News

Filed by BPR

Client Fund to Stay in CLE Commission, Court Says

The Tennessee Supreme Court denied a petition in February that would have moved the Lawyers’ Fund for Client Protection under the purview the Board of Professional Responsibility. The BPR filed the petition on Jan. 12 seeking to transfer staffing responsibility from the Commission on Continuing Legal Education and Specialization to the BPR.

The action would have amended Section 6.01(e) of Supreme Court Rule 25. 

TJC Marks 15 Years of Aid

The Tennessee Justice Center, a nonprofit public interest and advocacy law firm in Nashville, is celebrating its 15th anniversary this year.

“Through its advocacy work for Tennessee’s families and low-income citizens on issues including TennCare, foster care services, food aid, and disability services, more than 1.2 million Tennesseans have benefited,” said the Rev. Henry Blaze, pastor of Nashville’s Progress Baptist Church and a member of  the TJC Board of Directors. “TJC has also assisted approximately 5,000 individual clients, helping them receive basic services such as hearing aids and immunizations and life-saving services such as cancer treatments and liver transplants.”

In 1996, TJC was founded by attorneys Michele Johnson and Gordon Bonnyman. Today, Johnson is managing attorney and Bonnyman is its executive director, and TJC has a staff of 13. “TJC seeks justice for Tennessee’s vulnerable populations through the courts, in administrative proceedings and before legislative bodies,” according to a press release. “The Center operates without government funds, advocating for low income Tennesseans in civil matters that federally funded Legal Services and Legal Aid programs cannot handle.”

Learn more at the new web site, www.tnjustice.org, and watch videos about its founding and anniversary celebration through tba.org/journal_links

Briefs

Firm gives billable credit for pro bono
Bass, Berry & Sims recently revised its pro bono policy to give attorneys billable hour credit for up to 50 hours of pro bono work per year. The firm announced it was making the change based on priorities established by the Tennessee Supreme Court and its Access to Justice Commission. The firm reports that billable hour credit is a significant component of its bonus compensation policy for associates, so it hopes the change will encourage more lawyers to take on cases.

Nashville School of Law celebrates 100 years
In 1911, a group of earnest young law school graduates started teaching free law classes at night in the basement of the Nashville YMCA. The idea was to make a legal education accessible to all “for the good of the town.” Now 100 years later, the Nashville School of Law is going strong and seen as an excellent value.

Law student leadership class opens
The TBA YLD’s newest program for law students — the Diversity Leadership Institute — got underway this past weekend with a focus on issues of leadership and diversity in the legal profession. The class of 15 joined bar leaders from across the state for programs on Saturday and then heard from Nashville lawyer John Tarpley and a panel of lawyers including James Crumlin, Kaz Kikkawa, Wendy Warren and Jude White. Former TBA president Gail Vaughn Ashworth led the group in a debriefing caucus at the end of the program. Over the next several months, the students will work with an assigned mentor and complete CLE and public service requirements. The program, an initiative of YLD President Tasha Blakney of Knoxville, is co-chaired by Memphis attorney Ahsaki Baptist and Chattanooga lawyer Blair Bennington Cannon.

Fortune cites pro bono as plus for Baker, Donelson
For the second year in a row Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz PC was named by Fortune magazine to its “100 Best Companies to Work For” list, moving from 77th to 50th. The magazine cites the firm’s strong commitment to public service, pointing out that it “dedicates one attorney as its pro bono shareholder to oversee charitable legal service and has doubled its yearly number of pro bono hours since 2008.”

Should aging, tenured judges be tested for mental ability?
Life tenure, intended to foster judicial independence, has been a unique feature of the federal bench since the Constitution was ratified in 1789. Back then, the average American lived to be about 40 and the framers didn’t express much worry about senile judges. But today, ProPublica reports, aging and dementia are the flip side of life tenure, with more and more judges staying on the bench into extreme old age.

M. Lee Smith merges with Connecticut company
Brentwood-based legal materials publisher M. Lee Smith Publishers  completed a merger in February with Connecticut-based BLR, which produces business and legal materials on employment, safety and environmental compliance issues. The merged companies will retain their existing products and continue to operate as subsidiaries of parent company Fortis Business Media LLC, with headquarters in Brentwood.

UT law team runner-up to title
The University of Tennessee College of Law team of Amy Rao Mohan, G. William Perry and J. David Watkins finished second to Texas Tech in the 61st Annual National Moot Court Competition Feb. 3 at the New York City Bar Association. Mohan was also runner-up as Best Oralist in the four-day competition that included 28 teams from 14 regions across the country. The team is coached by professors Joseph Cook and John Sobieski.

