Bass, Berry & Sims PLC and AutoZone were recognized for their commitment to providing free legal services to the poor at the 5th Annual Corporate Counsel Pro Bono Gala on March 26 in Nashville. The event featured remarks by Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Connie Clark and Nashville Mayor Karl Dean.
Tennessee Bar Association President Sam Elliott was on hand to present the 2011 Corporate Counsel Pro Bono Awards. Award recipients are selected each year from nominations submitted by attorneys across the state. One award is given to the law firm that best exemplifies extraordinary commitment to access to justice ideals, pro bono service and the Corporate Counsel Covenant of Service, while the other award is given to the corporate legal department that best exemplifies these qualities. The Corporate Counsel Covenant of Service states that corporate attorneys have an ethical obligation to provide pro bono legal services to the poor and underserved.
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 $200,000 to help bring legal services to the poor.
Law Firm Award
This year's law firm award was presented to Bass, Berry & Sims for jointly producing an advanced directives clinic in Memphis, and for its advocacy on behalf of former death row inmate Edward Jerome Harbison.
First, the firm was recognized for working with AutoZone and Memphis Area Legal Services (MALS) to plan and host a legal clinic last summer for residents of low income and blighted neighborhoods in Memphis. The clinic provided advance directives free of charge to many who would not have been able to afford such a service. Advance care directives are specific instructions, prepared in advance, that govern medical care should a person become unable to articulate their desires in the future.
In addition, the firm was recognized for its work on behalf of former death row inmate Edward Jerome Harbison. For three years, members of the firm invested more than 2,500 hours and traveled hundreds of miles across the state interviewing witnesses and reviewing long-forgotten court records. Through its efforts, the firm was able to demonstrate that Harbison's death sentence was the result of ineffective counsel and was highly disproportionate to the punishment received by others for similar crimes in the state. In January, then Governor Phil Bredesen agreed with the firm's findings and commuted Harbison's death sentence to life in prison without parole. The commutation came just one month prior to Harbison's scheduled execution and after he had served 27 years on death row.
In nominating the firm, Nashville lawyer David Garrison with the law firm of Barrett Johnston wrote, "Few firms in Tennessee could have (or would have) brought to bear the resources that were necessary to make this outcome for Mr. Harbison possible. Bass Berry's willingness to do so sets an example for other large law firms in our state and shows an ongoing commitment to justice for the indigent and underserved that deserves to be recognized."
(From left) TBA President Sam Elliott, with Bass, Berry & Sims representatives Keith Simmons, Allyn Gibson, Wendee Hilderbrand and Joe Ingle.
Legal Department Award
This year's corporate legal department award was presented to Memphis-based AutoZone for organizing an advance directives clinic last summer, and for producing an educational video to help low-income individuals make wise decisions about purchasing used cars.
The company worked with the Memphis office of Bass, Berry & Sims and MALS to plan and host an advance directives clinic for residents of low income neighborhoods in the city. AutoZone partnered with lawyers and summer associates from the firm, as well as with specially trained law students from MALS' Peace of Mind for Seniors Project, to make this important service available to needy Memphians.
In addition, the company was recognized for developing and distributing education materials about purchasing and financing used cars. "The A-Z of Used Car Buying" campaign involved production of a video in which an auto mechanic demonstrates what to look for in a used car, an attorney discusses what clients should know about the legal aspects of buying a used car and an AutoZone employee describes how to maintain a used car. In nominating the company for this award, Linda Warren Seely, director of private attorney involvement at Memphis Area Legal Services, said that transportation is a serious problem for legal aid clients and that MALS frequently receives inquiries about the purchase, financing and repossession of used cars. She anticipates this new resource will be of significant value to the agency.
AutoZone attorney Christopher Jones (right) accepted the corporate legal department award from TBA President Sam Elliott.
For the last five years, Memphis lawyers Jim Barry with International Paper and Andy Branham with Counsel on Call have coordinated the initiative and helped raise more than $200,000 for pro bono activities. TBA Access to Justice Committee Chair David Esquivel presented them both with an award to thank them for their leadership and service.
TBA Access to Justice Committee Chair David Esquivel.
Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Tennessee Justice Center Executive Director Gordon Bonnyman spoke on being a grant recipient and how corporate counsel have helped the organization seek justice for the state’s most vulnerable citizens.
TBA President Elect Jackie Dixon.
Nashville Mayor Karl Dean.