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VOL. 123 | NO. 120 | Thursday, June 19, 2008

Lewis Assumes TBA Presidency; Plans To Focus on Pro Bono Participation

By Rebekah Hearn

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Position: Shareholder
Firm: Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz PC
Basics: Lewis became president of the Tennessee Bar Association earlier this month.
“There will be a primary focus on the problem of denial of access to justice for people with limited means.”
– George T. “Buck” Lewis

George T. “Buck” Lewis, a shareholder in the Memphis office of Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz PC, assumed the presidency of the Tennessee Bar Association last week in Gatlinburg, Tenn.

Lewis, who was elected vice president of the TBA in 2006 and has held the position of president-elect for the past year, is the chair of Baker Donelson’s Appellate Practice Section. In the past, he also has served as the president of the Memphis and Shelby County Bar Foundations.

Lewis focuses his practice on complex business, personal injury, health care and class action litigation.

At last week’s luncheon, Lewis addressed the new access to justice campaign, “4 ALL,” which will educate lawyers and the public on the severity of the need to find newer, easier ways for lawyers to participate in pro bono service.

Q: What would you like to achieve during your tenure as president of the TBA?

A: There will be a primary focus on the problem of denial of access to justice for people with limited means.

Q: At the transfer of the gavel luncheon, you spoke of a new access to justice program titled “4 ALL.” Is this related to Baker Donelson’s pro bono initiative headed by attorneys Carla Peacher-Ryan and Antonio Matthews?

A: No, that’s the local Memphis Area Legal Services effort; Tony is the chair of the local MALS board, and Carla is involved with that board. This is a statewide campaign, and the four pillars of the campaign are Educate, Collaborate, Participate and Legislate, and within the Collaborate part of it, we will be working with local legal services agencies and local bar associations.

Q: Talk about your role as chair of Baker Donelson’s Appellate Practice Section.

A: We monitor all of the firm’s appellate cases in state and federal court in all of the states in which the firm has an office. We monitor the progress of them, the issues that are being litigated and how they turn out, and then we also meet from time to time to talk about issues related to appellate practice and help provide training opportunities for our young lawyers to appellate practice.

Q: You focus on complex business, personal injury, health care and class action litigation. What led you to focus on those areas of the law?

A: Well, when I started in 1981, the firm only had 23 lawyers, so we did just about everything on the civil side of litigation. As time went on, I just started handling more and more complex cases and class actions, and it just evolved to the point where I was handling large and complex business cases and large and complex class actions. Now, when a young lawyer starts, they might say, “I’m going to be an intellectual property lawyer,” or “I’m going to be an employment lawyer.” But when I started in ’81, you did everything. It’s much more specialized now than when I started. But I clerked for the (Tennessee Supreme) Court, so I was always interested in appellate litigation as a result of my wonderful experience clerking for the court.

Q: What, if anything, would you like to see changed in the way that law is practiced today?

A: On (Saturday, I presented) a packet of proposed ethics rules changes, which are designed to make it easier for lawyers to do pro bono work. We need to get a rule that will make it clear that lawyers can do these limited-scope representations without doing a full conflict check. When you go down to the courthouse to volunteer as the Attorney for the Day, you’re seeing three or four (clients) for 10 or 15 minutes, so we’re going to try to have an ethics rule that will make it clear that lawyers can do that without doing all of the formal conflict checks that they would normally have to do. The American Bar Association has a model rule that lawyers should aspire to do 50 hours of pro bono work a year, and we’re going to be asking the Board (of Governors of the TBA) to adopt that. There would be no requirement, but lawyers should aspire to 50 hours of pro bono work a year.

Another rule is we want to make it clear that lawyers who are working out of state, who (also) are working for corporations, can do pro bono work through a recognized legal services agency, so that they don’t have to worry they might get in trouble if they do pro bono work in their communities.

And then, finally, we’re going to ask the (Tennessee Supreme) Court to request that lawyers report to the court how much pro bono work they are doing. They can choose not to report it, but we’d like for the court to ask for that information, because we want to be able to tell how much work is being done and also monitor where the work is being done.

Q: You keep a busy schedule with all your responsibilities. How do you relax when you do have spare time?

A: I go walking in the mountains with my wife. My wife and I love to go to the national parks, especially the Smoky Mountains, and I take photographs and we hike together, and I take pictures of waterfalls and sunsets. … We like to get away from faxes, e-mails and phones and get up there in the mountains and (we) find that it really invigorates us.

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