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VOL. 124 | NO. 79 | Thursday, April 23, 2009

Seely Devotes Time to Pro Bono Efforts

By Rebekah Hearn

Print | Front Page | Email this story | Email reporter | Comments ()
Position: Director of Pro Bono Projects
Firm: Memphis Area Legal Services Inc.
Basics: In addition to being heavily involved in pro bono efforts in the community, Seely is a candidate for vice president in the Tennessee Bar Association.

“I was raised in a setting of service, providing service and offering help and giving of ourselves.”
– Linda Warren Seely

Linda Warren Seely is the director of pro bono projects at Memphis Area Legal Services Inc. Seely is a Rule 31 Listed Family Mediator and received a special designation in Domestic Violence in 2007.

She is a member of the Tennessee Association of Professional Mediators. She sat on the Memphis Bar Association board from 2006 to 2008 and sits at the Master Level of the Leo Bearman Sr. Inns of Court.

Seely also is a member of the Access to Justice committees of the Memphis and Tennessee Bar Associations, and sits on the board of directors for the Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services. She was the recipient of the 2006 Tennessee Bar Association’s President’s Award and numerous other pro bono and public service awards.

Seely is a candidate for the TBA’s vice president for the 2010-2011 year. Her Web site is www.lindawarrenseely.com.

Q: What led you to decide to use your legal skills to help the less fortunate?

A: I think it was mostly the way I was raised. I was raised in a setting of service, providing service and offering help and giving of ourselves. My family and I, we were very active in our church. And I think that’s where it comes from, being raised to believe that I have a duty to give back. To lend your talents and abilities and time to help improve the quality of – and meet the needs of – the community and people around you … that’s just how I’ve always felt about it.

Q: In 2007 you worked with a group of local lawyers to produce a conference titled “Lawyers as Peacemakers, Lawyers as Problem Solvers.” What was the result of that conference and that discussion?

A: It had a great result. It’s … about making the law more holistic, and it’s about improving the public’s attitude toward attorneys, which can sometimes be very hostile. I think there’s a lot more awareness of how to practice law in a more holistic fashion, and of the benefits that mediation can provide to people as an empowering and restorative practice. There’s a Web site called Cutting Edge Law (www.cuttingedgelaw.com) that was put up by J. Kim Wright, and she actually talks about Memphis as being a hotbed of progressive law practice. To actually have been able to produce as many (continuing legal education) programs and train the number of attorneys and raise the level of awareness in the legal profession that we have, we’re pretty pleased by that. It’s important – in particular in the training of new, younger attorneys, who talk a lot about their dissatisfaction with the practice of law and the adversarial process. There’s got to be a better, different way to practice law that will benefit the system, that won’t cause the kind of wear and tear on the lawyers and their staff that it does; that makes for happier lawyers, and ultimately, that empowers the clients and truly meets their needs. Because you can look at a legal need in isolation – maybe you’ve got someone who’s being evicted – and maybe you can stop the eviction, but the problem is deeper than that. If you can’t connect your client to the kind of resources that he or she needs, then the problem never really goes away.

Q: Have you thought about the goals you’d aim for if you become the TBA vice president?

A: That’s pretty speculative, but I do feel very strongly that the bar associations have historically provided a lot of opportunities for continuing legal education, and while that’s great, the bar associations also provide a certain cohesiveness for attorneys: the connection between lawyer to lawyer, providing law office management assistance and providing basic kinds of things, like access to health insurance or disability insurance.

The association exists to serve the needs of the membership, and while they’ve met the needs of the membership on certain levels, there’s a deeper level that I think the association can go to. Some associations have created what are called wellness committees, and therapeutic jurisprudence, collaborative law practice and mediation are tangential to the idea of wellness in the profession – enhancing (its) professionalism through alternative ways of practicing. When you look at surveys of lawyers, you see high levels of dissatisfaction, and I think that the associations can do more to reduce those levels of dissatisfaction. So it’s kind of a three-pronged approach: The provision of law office management and CLE, the social networking aspect to help attorneys feel more connected to each other, and then the opportunity to do volunteering in significant and appropriate ways.

Q: Of all the recent Access to Justice events, did any one aspect stand out for you?

A: I think the thing that stands out the most for me is the sheer number of people who were willing to volunteer. The attorneys, the law students, the paralegals – it was absolutely fabulous. And the number of different events that we had. The Student Bar Association from the University of Memphis (held) a run to raise money for legal services. Then, the different legal clinics, the juvenile clinic through the Community Legal Center, the Saturday Legal Clinic and the Wills for Heroes – just the sheer number of activities and levels of different volunteer opportunities and the number of people involved was just gratifying in ways I can’t express.

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