New GAVELS Program Offers Help Explaining Court System, Judiciary

Public education

Tennessee judges and attorneys have partnered to create a new program for educating students, community groups and business organizations about the legal system. The Tennessee Judicial Conference (TJC) and Tennessee Bar Association (TBA) developed the GAVELS program, which stands for Gaining Access to Valuable Education about the Legal System, to fill the growing knowledge gap about the legal system and the important role it plays in our government.

“We hope this program helps demystify the court system and shed some light on the important role the judiciary plays in our democratic society,” Hamilton County Circuit Court Judge Jeff Hollingsworth said. Hollingsworth chairs the TJC’s Public Confidence in the Courts Committee. GAVELS pairs lawyers and judges to make presentations in their communities in order to improve the public’s understanding of our legal system and better equip citizens to be active participants in our democratic society.

“People tend to ignore the importance of the legal system until they are confronted with it — either through jury service or because they have encountered their own legal issue,” said TBA President Danny Van Horn. “We want to educate students and the public about how the legal system works and how it impacts their everyday lives.”

A list of available judges and attorneys and the topics they are willing to speak about are available online at www.tncourts.gov and www.tba.org. Schools, civic organizations and business groups are welcome to request a speaker by contacting a judge or attorney listed on the websites.

Briefs

Commission proposes limited scope representation
Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Janice Holder says the court’s Access to Justice Commission is working on a proposal to make it easier for litigants to hire a lawyer temporarily to handle the most critical aspects of their cases. Such arrangements are already allowed in Tennessee, but the commission hopes it can encourage more lawyers to participate by formalizing guidelines for “limited scope representation,” she says. Under a draft proposal discussed by the commission in October, lawyers could file a form notifying the court that they are making a limited appearance in the case. Once specified issues are resolved, the lawyer’s obligation would be over, and the only requirement would be to notify the court within five days of withdrawing from the case.

A quarter century of CLE
It was 25 years ago this fall that Tennessee’s Supreme Court ordered the state’s lawyers to “brush up on their skills or risk losing their licenses.” Justice William H. D. Fones told the media that the court had approved a plan requiring lawyers to obtain at least 12 hours of continuing legal education each year to retain their licenses. That requirement was later increased to 15 hours.

Youth court students visit Supreme Court
Students in the Lake County and Crockett County youth court programs recently attended oral arguments at the Supreme Court Workers’ Compensation panel. Following the proceedings, the group met with Justice Sharon Lee, who presided over the panel, and an attorney who argued one of the cases.

The students were in Nashville for training. The Lake County students were accompanied by Judge Danny Goodman, who presides over that teen court. The Youth Court Program is managed by Nashville lawyer Denise Bentley, who coordinates her work through the Tennessee Bar Association. Learn more about Youth Court at www.tba.org/youthcourt.

Law school applicants, LSAT takers in decline
The Law Blog of the Wall Street Journal reports that Fall 2011 applications for law school were down 10 percent — the steepest decline in at least 10 years. The paper also suggests that this may be the beginning of a trend. This summer, there was an 18.7 percent decline in LSAT test takers — the biggest decline in at least 24 years, according to the Law School Admission Council.
   
GCs fare better than those in firms under glass ceiling
Women make up only 20 percent of general counsels in Fortune 500 companies, but they are faring better than women at elite law firms, says a story in Law.com. According to one study, only 6 percent of the country’s 200 highest-grossing firms have a female managing partner. This is a source of frustration for many observers, especially since women have received more than 40 percent of all law school degrees awarded each year since 1986. A new book, Courageous Counsel, interviews 42 current and former female GCs in the Fortune 500 and found 42 different ways to get to the top. “Just because you don’t look like or act like or have the same CV as the person who did a job before you, that doesn't mean you aren’t precluded from doing it too,” author Kara Baysinger says.

Bar Foundation gives $50k in grants, inducts fellows
At its annual Fellows reception on Oct. 5, the Memphis Bar Foundation awarded grants of almost $50,000 to eight nonprofit organizations, and inducted 35 new fellows. At the event, the Irvin Bogatin Social Justice Award was presented to Danielle McCollum, a recent graduate of the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law. Claude Gatebuke, a first-year law student, received the Bogatin Scholarship.

‘Celebrate Pro Bono’ a success

Although Tennessee lawyers give pro bono legal services to those unable to afford a lawyer all year long, they did even more in October as part of the national Celebrate Pro Bono initiative. More than 40 events — including legal advice clinics, CLE training and public education programs — were held across the state during the month. Gov. Bill Haslam again recognized the good work of Tennessee attorneys in meeting the tremendous need for legal services in a proclamation declaring October as “Celebrate Pro Bono Month.”

In issuing the proclamation, Haslam commended Tennessee lawyers for providing 567,000 hours of free legal assistance last year and encouraged the legal community to continue its efforts. Studies show that more than one million Tennesseans are unable to afford the legal services they need. “Despite funding for legal assistance provided by the Legal Services Corporation, the state of Tennessee, and private fundraising efforts,” Haslam wrote, “four out of five requests to legal aid are turned down due to lack of resources.”

It’s the neighborly thing to do

“Taking care of our neighbors is part of what it means to be a Tennessean,” TBA President Danny Van Horn said. “Times are tough for many of our neighbors, and there are things that only attorneys can do to help. I encourage all attorneys to give back with their time or with their wallets during Pro Bono Month. I also encourage paralegals and law students to help in any way they can.”

Learn more about it and see a list of the many events at www.tba.org/celebrateprobono