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Statewide Pro Bono Public Service Day
Tennessee lawyers turn out in force to serve needy clients
NASHVILLE, April 4, 2009 — More than 1,300 Tennesseans received free legal advice on issues ranging from foreclosure and unemployment to custody and child support as part of “Pro Bono Public Service Day,” a statewide campaign sponsored by the Tennessee Bar Association that featured more than 47 projects and involved close to 600 lawyers, who in one day provided nearly $600,000 worth of free legal service.
Commenting on the success of the day, TBA President Buck Lewis acknowledged that the effort would not have been possible without the collaboration of bar associations across the state and the judicial branch. He also emphasized the importance of remembering that “it’s not about the lawyers or the judges, but about the people of Tennessee who need help” and that the legal profession’s focus “has to always be on them.”
The service day was an historic collaboration among state, county and local bar associations; legal aid groups; and members of the judiciary. It is part of a yearlong, statewide campaign that includes legislative and court rule initiatives, adoption of private law firm pro bono policies by more than 40 firms and public awareness of the need for affordable legal services.
|ABOUT THE JUSTICE 4ALL CAMPAIGN
The Justice 4ALL Campaign has four main components:
The TBA has produced a DVD designed to educate the bar and the public on the urgency of the access to justice situation. Over the course of the year, thousands of lawyers will view this presentation. Watch it here
The TBA is working with the state Supreme Court — which itself has recently determined that Access to Justice will be a strategic priority — and with other bar associations and legal groups on new collaborative initiatives to increase access to justice in Tennessee.
The association also is working with private law firms to help them adopt formal pro bono policies calling on their employees to perform pro bono work. See the list of more than 40 firms that have adopted such policies to date. Earlier this year, many of these firms were honored by Chief Justice Janice Holder for their commitment. For those firms interested in creating a pro bono policy, the TBA has model policies available.
The TBA coordinated a statewide pro bono public service day on April 4, 2009. This was an historic effort among state, county and local bar associations; legal aid groups; members of the judiciary; and Tennessee law schools. With close to 600 lawyers participating, it involved the largest number of attorneys providing pro bono legal assistance on one day in Tennessee history. View of the list of projects held across the state. In addition, in a number of areas around the state, lawyers came together to ensure that all unclaimed cases pending with legal service agencies in their region were assigned to attorneys by April 4. This "Meet the Need Challenge" allowed attorneys who could not be involved in person on 4/4 to participate in the 4ALL campaign.
A number of proposals to increase pro bono activity require a change in Tennessee laws or the rules of the state Supreme Court. At the state legislature, the TBA lobbied for the government's estimated 400 lawyers to be allowed to voluntarily engage in pro bono activities on their own time. That initiative passed both houses of the General Assembly on March 12 and has been signed into law. For initiatives within the purview of the Tennessee Supreme Court, the TBA has petitioned the justices to:
• Adopt an aspirational goal that each lawyer licensed in Tennessee performs 50 hours of pro bono work per year. (The court adopted this proposal on April 3)
• Require attorneys to report annually on the pro bono work they have done. (The court referred this proposal to its newly created Access to Justice Commisson on April 3)
• Allow lawyers to perform pro bono work at legal clinics without having to undergo complicated and time-consuming conflict of interest checks. (The court adopted this proposal on April 3)
• Allow corporate general counsel lawyers to provide legal services.
• Allow lawyers from neighboring states to help provide assistance to Tennesseans in the event of a natural disaster in our state.
• Require lawyers to participate in the Interest on Lawyer’s Trust Accounts (IOLTA) Program by placing client funds, which otherwise cannot earn interest, in accounts that pay interest to the foundation. Learn more
• Clarify that judges and parties to class action lawsuits may enter into settlement agreements that unclaimed class action funds be used to help legal aid programs represent low-income Tennesseans. (The court and the legislature have approved this rule change)
The Tennessee Bar Association (TBA) is the largest professional association in Tennessee with more than 11,000 members. Founded in 1881, the TBA provides opportunities for continuing legal education, professional development and public service. The TBA’s dedication to serving the state’s legal community is evidenced by its membership roll, which represents the entire spectrum of legal practice: plaintiff and defense lawyers, corporate counsel, judges, prosecutors, public defenders, government lawyers and legal services attorneys.