Each year the Tennessee Bar Association recognizes outstanding service by attorneys who have donated their time to help others. The four awards given are the Ashley T. Wiltshire Public Service Attorney of the Year, the Harris Gilbert Pro Bono Volunteer of the Year Award, the Law Student Volunteer Award and the CASA Volunteer of the Year. You can read their stories here.
Ashley T. Wiltshire Public Service Attorney of the Year
The Public Service Award is given to an attorney who has provided dedicated and outstanding service while employed by an organization that is primarily engaged in providing legal representation to the poor. This year's award is given to Neil McBride of Oak Ridge.
The Tennessee Valley Authority has long been a part of Oak Ridge lawyer Neil McBride's life. When he moved to Tennessee in 1972 " two years out of law school and working for a public interest law firm "in the coal fields of East Tennessee" " he assisted clients and community groups that were receiving help from TVA's economic development efforts. But they were also affected by strip mining for coal, in the form of flooding or impact on local water supplies.
"I was deeply involved in TVA issues in the 1970s," he says.
So when President Obama nominated him in October 2009, and a year later the U.S. Senate confirmed him as one of nine members of the TVA Board of Directors, the largest utility in North America was getting a well-informed policy-maker with deep background.
"This was something I actively sought," he says. "When I got nominated, I spent a lot of time talking with members of the Senate, our Tennessee delegation, trying to inform them about what kind of board member I would be." Confirmed in October 2010, his term expires in May 2013.
"As a lawyer I see my first role as following the TVA Act, which makes it clear that our first responsibility is to provide a reliable supply of low-cost electricity to people in the Valley," he says. "That was a great comfort to people who cared about TVA and the board."
Working on the TVA board is one of many law-related activities for McBride. For about 10 years at the University of Tennessee College of Law he taught a clinical seminar on how to represent nonprofit corporations, and he serves on the Tennessee Bar Association House of Delegates.
"Those of us in legal aid feel that we are a respected and active partner to the bar and the court in Tennessee," McBride says, pointing out that he and Harrison McIver (with Memphis Area Legal Services) serve in the TBA House, and that many legal aid attorneys are involved with the Supreme Court's Access to Justice Commission, in the Board of Professional Responsibility and other institutions of the bar.
"This collaboration has been the strength of legal aid and the bar over the years," he says.
The Best Job in the World "People who work for legal aid have the best job in the profession," McBride says. "We get paid to bring people justice. And that's something that is unusual in our society and economy " and something that the people in legal aid should not take for granted."
He should know, having worked for legal services groups since 1978. Now he is general counsel to Legal Aid of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands and managing attorney at its Oak Ridge office. He was director of Rural Legal Services of Tennessee before it consolidated in 2002 with three programs to become The Legal Aid Society.
"We cover 48 counties and we have 30 lawyers in eight offices. They give free civil legal aid to people who have nowhere else to turn. Our 30 lawyers are responsible for serving about 400,000 eligible people and on any given day we'll turn away five to 10 people for every one we can represent," he says. "That's the hard part of our job."
The 1970 law graduate of the University of Virginia says he has been engaged in public interest law from the beginning. His first job was staff attorney with Ralph Nader at the Aviation Consumer Action Project in Washington, D.C., where he promoted consumer interests in the field of aviation, conducting advocacy in courts, administrative agencies and before Congress.
"I basically just told myself that I would keep doing this for as long as somebody would pay me to do it."
McBride talks as if he has been trusted with a great honor, this "bringing people justice," and he seems relieved and gratified that more of the legal community seems to have noticed the need.
"In Tennessee, because of the leaders in the bar and the leaders in the court during the last 20 years, I think we have seen an important growth in the understanding that the legal aid component of our justice system is really vital to the success of the profession in living up to its ideals.
"Even though only about 80 lawyers in Tennessee are full-time legal aid lawyers, they really help the profession meet its obligation to the public," he says. " They do that with a lot of pro bono help from private lawyers."
" Suzanne Craig Robertson
Harris Gilbert Pro Bono Volunteer of the Year Award
This year's Harris Gilbert Pro Bono Volunteer of the Year Award is presented to Scott Griswold of Knoxville. The award recognizes private attorneys who have contributed significant amounts of pro bono work and have demonstrated dedication to the development and delivery of legal services to the poor. The award is named after Gilbert, a Nashville attorney and past Tennessee Bar Association president, who exemplifies this type of commitment.
