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VOL. 121 | NO. 11 | Thursday, January 5, 2006

Bar Foundation Greets 2006 With Enthusiasm

By Andrew Ashby

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Memphis Bar Foundation
2006 Officers:

Stephen L. Shields, president
Prince C. Chambliss Jr., vice president
Sheila Jordan Cunningham, secretary
Lee J. Chase III, treasurer

The Memphis Bar Foundation is looking to follow up a successful year with an encore performance in 2006.

The foundation, a charitable organization made up of local attorneys, reached a number of milestones last year. The group had a record number of fellows in 2005, and contributions to its endowment fund reached an all-time high.

"We're excited about the foundation and its purposes," said incoming president Stephen Shields. "It's the way in which lawyers can collectively do good work for the community as it involves the justice system."

Recent growth. Shields, of Jackson, Shields, Yeiser, Holt & Speakman, has been with the foundation for four years, serving last year as vice president. He has seen the organization go through several changes in that time.

"The Bar Foundation has been able to communicate to the lawyers in the community what its purposes are and I've seen the lawyers - once they understand the purposes of the law foundation - respond, and they have begun to increase their contributions," Shields said.

George T. "Buck" Lewis of Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell and Berkowitz PC, last year's president of the organization, is enthusiastic about the group's prospects for growth in 2006.

"It's really been a great and historic year," he said. "We have the foundation in a very good place from which it can continue to grow. The visibility of the foundation is growing every year, and our ability to help people in the community is growing, as well."

New fellows. Last year, Lewis saw the foundation recruit its largest class of fellows, with 39 attorneys named. The foundation, which was started in 1981, looks for lawyers who are dedicated to charitable giving, professional scholarship and equal access to justice. To be considered for a fellowship, an attorney must have practiced for 10 years and met selection criteria that includes professionalism and community service.

"Each fellow commits to contribute $1,000 to the endowment fund," Lewis said. "In addition, it's a talent pool in which we can draw to help in future projects for the foundation."

The foundation's nominating committee reviewed 200 fellow nominations and whittled them down to the 39 who accepted.

"We have the foundation in a very good place from which it can continue to grow. The visibility of the foundation is growing every year, and our ability to help people in the community is growing, as well."
- George T. "Buck" Lewis
shareholder, Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell and Berkowitz PC

"We had a very diverse class of fellows," Lewis said. "The quality and diversity and size of that class are something I think the board should be proud of."

Foundation activities. The Memphis Bar Foundation and the Memphis Bar Association work together on various initiatives. In the past year, the foundation raised more money for its endowment than it has in the recent history of the organization.

A portion of that endowment is earmarked for grants each year for recipients such as Memphis Area Legal Services, the Community Legal Center and the Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law at the University of Memphis.

Also, the foundation paid the expenses of the U of M's moot court team in the final rounds of a recent competition in Birmingham, Ala., in which the students worked on oral and written skills. The team won the regional competition and earned a trip to the finals in New York, which runs from Jan. 30 to Feb. 2.

The foundation also provided books and clothing for law students who were displaced by Hurricane Katrina by setting up a Katrina Disaster Fund.

Growing the endowment. Shields started his term Jan. 1. While one of his main goals for the foundation is to continue to communicate to the legal community the purposes of the organization, he also would like to see the Memphis Bar Foundation significantly increase its endowment.

"That way the legal community, through the Bar Foundation, can provide assistance to individuals or organizations that need financial help," Shields said. "The Bar Foundation is looking to continue to increase its endowment and good works, which was started initially by its founder, Irv Bogatin."

Lewis said the foundation also has begun asking lawyers and their families to consider the organization in their estate planning so they can move on to the next level of giving.

"I would like to see the foundation focus on becoming a part of estate planning for lawyers and their families and to focus on getting larger contributions to the endowment fund from both law firms and corporate donors," he said.

High-profile events. The foundation saw other notable accomplishments last year. For example, 365 people attended the organization's luncheon, its largest turnout ever. The event honored Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Frank Drowota.

This year, the foundation will give its Ben Hooks Award to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The award goes to an individual on a regional or national level who exemplifies the best qualities of the profession, including the promotion of civil rights.

The luncheon will be held Sept. 11 and is set for The Peabody. Ginsburg will speak at the event. Prior to the luncheon, the Bar Foundation will host a seminar that highlights her legal opinions and career.

The event is open to the legal community, but also the general public. About 1,000 people are expected to attend.

Future growth. While last year was a booming one for the Memphis Bar Foundation, the group seems confident that the coming year will be equally successful.

"In light of our groundwork and the dedication and experience that our new president will bring, I am extremely excited about our future," Lewis said.

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