Posted by: Michelle Greenway Sellers on Mar 1, 2021

Journal Issue Date: March/April 2021

Journal Name: Vol. 57 No. 2

Early on in the pandemic, I saw a meme on social media that presented a “new” definition of essential workers, including nurses, grocery store employees, delivery drivers and teachers, among others, who are part of our country’s critical infrastructure. There is no argument that we have a new appreciation for these frequently undervalued essential professions. Still, the meme went on to distinguish that we should never forget that we did not need attorneys during the crisis.

Although it may be the perception of some that attorneys were inconsequential in the context of the COVID-19 turmoil, that could not be further from the truth. In March 2020, Governor Lee declared attorneys essential workers, and Tennessee attorneys have lived up to that title. Attorneys not only continued to work, but they found creative and innovative ways to serve their clients. Despite the many challenges, attorneys pushed forward. Although some attorneys could continue their practice remotely via Zoom meetings and telephonic communication, others could not. Many attorneys had no choice but to continue working in person, including court administrators, district attorneys, public defenders, guardians ad litem, appointed attorneys, attorneys handling juvenile emergencies, conservatorships involving abuse, protective orders, restraining orders, family law matters, criminal matters and many more.  In reality, many attorneys faced considerable risks while serving their clients.

Tennessee attorneys continued to represent their clients’ interests, including the most vulnerable in our population, during this pandemic. Tennesseans needed attorneys for representation on family law matters, divorce matters, criminal matters and obtaining orders of protection. Advocacy on behalf of children and parents in dependency and neglect matters required the assistance of attorneys. Individuals needed attorneys to help fight evictions, represent landlords, enforce employee protections and represent employers. Attorneys assisted individuals needing powers of attorney, health care documents, wills and other estate planning documents. Advocacy by attorneys on behalf of indigent parties and the need for pro bono assistance to the most vulnerable increased.

As evidenced by the examples above, Tennessee attorneys have provided essential services in many different areas of the law. Attorneys have been involved in matters impacting constitutional and civil rights, protecting children and victims, criminal law, mental health law, end of life matters, health care, estate planning, employment issues, and proceedings directly related to the pandemic. Although some may believe that they did not need attorneys during this past year, I’m sure many others are thankful for their attorneys’ services. 

Thank you to all of the attorneys who continued to serve their clients despite the challenges. Thank you to all attorneys providing pro bono services on behalf of those less fortunate who otherwise would be unrepresented. Thank you to all attorneys who dedicate their careers to serving the underprivileged. Thank you to the mediators who signed up to volunteer their services and assist with the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) plan approved by the Tennessee Supreme Court to help with the backlog of civil cases caused by the pandemic.

Tennessee attorneys, we know you, and we see your great work. We appreciate you and your essential service to others. 

MICHELLE GREENWAY SELLERS is a partner in the Jackson office of Rainey Kizer Reviere & Bell PLC. You can reach her at MSellers@RaineyKizer.com.