Scott Griswold says he started thinking about being a lawyer when he was in middle school, right after he realized how much science and math were required to become an architect. He went on to participate in high school mock trial and, his aversion to math apparently reconciled, was an accounting major in college. Entering the University of Tennessee law school, he expected to go into tax or banking but was surprised to find that he liked the litigation side more.
"My father is a police officer and that was a big influence. It was interesting to argue with him," Griswold says. "He always added an interesting perspective to it." Then Griswold clerked for a criminal defense firm in law school and saw up close the high wire act of "trying to balance an individual's rights with the rights of society." After graduation in 2007, he clerked for Supreme Court Justice Muecke Barker, and his eyes were opened to the pro bono needs around him.
"Justice Barker beat me over the head again and again and again to do pro bono work," he says. "A big initiative of Justice Barker was access to justice. He talked about 'minding the gap' a lot."
What has surprised Griswold the most with the practice of law " after all, he just graduated from law school less than four years ago " has been transitioning "from the abstract cases of law school to the reality of representing clients with problems that significantly affect their lives. The responsibility and burden is the most unexpected aspect of practicing law."
Now an associate at Paine, Tarwater and Bickers LLP, Griswold was nominated for the Harris Gilbert award by firm partner John W. Elder, who reports that Griswold devoted nearly 260 hours of time to pro bono service with various clients "who were facing different but equally difficult legal problems." Griswold is surrounded in his firm by good pro bono examples, including Donald F. Paine, who won one of the Tennessee Bar Association's first awards of this kind, in 1992, a Pro Bono Volunteer of the Year Award.
"He has been a great example and teacher," Griswold says of Paine, who also was his evidence professor at UT.
Their firm began a formal pro bono plan this year, Griswold says, which was spearheaded by Elder. Griswold points out that all the pro bono work is good experience and that his firm is supportive of younger attorneys giving pro bono help. A bonus: "The work will make me a better attorney for our non-pro bono clients."
He has worked extensively with Legal Aid of East Tennessee, seeing the need up close. "It's not uncommon for it to be six months or more from the time [a person] applies for pro bono services by the time they are assigned," he says. LAET Pro Bono Project Director Terry Woods "has been great to work with," he says. She is a real advocate."
The hours he put in originated in four areas: a big case over a wrongful foreclosure; an appointment from the Tennessee Supreme Court on an appeal; a case referred from Don Paine regarding a car repair; and his work with Wills for Heroes in Blount County.
With the foreclosure case, Griswold worked out a plan for a man and his disabled wife to be able to stay in their home, with lower payments they could afford. "We finally were able to get some stuff done that really did help them. When we were leaving the signing of the settlement documents, they were really appreciative. [They looked like they had a] sense of relief flooding over them," Griswold says. "This nightmare of losing their home was over."
Visiting his client at the correctional facility in Wartburg for the appeals case was "a sobering experience," he says, since he doesn't normally practice criminal law. "When that door behind you locks and you see the very sterile floors and walls ... I realized that this is his life day in and day out. We were able to make a difference " it was one small step in the process but it is a step that he had been denied."
Griswold, who serves on the board of a museum, points out that there are many ways to do pro bono. "Just get out there and serve on boards, in your community, groups and churches," he says. "Those organizations satisfy a real need in our communities."
" Suzanne Craig Robertson
Law Student Volunteer Award
This award recognizes a Tennessee law school student who provides outstanding volunteer services while working with an organization that provides legal representation to the indigent. This year's winner is Jody Shaw, a 2010 graduate of Vanderbilt University School of Law.
Working alongside immigrants in his father's restaurant as a teen gave Jody Shaw an up-close picture of what it was like to be new to this country.
"I saw a different picture of immigrants than is often portrayed," he says. "The folks in the restaurant were hard-working people who came here, often not following procedures ... but they viewed it as the only real choice for their families. When you work with folks who are good people trying to do the best they can but have to make difficult choices, you start to have some empathy for where they are coming from."
It was this interaction that pushed Shaw to learn Spanish and develop his interest in immigration law issues. "I was kind of interested in how global and economic issues had a trickle-down effect that led [immigrants] to making choices like leaving their own country."
