Tennessee Supreme Court Reports on Access to Justice Initiatives

More than Half Tennessee Attorneys Report Providing Pro Bono  

More than half of Tennessee attorneys reported providing pro bono legal services during 2016, according to the Tennessee Supreme Court’s Access to Justice Commission. The 2017 Pro Bono Report1 showed that nearly 9,000 practicing Tennessee attorneys provided more than 650,000 hours of pro bono service, with an estimated value of more than $130 million, based on data reported by individual attorneys, bar associations, law firms, law schools, legal service providers mediators and other organizations.

The Access to Justice Commission released the report in December 2018, marking the first time since the Tennessee Supreme Court began requesting attorneys to voluntarily report pro bono work, that more than 50 percent of Tennessee attorneys reported doing some pro bono service. This benchmark has been a long-standing goal of the Access to Justice Commission, arising out of its 2012 Strategic Plan.

“The Commission is extremely excited that Tennessee attorneys have donated their time and expertise to help us reach this level of pro bono service,” said Gail Vaughn Ashworth, chair of the commission. “The commitment and dedication of our attorneys to better the lives of their fellow Tennesseans is truly amazing, and we will work hard to continue this growth.”

As of Dec. 31, 2017, just over 51 percent of the 17,223 active attorneys licensed in Tennessee with a primary address in Tennessee reported participating in pro bono activity during 2016. The report relies on data collected in 2017 for work performed in 2016. Both the number of attorneys who reported pro bono and the overall number of hours of pro bono work reported increased from the prior year.

According to the Pro Bono Report, 8,869 attorneys practicing in Tennessee provided 652,555 hours of pro bono service, an average of more than 73 hours per reporting attorney. The majority of these hours (69.57 percent) were provided to persons of limited means without a fee or at a reduced fee. The 2017 report marks the highest number of hours provided to persons of limited means without a fee, or a reduced fee, in five years. The second highest category of service was to nonprofit organizations serving persons of limited means without a fee at just over 13 percent of reported hours.

Twenty bar associations from across Tennessee and 79 law firms of all sizes responded to the call for information for the 2017 Pro Bono Report. Twelve bar associations reported that at least 25 percent of their members participated in pro bono projects. The majority of bar associations reported that providing free or reduced fee legal services to persons of limited means and supporting a legal clinic as the two most popular types of pro bono service their members provide.

Law firms reported that more than 675 individual attorneys participated in pro bono work. Providing advice, meeting with clients, reviewing or drafting documents, writing a letter, and speaking with other attorneys were the top five types of tasks reported through law firm pro bono programs in 2017.

The full 2017 Pro Bono Report, along with more information about opportunities for legal volunteers, is available on the Access to Justice Commission’s website.

Note

1. 2017 Pro Bono Report, Justice for All, A Tennessee Supreme Court Initiative,

REPORT: Access to Justice Initiatives: 2018 and a Decade of Collaboration and Service

Ten years ago, the Tennessee Supreme Court made access to justice its top strategic priority, and over the years one thing has become abundantly clear: improving access to legal
services in Tennessee is a collaborative effort.

In its first-ever annual report, issued in 2018, the Tennessee Supreme Court Access to Justice Commission presents the thousands of people and organizations — from private practice attorneys to county clerks to houses of worship to legal aid providers — that have worked to improve access to justice in the state.

“Access to the justice system is a critical issue as economic barriers disadvantage many of our neighbors who need civil legal help,” said Supreme Court Justice Connie Clark. “What we have learned in the past 10 years is that there is no single solution, no magic bullet to solve this issue. But, with all hands on deck, we are having an impact and are improving lives across the state.”

The Tennessee Supreme Court noted the gap in legal services for low-income individuals 10 years ago when it created its Access to Justice Commission. Over the years, the Commission has built partnerships with thousands of attorneys and organizations to provide legal support for Tennesseans in need. As a result of that hard work, in 2016 the Justice Index1 ranked Tennessee one of the top 10 states in the country in terms of providing access to the courts.

The Access to Justice Commission has grown to include six different committees with representatives from Tennessee’s institutions of higher education, state government, legal community, business community, nonprofit community, faith community and more.

The full report is available online.

Note
1. “The Justice Index 2016” is a project of the National Center for Access to Justice. The full report is available at www.justiceindex.org.

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