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VOL. 123 | NO. 223 | Thursday, November 13, 2008

Local NBA Chapter Welcomes New Officers, Board

By Rebekah Hearn

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PROUD LEADERS: Barbara Deans, the Ben F. Jones chapter’s 2008 secretary and president-elect for 2009, left, stands with city attorney and former immediate past president Elbert Jefferson and incoming president Tiffany Johnson at the 2007 Barristers’ Ball. -- PHOTO COURTESY OF THE BEN F. JONES CHAPTER

The Ben F. Jones chapter of the National Bar Association on Saturday will present its new officers and board members at its annual Barristers’ Ball, a combined ceremony and fundraiser, at the Memphis Botanic Garden.

Van Turner, the chapter president for 2008, will become immediate past president. Tiffany Johnson, vice president and president-elect for 2008, will be the 2009 chapter president, and Barbara L. Deans will move up from secretary to vice president/president-elect.

The chapter has been working on several projects, including a partnership with Shelby County Juvenile Court, and the incoming officers said they’re excited to continue working on those projects.

A new life chapter

Tiffany Johnson is an associate at The Cochran Firm who practices mostly in the areas of personal injury, police misconduct and discrimination cases. She attended law school at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

Following law school, Johnson taught several high school subjects, including English, dance and journalism, in Memphis and Miami schools. In both school districts, she implemented a legal studies course for the students so they could “test the waters and see if it’s something they are interested in,” Johnson said.

Being a high school teacher has pretty much prepared her for anything, she said.

“I feel like if you can hold your own for an hour in front of a class full of 16-year-olds, you can do anything,” Johnson said, laughing.

But Johnson’s responsibilities are no light matter. In addition to being inducted as the 2009 president of the Ben F. Jones chapter (which operates as the local chapter of the NBA), she was also elected the director of Region Six of the NBA, putting her in charge of the whole Sixth Circuit, which includes 18 chapters.

“You’ve got to be able to communicate, and that helps me with these leadership positions,” said Johnson, who is also in the midst of pursuing her master’s degree in professional writing. “(Being Region Six director) will demand a lot of my time, and it’s important to be able to communicate across four states like that (Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky and Tennessee),” she said.

Barbara Deans, an associate at Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson LLP, said that Johnson, although a young lawyer, is highly qualified for the position in the NBA.

“She has tremendous energy, and frankly, as a leader, you need that kind of energy to multitask,” Deans said.

Van Turner, the outgoing 2008 president, said “it’s like I’ve known (Johnson) for years just in this one that we worked together.

“We spent a considerable amount of time together working on many of the projects we worked on this past year,” Turner said.

Continuing to do good

Some of those projects include assisting with a debate league in the Memphis City Schools, helping promote a summer work program in conjunction with the Memphis Bar Association and a partnership with the Juvenile Detention Center’s G.O.A.L. (Great Opportunity for Additional Learning) program.

“The kids there have speakers for an hour every day, five days a week,” Johnson said. “We send members of the NBA once a month to fill the slot, and I would definitely like to continue that partnership; it’s worked out really well.”

Johnson also discussed improving and upgrading the Ben F. Jones Web site, www.benfjones.org, to make it a better resource and more user-friendly.

Turner added that under Johnson’s leadership, the chapter has organized a Tennessee Association of Black Lawyers, uniting with the Black Lawyers’ Association in Nashville as well as the associations in Chattanooga and Knoxville.

“So we have a statewide organization now, and that’s really good,” Turner said.

In addition, the chapter has assisted with Memphis Area Legal Services’ Saturday Legal Clinics, and Johnson, Deans and Turner organized a special trip to the Jena Six demonstration in New Orleans last year.

“This is probably the most active our association has been in a very long time,” said Turner.

Fun – and fundraising

The Annual Ben F. Jones Barristers’ Ball Saturday is the chapter’s biggest annual event. It serves not only as a celebration for the new officers and board members – all of whom are voted in by the entire chapter body – but as a fundraiser for the annual law school scholarships the chapter awards.

Every year, three students – one from each year of law school – receive scholarships from the chapter. Law students are alerted at the beginning of the year that an essay is required to apply for this scholarship.

“We have a list of criteria, and it’s not necessarily financially based or academically based,” Deans said. “Both of those are considered, of course, but they’re not the determining factor(s).”

A committee is in charge of putting on the Barristers’ Ball, and a subcommittee within that consists of scholarship evaluation members who present their recommendations to the larger committee, which then decides on the recipients.

Last year and this year, the scholarship amounts are $2,500 per student.

“We expanded (the scholarships) under (city attorney) Elbert Jefferson’s administration two years ago – the number of scholarships and the amount – and hopefully next year I can expand it even further,” Johnson said.

Johnson said if faced with the choice, she would like to give larger scholarships to the same number of students rather than give out smaller scholarships to a larger group.

During her presidency, Johnson also hopes to increase the chapter’s operating budget, partly by bringing in corporate fundraising experts.

“We want to … do more for the students,” Johnson said. “Many of these kids have never seen a black doctor in real life; it’s like a fantasy for them. So what we try to do is put living, breathing lawyers, doctors, financiers and people like that in these kids’ lives.”

In addition, the chapter will present Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton Jr. with the Outstanding Legal Service Award, and Mike Cody, a partner at Burch Porter & Johnson PLLC, will receive the chapter’s Community Service award.

“It’s an opportunity to say thank you to those individuals who give of their time and energy,” Deans said.

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