More attorneys in Tennessee are performing free, or pro bono, work for clients. That’s according to new data from the state Board of Professional Responsibility, which show that more than 46 percent of Tennessee attorneys reported performing pro bono work for deserving clients.
The percentage is up 6 percent from last year. Not only that – it’s the highest percentage of pro bono reporting since attorneys began to voluntarily report their pro bono work in 2009 and more than twice the level of reporting during the initial year. The 46 percent figure does not include attorneys who have yet to renew their licenses and report hours.
“Since 2008 when our Supreme Court and the Tennessee Bar collaborated to make access to justice a strategic priority, we have seen a marked increase in the number of lawyers performing pro bono work and a proliferation of pro bono programs,” said George “Buck” Lewis, a shareholder in the Memphis office of Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell and Berkowitz PC and a former president of the Tennessee Bar Association. “As the culture in our profession continues to evolve for the better, we hope to continue to see the number of lawyers performing and reporting pro bono service continue to increase. Lord knows we need it.”
The Tennessee Supreme Court announced its Access to Justice campaign in December 2008 because of mounting legal woes faced by the indigent and working poor of the state including problems caused by unemployment, predatory lending, medical bills, foreclosures and more.
The Supreme Court created the commission to develop a plan for improving access to justice in Tennessee that includes educating the public, prioritizing needs that help improve access, and suggesting to the court projects and programs deemed necessary and appropriate for enhancing access.
Lewis, who was president of the Tennessee Bar Association from June 2008 through June 2009, was tapped earlier this year to chair the Supreme Court’s Access to Justice Commission.
During his term as TBA president, Lewis launched the “4ALL” campaign to bring legal services to needy Tennesseans. And since his tenure as president, Lewis has spearheaded the development of OnlineTNJustice.org, a website that allows Tennesseans to seek free legal advice from volunteer lawyers.
When attorneys renew their law license each year, the renewal form includes a section where attorneys can voluntarily report the pro bono work they did in the previous year. So far this year, about 3,860 lawyers with Tennessee law licenses residing in Tennessee reported almost 330,000 hours of pro bono work.
Increasing pro bono participation is a priority of the 2012 strategic plan of the access to justice initiative. And Lewis said the commission would like to see that increase top 50 percent next year.