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TBA Recognizes Corporate Pro Bono Work
Baker, Donelson and Community Health Systems receive awards for commitment to free legal services for the poor
NASHVILLE, March 28, 2012 -- Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz PC and Community Health Systems were recognized for their commitment to providing free legal services to the poor at the 6th Annual Corporate Counsel Pro Bono Gala Saturday evening in Nashville. The event featured remarks by Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Connie Clark and Herbert Slatery, legal counsel to Governor Bill Haslam.
The gala, which included a dinner and ceremony, is part of the Corporate Counsel Pro Bono Initiative -- a partnership between the Tennessee Bar Association (TBA) and the Association of Corporate Counsel that encourages and supports pro bono activities by lawyers serving as in-house and corporate counsel in the state. Since its beginning, the initiative has raised more than $300,000 to help bring legal services to the poor. This year, the gala raised close to $60,000 to support pro bono activities in the state.
Law Firm Award
This year's law firm award was presented to the Memphis office of Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz PC for its role in creating OnlineTNJustice.org, a website that allows lawyers to provide advice and counsel via the Internet. Baker Donelson already had a well-deserved reputation for commitment to pro bono, but with this project, the firm went above and beyond to create a valuable resource for low-income Tennesseans.
The website is the brainchild of former TBA President and Baker Donelson attorney Buck Lewis. Envisioning an online service that would replicate the walk-in clinic model, Lewis garnered support from his firm, the Tennessee Bar Association, the Supreme Court's Access to Justice Commission and legal services providers to make his vision a reality. Together with the firm's Chief Information Officer John Green, Lewis solicited donations from Microsoft, Dell and his own firm to provide the start-up funds for the service. The Baker Donelson programming team, led by Paul Davis and Scott Osborne, then designed and built the website to the specifications of the collaborating partners. The firm estimates that its IT department devoted 1,000 hours of its time to develop the website, an in-kind donation valued at $45,000. Beyond the initial investment, the firm's IT team continues to donate technical support to maintain and operate the website.
In accepting the award, Lewis said, "I am extremely proud of our information technology team...and the work they did to create a website that is the first statewide resource of its type in the country. It is an innovative approach to the delivery of pro bono legal services and could become a model for other states."
Currently more than 100 low-income Tennesseans are receiving free legal assistance every month through the site, which is also supported by the TBA and the Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services. And word of this unique, pioneering legal assistance delivery system has spread beyond Tennessee. Baker Donelson now is sharing its work, free of charge, with leaders in other states, including Indiana and South Carolina.
Each year, the Corporate Counsel Pro Bono Law Firm Award is given to a Tennessee law firm that best exemplifies extraordinary commitment to access to justice ideals, pro bono service and the Corporate Counsel Covenant of Service. Baker Donelson was previously honored with this award in 2008, making it the only firm to have received the honor twice.
Legal Department Award
This year's corporate legal department award was presented to Franklin-based Community Health Systems (CHS) for dedicated staffing of a monthly legal advice clinic in Williamson County.
In December 2010, lawyers from Community Health Systems began staffing a monthly legal advice clinic in partnership with the Williamson County Bar Association and the Nashville Pro Bono Program. In January 2011, CHS's Executive Vice President and General Counsel, Rachel Seifert, with her department lawyers, committed to staff the clinic each month. The clinics are held the first Tuesday of every month at the Franklin Public Library. The commitment of these lawyers allowed the clinic to serve 114 individuals in 2011.
In accepting the award for her team, Seifert said, "We are truly honored to be recognized by our professional peers for the legal team's efforts to provide free legal services to those who cannot afford to hire a lawyer. Although we have just begun our program, we view this award, not as a reward for past service, but as a challenge award -- to challenge us to live up to this level of recognition and to keep our volunteer service at a high level for years to come. I am very proud of my colleagues and grateful for their support and service."
To better assist those who seek help at the clinic, CHS lawyers also have pursued additional legal education on issues related to family law - a case type often encountered at the clinic, but one that their practice does not require them to master. With additional training in this area, the group is hoping to help low-income clients beyond the clinic setting -- further illustrating their passion for pro bono work.
Each year, the Corporate Counsel Pro Bono Legal Department Award is given to the legal department of a Tennessee corporation that best exemplifies extraordinary commitment to access to justice ideals, pro bono service and the Corporate Counsel Covenant of Service.
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.