John Adams’ legacy is focus of Law Day contests
The 2011 Law Day Art and Essay Contest is now underway in Tennessee. Elementary and middle school students are invited to participate in the art contest, while high school students are encouraged to participate in the essay contest. This year’s theme is “The Legacy of John Adams from Boston to Guantanamo,” which focuses on the rule of law and the rights of the accused in the American judicial system. The contests are sponsored by the Tennessee Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Division. Submissions are due on April 22. Cash prizes are available.

Learn more at www.tba.org/YLD/

Court pledges protection for sex assault victims
For years, the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals has published its opinions online, sometimes going into graphic detail about the sexual abuse of women and children. The court says its policy is to use initials in the place of victims’ names, and while it has consistently done so in the case of children, its record of protecting the identities of adult victims has been spotty. Under the direction of Presiding Judge Joseph Tipton, the court has pledged to do a better job in the future but said it cannot go back and change old cases.

Corporate Counsel event recognizes pro bono efforts
The 5th Annual Corporate Counsel Pro Bono Initiative Gala will be held in Nashville on March 26 at The Hermitage Hotel. The Corporate Counsel Pro Bono Initiative was launched as a joint effort by the TBA Access to Justice Committee, the TBA Corporate Counsel Section and the Association of Corporate Counsel, to help foster a coordinated approach to pro bono work and support for the access to justice community by corporate counsel in Tennessee. The event recognizes outstanding pro bono contributions by law firms and corporate legal departments, and raises money that is given back to the community via a grant process designed to engage corporate counsel in pro bono service. 

The Chief Justice’s Remarks

‘We Must Care,’ Clark Tells Pro Bono Summit

More than 100 attorneys from across the state gathered in Nashville on Jan. 21 to take part in the 2011 Pro Bono Summit produced by the Tennessee Supreme Court and its Access to Justice Commission. Brought together to take part in what Chief Justice Cornelia Clark called “the perpetual, punishing but pivotal fight for access to justice,” the group — among other topics — looked at how to get greater pro bono participation and how to use technology to help meet the access to justice need. Read some of Clark’s remarks to the group:

“I believe that a community is only as strong as the justice it provides to its weakest citizens. …  Justice is not the guarantee of a particular outcome in a particular case. But at a minimum it must be a guarantee of equal access to the rights and protections, rather than merely the risks and disadvantages, of a civil legal system that today is complicated, costly, and slow.

“I believe that a nation or a state that lays claim to being just has the responsibility to make justice available to all, regardless of their resources and their status in society. We are not there. You know the numbers.  More than 35 million Americans are still living below the poverty level, and another 10 million have incomes that are less than 25 percent higher than that level.  At least 40 percent of these Americans have a legal problem of some kind each year.  Low-income Tennesseans are no different. 70 percent of low-income Tennesseans experience some type of legal problem each year.  One million Tennesseans need legal counsel.  But with slightly less than 22,000 licensed attorneys in the state, and far fewer participating actively in pro bono programs, most of those low-income individuals have limited or no access to legal counsel. They feel shut out from the legal system. They do not turn to the system for solutions because they believe the system will not help them. 

“I believe that, as attorneys, we are the people who should care the most about whether all persons receive justice. Why must we care?   

“First, we must care because we are part of a profession which imposes on us the responsibility to help others as a condition of enjoying the privilege of our right to practice law. In our own preamble to the Code of Professional Conduct, the Tennessee Supreme Court has set high expectations for giving as a part of one’s professional life in the law: ‘A lawyer is an expert in law pursuing a learned art in service to clients and in the spirit of public service, and engaging in these pursuits as part of a common calling to promote justice and public good.’  And also:  ‘A lawyer is a … public citizen having special responsibility for the quality of justice.’ We in the law are especially privileged, and we must give especially generously in return. That is a promise we made when we took our oaths, and it is one we must keep every day.

“Second, we must care because the people who need our help are those most at risk and most underserved in our society:  children, victims of domestic violence, the elderly, the physically or mentally challenged, veterans, those who do not speak or understand our language, and others who have no place else to turn when they are facing critical legal problems. How can we not want to help them?

“Third, we must care because the problems faced by these persons affect the most critical aspects of their lives — income, employment, adequate housing, personal safety, access to health care, sometimes even life itself — the most basic guarantees in a land of plenty.

“Finally, we must care because we know if we don’t, no one else will.”