By mid-day Monday the TBA Web site had the TBA YLD   disaster assistance manual, recovery recommendations and opportunities to volunteer, all accessible from the front page. Not waiting for FEMA, a toll-free legal assistance hotline was up and running on Friday.

To the thousands of volunteers across Tennessee who helped and are helping flood victims, thank you. You can be very proud of the efficiency of the TBA Disaster Plan but most proud of the TBA staff, TALS staff, the local legal aid programs and local bars all across Tennessee who assisted in this massive response, delivering access to justice and grass roots assistance in an unprecedented natural disaster to citizens affected in over half of our 95 counties. [See News for more.] Many other groups and individuals also responded in coordination with attorneys to aid these flood victims.

More Issues to Continue Addressing

While continuing to support these Disaster Relief efforts, this, my last column, gives me the opportunity to lay out some of the many other issues we must address as we move forward. In addition to the ongoing access to justice and pro bono initiatives, the bar faces important work on judicial selection and our state attorney general selection process, domestic and family law issues such as the "split the baby" legislation we saw this year, immigration issues, health care reform, foreclosure law changes, the impact of the unauthorized practice of law and how to improve the lack of critical resources for our judicial system, to name just a few.

We work to understand whether we should — and how to — replace the billable hour with alternative billing methods for legal services.

We will continue to study how to handle the growth of law schools in our state and related issues that come with that growth such as transitional legal education, mentoring, the cost of a legal education and the job market for these attorneys.

How will we handle the growth of multi-jurisdictional practice in our state, our country and the world?

What are the short-term and long-term impacts of social networking in our practice settings and on the law?

Is a fee dispute resolution system something we need to reconsider for Tennessee attorneys?   

How can we better manage and diversify our law practices to better serve our clients?   

If the jury trial is truly vanishing, how do we best continue to provide training in litigation as well as alternative dispute resolution methods?   

What can we do to improve the quality of life for a legal professional career from "young lawyer" to "senior counselor" and beyond?     

Lawyers work to improve our justice system when times are calm, and that constant work pays off so that we can deliver critical legal services when disaster strikes. We have so much talent and energy in our bar association, and this has created many opportunities for growth, improvement and innovation. As many of you know from similar experiences, we do not want to take these opportunities for granted and we do not want to waste these opportunities. Sharing our talents, our ideas and our opinions as we address all of these important legal issues benefits all of us and ultimately creates a better resolution.

Thank you for the opportunity to share in all of our many accomplishments during what has been for me a great year serving our profession.