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VOL. 124 | NO. 173 | Thursday, September 3, 2009

Gray Knights Offer Shining Armor to MALS

By Rebekah Hearn

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“I figure that the 26 (Gray Knights) charter members probably collectively have about 1,200 years of legal experience, so that can’t hurt.”
– Allen Malone

One local lawyer has led the way for a group of senior attorneys to offer Memphis Area Legal Services more pro bono work.

Allen Malone, a member of Burch Porter & Johnson PLLC, in April e-mailed about 200 Memphis Bar Association members 65 and older, telling them they had been nominated to the new group.

The Gray Knights – named for the prevailing color of their hair – have been asked to do 15 hours of pro bono work a year to help with the legal aid provider’s flood of new clients. The group meets for the first time today in Malone’s office.

‘Renewed commitment’

Malone’s e-mail asked the attorneys, who no longer have to complete annual continuing legal education requirements, to spend the time they’ve gained working for MALS.

“As you can imagine, in the current economic climate, MALS is inundated with an increasing number of pro bono clients,” Malone wrote.

In a recent interview with The Daily News, MALS executive director Harrison McIver said the organization receives 80 to 100 calls a day. In this economy, the need for help with foreclosures, bankruptcies, labor and employment issues and other areas grows in tandem with the number of people who can’t afford a private attorney.

Malone said he thought a group for older, more experienced attorneys would help limit the number of clients who get turned away from MALS, although younger attorneys are also contributing.

“Why in the world should that burden have to fall on young lawyers when the older lawyers probably had more time anyway, and certainly more experience?” Malone said. “So I sent the letter out, and we got 26 people to respond and commit to 15 hours (a year).”

MALS already has hundreds of lawyers on its volunteer list and many are 65 or older, but this is what Malone calls “a renewed commitment.”

“Most of the 26 … charter members are people like myself who have not done work in the past for MALS clients and are committing to do it in the future,” he said.

Linda Warren Seely, director of pro bono projects at MALS, said she thought Malone was “inspired” when he thought of forming the Gray Knights.

“The young lawyers have their own special projects and stuff like that – well, why not the senior lawyers?” Seely said. “A lot of these guys have been volunteers for years and years. So it was his idea and I thought it was great.”

Old hands and new

MALS offers several ways for attorneys to volunteer besides its popular Saturday legal clinics, which don’t always work for some people.

But Seely said there are many ways the Gray Knights can work pro bono for MALS.

“They can do regular pro bono cases; they can do the ‘Attorney of the Day’ program; they can do conservatorships or they can be guardians ad litem – they can do anything anybody else does,” she said. “The idea was that we would use them as an example to the community: Here we have these guys, they’ve been doing this for an awfully long time, and we want to encourage everybody to do this.”

MALS also sends e-mails to volunteer attorneys listing the types of pro bono cases available, and Malone said he would expect that to continue.

Having more senior attorneys around also will help the younger lawyers, Malone said.

“We’re available as a resource to the younger lawyers who might be able to get advice and lean on that experience,” he said. “I figure that the 26 charter members probably collectively have about 1,200 years of legal experience, so that can’t hurt.”

Count those blessings

Several prominent attorneys have already committed to the Gray Knights, including Al Harvey, former Tennessee Bar Association president.

Seely said the renewed commitments to MALS clients is “great.”

“It’s been pretty awful around here,” she said. “It’s unfortunate. But (the Gray Knights) will certainly help. Anything we can get will help.”

And doing some good in the world doesn’t hurt, either.

“To quote our former Bar Association President David Cook: ‘The therapeutic value of one tearful, grateful pro bono client … cannot be measured,” Malone wrote in the April e-mail.

“Besides, being a charter member of the Gray Knights will look good on your resume – not to mention your obituary.”

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