The Evolution of Access to Justice in Tennessee

In recent years, Tennessee has taken great steps to improve access to justice and eliminate barriers to pro bono service. This is a brief overview of some of the rule and legislative changes that were accomplished through a collaboration of groups working with the Supreme Court, including the Court’s Access to Justice Commission, Tennessee Bar Association, the Tennessee Bar Foundation, Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services and others.

2003

  • Tennessee Rules of Professional Conduct (TRPC) became effective, including TRPC 6.1, which provided that “a lawyer should render pro bono publico legal services.”

April 2009

  • Access to Justice Commission Formed: Tennessee Supreme Court formed the Access to Justice Commission and made the Commission responsible for developing a strategic plan to educate, prioritize and make recommendations to improve access to justice. (Tenn. Sup. Ct. Rule 50)
  • Limited Scope Representation Conflict Rule: The amendment relaxes the conflicts check requirement for limited scope representation during legal clinics. Lawyers participating in a clinic are not required to do a full-firm database check before giving limited scope advice to a pro bono client (RPC 6.5).
  • Enhanced CLE Credit: Revised rule increases the amount of CLE credit lawyers receive for pro bono work. Lawyers now receive one hour of CLE ethics credit for every five hours of pro bono service provided (Tenn. Sup. Ct. R. 21, Sec. 4.07 (c)).

May 2009

  • Broadening Pro Bono Work: Rule revised to permit judicial research assistants, law clerks and staff attorneys working in Tennessee courts to perform some types of pro bono representation (Tenn. Sup. Ct. Rule 5).

July 2009

  • Tennessee Voluntary Fund for Indigent Civil Representation: Rule amended to allow trial courts to direct residual class action settlement funds to this trust (Tenn. Rules of Civil Procedure 23.08).
  • Government Lawyer Pro Bono Statutes: Code revised to permit lawyers employed by a Tennessee state agency to perform pro bono work (Tenn. Code Ann. Title 8, Title 16 and Title 23).

November 2009

  • Pro Bono Reporting: The Court requests that all lawyers report the amount of pro bono work performed each year as part of their annual registration statement (Tenn. Sup. Ct. Rule 9, Sec. 20.11).

January 2010

  • Aspirational Pro Bono Goal: Tennessee Supreme Court adopted an aspirational goal calling for each lawyer to perform 50 hours of pro bono work per year, consistent with the ABA’s model rule (Tenn. Sup. Ct. R. 8, RPC 6.1).
  • Pro Bono Work by Attorneys Licensed Out-of-State: These rules allow lawyers licensed outside the state, but registered in Tennessee as in-house counsel, to perform pro bono work. Also permits out-of-state lawyers to provide pro bono assistance to Tennesseans as part of an approved program or temporarily, in the event of a natural disaster (Tenn. Sup. Ct. Rule 7, Sec 10.01(c), Rule 8, RPC 5.5 and Rule 49).
  • Mandatory IOLTA Participation: All lawyers’ trust accounts must participate in the IOLTA (Interest On Lawyers’ Trust Accounts) program. In addition, this rule requires banks to pay comparable interest rates on lawyers’ trust accounts (Tenn. Sup. Ct. Rule 43 and Rule 8, RPC 1.15).

January 2011

  • Emeritus Rule: Creates a licensure status allowing attorneys with inactive licenses to provide pro bono legal services through an established not-for-profit bar association, pro bono program, or legal services program (Tenn. Sup. Ct. Rule 50A).

December 2012

  • Limited Scope Representation, Notice: Rules amended to clarify procedures regarding notice for temporary and limited scope representation to an otherwise self-represented party, making it easier for attorneys to handle the most critical or complicated aspects of cases on a limited basis. (Tenn. Rules of Civil Procedure 5.02 and 11.01).

February 2013

  • Pro Bono Recognition: The Supreme Court announces a new recognition program that will honor attorneys performing and reporting their pro bono work.