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VOL. 123 | NO. 115 | Thursday, June 12, 2008

Kelly Brings Volunteer Background To Future Access to Justice Post

By Rebekah Hearn

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Lisa Kelly
Position: Sole practitioner
Basics: Kelly will become chair of the Memphis Bar Association’s Access to Justice Committee this fall.
“I believe in civil rights, I believe in humanity, and I believe in preserving human dignity through the practice of law.”
Lisa Kelly

Lisa Kelly is a sole practitioner who concentrates in a wide variety of areas, ranging from criminal and civil litigation to corporate transactions. Kelly has been in practice for three years since she received her juris doctorate from the University of Memphis in 2005.

Currently, she is the vice chair for the Memphis Bar Association’s Access to Justice Committee. Kevin Balkwill, the current chair, will step down in the fall, handing over the reins to Kelly. The Access to Justice Committee focuses on pro bono work.

Kelly received the MBA’s 2007 President’s Award for outstanding pro bono efforts. Prior to attending law school, Kelly was a part of a number of fundraising activities for the United Way, the Ronald McDonald House and soup kitchens. Kelly was also a Special Olympics coach.

Q: Why did you choose to practice in such a wide variety of areas?

A: I started as a banking and securities attorney, but with the economy, the business was drying up. After that, I did some insurance defense litigation, but our main client moved, and I recently married, and I wanted to work for myself. So I’ve got kind of a broad background in some niche areas, and I enjoy practicing. I enjoy litigation; I enjoy the law.

Q: What did you do to earn the MBA’s 2007 President’s Award for outstanding pro bono efforts?

A: I came in and helped market and implement Pro Bono Month, which is now an annual event sponsored by the Memphis Bar Association in connection with Memphis Area Legal Services. The idea behind Pro Bono Month is (that) a lot of attorneys are so busy with their practice that they can’t stop during the week for three hours on a Thursday afternoon. So we said, let’s do three clinics a month, and we’ll title them. The idea was to get attorneys through the door, because after attorneys have been in practice for a while, (they) find that they tend to narrow their focus. A lot of attorneys weren’t sure what (type of case) would walk through the door, so they were reluctant to come because they thought it would be a bunch of clients with stuff that’s out of (their) practice areas. So we built each clinic that month under a different area of practice to get people down there. It really did help get attorneys more comfortable with giving basic legal advice.

David Cook, the ex-president of the MBA, has been a mentor to me. He has the motto that “any attorney is better than no attorney.” That’s been the philosophy that’s helped me with my practice. Any case you get, you’re going to have to get competent on it. So I just say I’m willing to get competent in more areas than most. I think certain basic skills of an attorney (are universal) and it’s just the rest of it that you have to do the legwork on.

Q: As the current vice chair of the Access to Justice Committee and the incoming chair in the fall, is there anything about the committee you’d like to change or see done differently?

A: I’m very excited about it. Kevin (Balkwill) has done an amazing job in getting a great committee together. There aren’t many things I would change about what Kevin’s done. I’d like to build along what Kevin’s done; I’d like to continue along the path that he’s set. We took Pro Bono Month and that one Saturday Legal Aid Clinic and turned it into a monthly event.

We’ve really tried to target not only attorneys, but communities. We’ve gone to Whitehaven, the inner-city, Glenview, we’ve gone Downtown; we just try to go where the need is. I want to continue to find the needs in the community and ways to fill them.

I recently partnered with a great attorney, and we were able to stave off (a) foreclosure sale. (The bank was) selling the house, (but) they hadn’t properly foreclosed on it. So now that we’ve really muscled the bank, they’re coming to the table and they’re going to work it out.

Maybe I’m still young in my practice and more bold than smart at this point, but I’m willing to try new things and be creative within the bounds of my ethical code. I’m willing to throw stuff up against the wall and see what sticks.

Q: If you could change anything about the way law is practiced today, what would it be?

A: I used to do stuff all over this side of Nashville; I went to Tipton, Bolivar, Dyersburg. And I’m so blessed; I work in a community where I have a wonderful resource in the MBA. We all pull together, and not every community has that. If I could change something, I would do more outreach to more small-town community bars and do what we could to help them set up the same resources.

Q: Is there any case – historical or current – that you wish you could have been counsel on?

A: One of my favorite books is “To Kill a Mockingbird.” I read it as a young girl, and it’s one of the reasons I got into the practice of the law, so if there was any case I could have been a part of, it would have been the fictitious case in “To Kill a Mockingbird.” It’s what I strive for. I believe in civil rights, I believe in humanity, and I believe in preserving human dignity through the practice of law.

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