Although he has no plans to practice immigration law " he graduated from Vanderbilt Law School in 2010 and now clerks for U.S. District Judge Samuel Mays Jr. " Shaw says he will always want to stay involved with immigration because it's a cause that he cares about.
He is honored with the Law Student Volunteer Award for his work with Tennessee Justice for Our Neighbors (JFON), nominated by its director, Katherine Dix Esquivel. JFON, housed at the Belmont United Methodist Church in Nashville, is a not-for-profit organization that provides immigration legal services to low-income individuals without charge. "Most of the clients have family-based immigration issues," Shaw says. "They may have come here with any sort of immigration status " undocumented or with visas that expire. The doors are open to anyone who wants to come in and discuss an issue," Shaw says, explaining that there is a "mission aspect to it, to also provide a welcome."
As a 1L, Shaw volunteered at JFON's monthly Saturday clinics, and as a 2L he worked more with attorneys doing follow-up and client coordination, and returning calls from the group's Spanish-language line. Then he really got going. "Third year is less pressure and you have more time, so I wanted to get more involved. So I talked to them about taking on more work. "
He helped four domestic violence victims and their six children file paperwork to become lawful, permanent residents, Esquivel says. "The cases are time intensive and require much communication with clients, paperwork and careful attention to detail," Esquivel writes.
There was a situation where, Shaw explains, they were "essentially able to provide legal relief for some members but not all members of the family. ... The most difficult thing that we had to do was to tell the family that the mother could adjust her legal status but because her children were over a certain age that we weren't going to be able to do anything to help them."
There is a lot of misinformation about immigration law in the immigrant community, too, he says, often provided by those "who are fairly unscrupulous." When immigrants go to "notarios" instead of lawyers, "it really hurts them. They could've kept options open, but because of what had gone on with the notarios or because they didn't have the correct information, the opportunities were closed.
"We did it all the time," he says. "[We would have to] tell people there was nothing we could do for them."
He also helped with two special clinics JFON held: one for domestic violence victims, and one for low-wage workers who were victims of crimes in the workplace.
"It's surprising and refreshing to see folks who have been through a lot of struggles still have a certain amount of faith in other people and the legal process to help them improve their situations," Shaw says. "They had enough faith in our system to work with the authorities and provide the information that was asked of them [for example, as witnesses in domestic violence cases]. And [they had faith in] us, to help them navigate the process to obtain legal status. These are folks who have been through things we can't imagine, and had every reason to distrust people " especially coming from places where the legal process doesn't work well."
The more he got involved with immigration law, Shaw says he discovered the "incoherence" of U.S. immigration law. "There are a lot of parts that are inconsistent and difficult to navigate because it's all statutory and driven by piecemeal changes. There's no comprehensive effort at making the immigration system make sense," he says. "They are fairly Byzantine rules."
Esquivel points out that while doing all this Shaw was also on the Dean's List all semesters, graduating with a 3.9 GPA. After graduating from Georgia Tech with a dual degree in international affairs and Spanish, but before starting law school, Shaw worked for Accion USA, through Americorps. Accion is a nonprofit company that makes small loans to developing entrepreneurs; there he "had the chance to work with a lot of immigrant entrepreneurs in Atlanta."
In his career, Shaw does not plan to focus on immigration law, at least not as his full-time job. "In school," he says, "I found I was drawn toward the business courses. What they have in common is, if you're doing transactional or regulatory type work, you are helping folks navigate complicated processes they don't understand."
Shaw does not seek the spotlight about his volunteer work and like so many who do pro bono, talks as if he gets more than he gives.
"I get a lot out of doing it so it's hard to feel like I've done 'good' when it's also rewarding," he says. "Yes [I've done good], in the sense that I helped folks improve their lives, get a chance to stay in this country and to be secure in the fact that they can stay in this country. People are willing to risk a lot to do that. It's hard to say it's been 100-percent altruistic, though, because I like being around these folks."
