The Memphis legal community will continue a tradition next month that began a few years ago, in which the pro bono efforts of legal professionals are celebrated, encouraged and promoted for the entire month of October.
The American Bar Association kicked off its first annual “Celebrate Pro Bono Week” in 2009, and former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen that same year issued a proclamation naming October as “Tennessee Celebrates Pro Bono Month.”
“The purpose of the month is just to shine a spotlight on what attorneys do in the pro bono area and to encourage more attorneys to get involved,” said Memphis Bar Association executive director Anne Fritz.
The slate of events kicks off Oct. 4 with a pro bono training seminar. Classic American Hardwoods owner and former Manassas High School football coach Bill Courtney, featured prominently in the Oscar-winning documentary “Undefeated,” will share some inspirational words with attendees before they break into groups. During those sessions, they’ll be trained on how to handle different types of pro bono cases.
Later in the month, there’ll be a Saturday Legal Clinic at the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library, as well as more social functions. The bar association’s Young Lawyers Division is hosting a “Triple Threat CLE & Happy Hour” at The Crescent Club Oct. 18 that will feature jazz, hors d’oeuvres and cocktails.
That same week, the bar association will present “Entertaining Motions 2012.” At that event, held at the Memphis Bioworks Foundation, the Community Legal Center and the bar association’s Access to Justice Committee will honor volunteers.
Toward the end of the month, the Community Legal Center will host its second annual “Strut! Memphis” fundraiser at Mercedes Benz of Memphis.
“With poverty at historic levels in our city, state and country, pro bono work has never been more critical to our community,” 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. “Pro bono month is a great annual reminder of its importance for our profession and well-deserved recognition for all that lawyers do all year long.”
Memphis-area lawyers and lawyers-to-be are paying more attention these days to how much the community depends on pro bono service. Poverty and unemployment present some of the effort’s motivation, for example, in a city where a Federal Reserve report recently noted that employment changes in the Memphis metro area have been “unusually volatile” lately.
Students in the current first-year class at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law will be among the first who will have to perform a certain amount of pro bono legal work to graduate. More attorneys in Tennessee also are performing pro bono work for clients.
According to new data from the state Board of Professional Responsibility, Tennessee has the highest percentage of pro bono reporting since attorneys began to voluntarily report their pro bono work in 2009.
Meanwhile, other events happening during Pro Bono Month include conservatorship training Oct. 26 and a legal clinic at the Lewis Senior Center at 1188 North Parkway Oct. 27.