Supreme Court Adopts TBA-Proposed Pro Bono Rules

The Tennessee Supreme Court adopted in April three amendments to its rules that will encourage more lawyers to provide pro bono legal services to needy Tennesseans. The amendments were requested by the Tennessee Bar Association in 2008 as part of its 4ALL campaign. The amended rules will:

  • Encourage, but not require, lawyers to perform 50 hours of pro bono work each year. This provision amends Rule 6.1 of the Rules of Professional Conduct (Supreme Court Rule 8) to urge lawyers to "aspire to" do pro bono work. It also explicitly acknowledges for the first time that low-fee criminal appointed work should be credited as pro bono service. The amendment takes effect Jan. 1, 2010.
  • Allow lawyers to provide limited scope legal assistance to individuals without formally becoming the attorney-of-record or facing complicated conflict-of-interest tests. This provision creates a new Rule 6.5 of the Rules of Professional Conduct (Supreme Court Rule 8) and takes effect as of the filing of the order.
  • Provide lawyers with one hour of continuing legal education credit for every five hours of pro bono service performed " reduced from the current eight-hour requirement. This provision amends Supreme Court Rule 21, Section 4.07(c) and takes effect as of the filing of the order.

In addition to these rules, the court has amended and the state legislature has approved a TBA-requested provision allowing unclaimed class action funds to be paid to the Tennessee Voluntary Fund for Indigent Civil Representation, which will provide additional funding for legal service providers across the state. That amendment takes effect July 1.

Supreme Court Announces Access to Justice Commission

On April 3, the Tennessee Supreme Court announced the creation of the Tennessee Access to Justice Commission and named 10 legal and community leaders to serve on it: Chair Margaret Behm, Douglas Blaze, Kathryn Reed Edge, Francis S. Guess, Buck Lewis, Greg Ramos, D. Billye Sanders, Maura Abeln Smith, Dr. Frank Anthony Thomas and Bill Young.

Chief Justice Janice Holder challenged the group to chart its own course, while building upon the information and collaboration among legal professionals already in place. "The forty-plus events planned ... by the Tennessee Bar Association for Statewide Public Service Day illustrates the success that is possible when we in the legal profession " judges and lawyers alike " combine our efforts in pursuit of a noble goal, to address the unmet civil legal needs in Tennessee."