" Suzanne Craig Robertson
YLD/CASA Volunteer of the Year
During the Tennessee Bar Association's Leadership Conference this month, the Young Lawyers Division will present the 2011 CASA Volunteer of the Year Award, posthumously, to Paul Hughes, who died Nov. 2, 2010. This annual award recognizes a court appointed special advocate who goes the extra mile in his or her work with a CASA program in the state. The volunteer's agency also is recognized. This year, the YLD received the greatest number of nominations since the inception of the award with more than 65 percent of all Tennessee CASA agencies taking the time to nominate a dedicated volunteer. This year's recipient was nominated by CASA for Kids Inc. Executive Director Connie Steere. Hughes was selected for this award because of his commitment to abused and neglected children, his willingness to sacrifice personally for his work and his dedication in the face of physical limitations.
Paul Hughes joined CASA as a volunteer in September 2006, and in four years, worked with 46 children. In nominating Hughes, Steere said he demonstrated passion, enthusiasm, dedication and professionalism in every case he worked. He also made it a practice to work collaboratively with other service agencies to achieve the best possible outcome for his assigned children. One particular case exemplified that spirit of cooperation, according to Steere.
The assignment, one of his first, involved a brother and sister who were living with foster parents in Bristol, Va. CASA previously had been appointed to the children on two separate occasions due to issues regarding their mother's mental health, homelessness and neglect. In 2007, visitation issues with the mother triggered a CASA appointment and this time the volunteer was Hughes. He investigated the case and found that the mother consistently failed to comply with case management, therapy or medication directives. In March 2010, a revised visitation plan was approved and Hughes moved on to other assignments. Just two months later, however, he was back on the case with reports that the mother again was not complying with treatment. Convinced that the mother's instability was harming the children, Hughes worked with Tennessee and Virginia officials, the Guardian Ad Litem, Department of Children's Services and Child Protective Services to seek permanent custody for the foster parents. In granting the request, the presiding judge thanked CASA for the "extraordinary and extra work" required in the case, including the need to work across state lines and with multiple agencies to protect the children.
A second case, one of the last he handled, exemplified Hughes' skill in working with children and earning their trust. In court because he had just wrapped up a case, Hughes was asked by the judge to take on a new assignment. In that case, a father was seeking custody of his nine year old daughter following the mother's incarceration. The child appeared dejected and observers had seen her crying during the proceedings. Hughes won her trust over a period of time and ultimately she disclosed her father's physical abuse and reluctance to have unsupervised contact with him.
In addition to being an extraordinary advocate for hurting children, Hughes exhibited an incredible commitment to personal and professional development. He attended more than 30 continuing education training sessions, read every article he could get his hands on and listened to training podcasts from National CASA. One of these opportunities was the "Stewards of Children" program, which provides training on the signs of child sexual abuse and what one should do if abuse is suspected. Hughes was so impressed with the program that he lobbied CASA for Kids to complete the facilitator training necessary to offer the material to all volunteers. The agency recently obtained facilitator certification and will be incorporating the material into all of its volunteer training. In addition, because of his commitment to quality training, CASA for Kids asked Hughes to mentor new volunteers.
On a lighter note, Hughes wasn't afraid to set aside his ego for the sake of CASA. At the agency's annual pancake breakfast, the CASA Bear makes an appearance to hand out balloons and hugs. In addition to all of his other contributions to CASA, this year Hughes suited up in the bear suit for the early morning fundraiser.
Hughes' volunteerism came at a cost, but according to those who worked with him, he never complained or lost his sense of humor. Hughes was a widower, having lost his wife and infant son 20 years ago. He struggled with alcoholism for several years but for the last 10 years was sober and active in his local chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous. Steere said that his "victory over hardship and tragedy inspired others ... and helped many people on their journey to recovery."
Hughes also overcame physical limitations to serve as a CASA volunteer. This past summer, he injured his back and struggled to maintain his caseload. Given his history of addiction, he would not take painkillers and would not let the CASA staff "go easy on him" by assigning less difficult cases. In reflecting on that time, Steere said, "He did not let these limitations hold him back. He just used his sense of humor to deal with it." Then in October Hughes suffered a heart attack and was forced to resign from his cases. Despite strict doctor's orders, Hughes continued to check in with the CASA office and provide whatever information or assistance he could to help transition his cases to other volunteers. And of course, he always asked about his kids.
Knoxville lawyer Katrina Atchley, chair of the YLD Children's Issues Committee, said that in selecting Hughes as the 2011 CASA Volunteer of the Year, the "YLD hoped to keep his memory alive and provide an example of selfless service for all current and future CASA volunteers."
" Stacey Shrader