New Toll-Free Line Offers Free Legal Information, Referrals

‘aLEGALz’ Phone Line Premieres

A coalition of Tennessee legal groups and Memphis-based International Paper have joined forces to fund and operate a toll-free phone line offering free legal information and referrals to low-income Tennesseans.

The service, aLEGALz, will assist Tennesseans in finding resources to deal with civil legal issues. Those who cannot afford a lawyer may call the line at 888-aLEGALz (1-888-253-4259) and leave a message at any time. Calls will be returned by a licensed Tennessee lawyer. Tim Hughes, who formerly worked in private practice and at Memphis Area Legal Services, has been hired for the job.

“This new service, along with our website, OnlineTNJustice.org, makes Tennessee a national leader in meeting the challenge of connecting all our citizens to the available resources,” said George T. “Buck” Lewis, chairman of the Tennessee Supreme Court Access to Justice Commission.

aLEGALz is the first statewide phone line dedicated to assisting low-income Tennesseans facing legal problems, and it is the next step in an ongoing effort to improve access to the legal system for all Tennesseans. Both the web and phone programs are part of an effort to eliminate barriers such as geographic location, work schedule or family obligations that keep those in need from receiving free legal help. The services also expand access to free assistance for people in rural areas of the state, and provide an alternative source of assistance for those who are turned away from legal aid offices because they do not qualify or because the local agency lacks the resources to handle the case.

aLEGALz is made possible through a grant from International Paper and funding from the Tennessee Access to Justice Commission and the Tennessee Commission on Continuing Legal Education and Specialization. The phone line has been donated by AT&T and will be managed by the Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services (TALS) with significant input from and coordination with the Tennessee Supreme Court Access to Justice Commission.

Rule Requires Electronic Tax Filing

All professional privilege tax returns filed on or after Jan. 1, 2013, must now be filed electronically. The Tennessee Department of Revenue says returns can be filed by individuals, or by companies who file and pay for multiple individuals.

For a step-by-step guide to electronically filing an individual return visit https://apps.tn.gov/privtx.

The department will not mail a Professional Privilege Tax Return for the $400 tax due June 1, 2013. Questions should be directed to the Electronic Commerce Unit at (866) 368-6374 for in-state calls or (615) 253-0704 for Nashville or out-of-state calls.

Briefs

Comptroller Announces New Online Fraud Tool
Tennesseans can now report suspected cases of fraud, waste and abuse of public funds at www.comptroller.tn.gov. The new service from the Office of the Comptroller complements a toll-free telephone hotline that has been in existence since 1983 and has logged 17,000 calls. The Chattanoogan reports that the online tool was created in response to a new requirement passed by the General Assembly.

In Under the Wire
Over four days at the end of 2012, 457 attorneys attended the Tennessee Bar Association’s Annual CLE Blast, a variety of programs for both general and dual credit. Classes were held from sun-up to past sundown at the Tennessee Bar Center in Nashville. Lawyers could take advantage of the pre-paid CLE hours that come with membership.

2013 Law Student Leadership Class Named
Eighteen students were named in January to the 2013 class of the TBA Diversity Leadership Institute in January. The six-month leadership and mentoring program for law school students is sponsored by the TBA's Young Lawyers Division. The group gathered for its first meeting in Nashville in conjunction with the TBA Leadership Conference. The program is being chaired this year by Memphis attorney Ahsaki Baptist and Nashville lawyer Brian Winfrey.

Court Presents 2013 Rules Amendments
The Tennessee Supreme Court filed orders in December proposing amendments to a number of court rules. All of the amended rules become effective July 1, 2013, pending approval by resolutions of the General Assembly. They are Rules of Appellate Procedure, Rules of Civil Procedure, Rules of Criminal Procedure, Rules of Evidence and Rules of Juvenile Procedure.

Tenn. Legislative Session Convenes
The 108th General Assembly convened Jan. 8 by re-electing House Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville and Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville. The legislature has its largest freshman class in years, with 31 new members of the 132. The 99-member House has 23 new members, and the Senate has eight. Republicans rule both chambers with a supermajority of more than two-thirds of the membership in each house.

Later that week, Ramsey removed Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, as head of the Judiciary Committee and replaced her with Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown.

Courthouse Dogs Program Helps Children in Court
The Child Advocacy Center of Charlotte and the Courthouse Dogs Foundation recently joined together with Humphreys County court officials to discuss a new program in Waverly. Under the new program, Courthouse Dogs would assist and comfort sexually abused children while they go through forensic interviews and testify in court. The dogs are trained by organizations that are members of Assistance Dogs International. Experts say the dogs play two key roles in the courtroom — making victims feel safe and less anxious, and reducing stress levels.

Federal Courts Hold Line on Spending
Chief Justice John G. Roberts defended the federal courts’ cost-containment strategy, stating in his year-end report that the Supreme Court will seek $75 million in the upcoming fiscal year, a 3.7 percent decrease from three years ago. Nationwide, federal courts spent about $6.9 billion last fiscal year, a “miniscule portion” of the overall federal budget, Roberts said. In the report, Roberts also urged executive and legislative branches to fill open seats on the U.S. District and appellate courts that he said constitute “judicial emergencies.”

Lawyers, Judges Raise Money for Chattanooga Food Bank
Members of the Chattanooga chapter of the American Inns of Court donated $11,250 to the Chattanooga Area Food Bank in December. Most of the money was raised at an auction during the group’s holiday party, with the rest coming from member donations. “Every dollar donated to the Food Bank buys five meals,” said Maeghan Jones, president of the Food Bank. “So, the Inn’s donation will allow us to provide 56,250 meals. I’m thrilled to know my colleagues in the legal community are so willing to give back by making sure their neighbors do not go hungry, especially during the holidays.”

Duncan Law Tries Again
One year after being denied accreditation by the American Bar Association, the faculty and staff at Lincoln Memorial University John J. Duncan Jr. School of Law prepared a second application. In October, LMU hired a new interim dean, dropped its federal lawsuit against the ABA and began working cooperatively with the accrediting body during the reapplication process, the Knoxville News Sentinel reports.

Prediction: Law Salaries to Rise in 2013
A recent Robert Half Legal Salary Guide anticipates that lawyers across the country will receive a salary increase in 2013. The average salary for attorneys with four to nine years of experience is expected to increase 4.55 percent, while attorneys with 10-12 years experience will see an average 3.68 percent raise. Lawyers with one to three years experience and first-year associates are projected to receive a 2.6 percent and 1.9 percent increase, respectively.